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South African vet tries novel treatment for injured rhino

14 August 2015, 18:02

Johannesburg - Veterinarians in South Africa have treated an injured rhino whose face was mutilated by poachers last week by fitting it with a bandage made of elephant leather.

Dr. Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon at the University of Pretoria, said Friday that he is experimenting with the elephant skin cover because plastic or fiberglass shields have proven too rigid to fit the contours of an injured rhino's face.

"We're looking for a material that's strong, lightweight but pliable," Marais said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Marais, who got the elephant leather from a taxidermist, said it was "ironic" to use a part from one threatened species to treat an animal from another threatened species.

Marais belongs to Saving the Survivors, a group that treats rhinos with poaching injuries. Group spokeswoman Suzanne Boswell Rudham said the hide bandage was obtained by "ethical" means from a dead elephant that had not been poached or shot.

The 12-year-old female rhino with the elephant skin bandage was shot Aug. 5 in Pongola wildlife park in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province and poachers cut off one horn after the rhino collapsed, according to Saving the Survivors.

The poachers apparently fled before cutting the second horn, possibly because the rhino got to its feet. They killed the rhino's 5-year-old calf and removed its horns.

Marais previously considered a shield made from the leather of a kudu antelope (not strong enough) or a hippo hide (too thick). He installed the elephant skin bandage with steel sutures Monday and hopes it will last four to five weeks until a new bandage is needed.

Marais said he is also considering an elephant hide shield for a rhino named Hope, which survived a similar poaching attack in May.

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- AP


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