Skin graft for rhino poaching survivor

28 June 2013 - 16:38 By Sapa

A rhino which survived poachers underwent a skin graft operation this week after its wounds reopened a year after another rhino attacked it.

“While her initial wounds healed up some months after the [poaching] incident, it is suspected that the recent damage was caused by a new rhino bull," Kariega Game Reserve spokeswoman Bronwen d'Oliveira said on Friday, a Sapa correspondent reported.

"It is hoped that the pioneering surgery will answer many unknown questions about the viability of treating poached rhino using grafting techniques which have never been used on a rhino before.”

The rhino named Thandi (short for Thandiwe, which means loved) was treated on Monday after its wounds reopened following a suspected attack by a rhino bull at the game reserve outside Port Elizabeth.

The bull which was thought to have hurt the animal had been introduced to the reserve as part of its breeding programme.

Plastic surgeon Alistair Lamont and two veterinary surgeons, Gerhard Steenkamp and Johan Marais, used three skin grafting techniques on parts of the animal's face, D'Oliveira said. Skin was grafted from behind its ear, from scar tissue where its back horn used to be, and from the side of its neck.

D'Oliveira said the doctors had spent the past 14 months collaborating on new techniques to repair facial damage on poached rhino. A fourth technique would be used in three to four weeks.

In the meantime, the team was waiting to see whether the rhino would tolerate the dressing on its face.

"The Kariega monitoring team will keep a watchful eye on her and report back daily to the surgical team on her progress," said D'Oliveira.

Two other rhino, both bulls, were killed during the poaching attack.

"She survived against all odds and made a miraculous recovery," said D'Oliveira.

"Head-to-head confrontation is normal behaviour between rhino and it is suspected that this is the cause of her injuries," she said.

Kariega co-owner Graeme Rushmere said everyone at the reserve would continue to ensure Thandi received the best care possible.