On Wednesday 6th November, Dr. Peter Rogers, together with two specialist surgeons from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort (Dr. Marais and Dr. Steenkamp) once again made the journey to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) to treat the two injured rhino cows.
Their journey was sooner than originally planned, as the cows had managed to lift and damage the protective covering that had been placed over their wounds during the previous treatment on the 24th October. Left unattended, this would have severe consequences for the healing process, as an open wound (particularly an exposed sinus cavity) is prone to dirt, bacteria and maggots.
Dingle Dell, the smaller cow, was darted first this time. As it was another hot and sunny summer’s day in Hoedspruit, a large umbrella was quickly erected to get the anaesthetised rhino into the shade, and numerous water cans were at hand to keep her cool.
Dr. Steenkamp immediately removed the cover from her wound, and we were all delighted and amazed to see how far the healing had progressed. The wound had almost completely closed over, leaving only a small open area. As there were no signs of infection and only healthy tissue, Dr. Marais and Dr. Steenkamp decided that it was time to do the skin grafts.
Dr. Steenkamp prepared the horn for the grafts, while Dr. Marais carefully harvested small skin grafts from the delicate skin behind Dingle Dell’s left ear. Six grafts in total were harvested and carefully positioned in the wound. A special non-adhesive dressing was placed over the wound (so that it would not damage or dislodge the sensitive grafts) before a new protective dressing and cast were drilled into place.
The type of graft performed on Dingle Dell is called a punch graft. 70% of such a grafts are successful in a normal environment, however this has never been done on a rhino before. Should this first-of-its-kind treatment work, it could establish the blueprint for rhinos in similar circumstances. We are hugely grateful for the pioneering work done by this specialist veterinary team.
Sadly the situation was not as positive for Lion’s Den, the pregnant cow. When she was darted and her wound examined, her right sinus canal remained open and the wound had not improved. In fact, due to the wound’s exposure to air, flies had gained access and laid eggs resulting in the birth of maggots (which feed off the dead tissue). The wound was thoroughly cleaned and flushed, and all of the dead tissue and maggots removed. Dectomax was administered systemically in order to kill any persistent maggots that might have remained.
Once the wound was clean, the opening was packed with F10 antibacterial and antiseptic ointment, and the various dressings and cast cover re-applied.
As with Dingle Dell, the rhino cow was given local anesthetic around the horn base to decrease its sensitivity before the cast was drilled into place.
It may well still be a long road ahead for Lion’s Den, but the team is with her every step of the way.
We will keep you posted as to her progress.