Surviving poached rhino cow, Philippa, underwent another treatment procedure on Saturday 11 June 2016. Dr Rogers darted her with M99 (etorphine), which is greatly favoured for large game animal captures and veterinary procedures because of its fast-acting properties and the fact that it can be used successfully in low doses. As with any case of immobilisation, the probability of injury and harmful physiological effects increases with the amount of time an animal spends immobile after being darted, or in an unbalanced state of intoxication following the administration of the antidote. Therefore the accelerated rate at which animals become disenabled when darted with M99, as well as the drug’s prompt response to the reversal, make it an extremely favourable drug for captures in wild or free-ranging situations – especially those involving rhinos.
Once Phillipa was darted it took about five to seven minutes before the drug took effect. Fortunately she lay down next to the road, which made it much easier for the team to access her. Janelle quickly inserted a jelco to administer the necessary medication as well as the reversal drug once the precedure was complete.
Philipa’s wound was cleaned with Hibitane and water. F10 Germicidal cream was placed onto gauze swabs and then placed on the wound to act as a buffer between the open wound and the cast. This is also important to keep the flies (larva) away. She was then given anti-inflammatory medication Metacam, and an antibiotic Lentrax.
Dr Adam Schoeman (orthopaedic surgeon from Nelspruit) and Brad Kidd (who’s been responsible for Philippa’s orthopaedic moulds) were both present. They helped to put in proper orthopedic screws, which should stay in place for longer than two months; unlike the sterilised screws that we had previously used that did not last too long.
Due to the lack of experience in this kind of treatment procedure, as in the cases of Lion’s Den and Dingle Dell, we used a protection cap made of plaster, and a metal plate screwed on top of the plaster in order to protect the wound. This meant the rhino cows were sedated for a longer period. Philippa’s mould was made beforehand, thereby reducing the time of her sedation.
Over the past five months we’ve learned a lot and made significant progress with Philippa’s treatment, especially when compared to Lion’s Den and Dingle Dell’s cases. During the treatment procedures doctors Marais and Steenkamp figured out that a local anaesthetic or nerve block also helps the rhino to feel less pain, and therefore reduces the working time and sedation period allowing the team to work much faster.
The new cap was covered with F10 insecticidal cream to prevent maggots. The wound is now completely closed, but is still soft and tender. Leaving it open without the protection of the cap at this point could cause damage. There is also a slight regrowth of the horn. Progress indeed!
The entire procedure took about 45 minutes. While Philippa was being treated, there was no trace of either Lion’s Den or Dingle Dell as the two are not as protective with Philippa as they were with each other. It’s quite amazing that Lion’s Den and Dingle Dell recognise Dr Rogers immediately. As soon as they noticed him in the vehicle, they pulled a Houdini and disappeared instantly.
After Philippa received her antidote and was stable on her feet, she started calling for Lion’s Den and Dingle Dell and went off in search of them.
Watch this clip below of Philippa waking up following the procedure:
Our hope is that after the next treatment the wound will be able to be left uncovered. It is such a privilege for us to collaborate with the best-in-class veterinarians, and we are grateful that they are open to sharing their knowledge and expertise with us, enabling us to work together to save the rhino species.