Nola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhinoceros who has been under medical care since early September for a recurring abscess on her right hip, underwent a second medical procedure earlier this month at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
The elderly animal has been on antibiotics and keepers have been flushing the abscess site daily, but it is still an area of concern. In an effort to get to the source of the infection, veterinarians lanced deep into the abscess, but they weren’t immediately able to provide a definitive answer as to what is causing the ailment. During the procedure, the team opened the abscess site, allowing it to drain better and also alleviating any pressure buildup that can cause pain for the animal. A fine needle aspiration, skin samples and blood tests also were taken.
“We are treating Nola for a bacterial infection on her right hip,” stated Dr. Jim Oosterhuis, principal veterinarian, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “The inside of the abscess is very hard, and we want to determine what may be causing this. At this point, we simply don’t know. Our main priority now is to keep Nola comfortable; we will continue to monitor her and keep her on her daily treatment plan until we know more or until the abscess properly heals.”
Nola is most comfortable in her field habitat, so to provide her with optimal care and comfort, the animal care team brought a portable chute to her field—a chute that keepers had trained Nola to stand inside. The protective chute allowed the veterinary team to perform the medical procedure without having any unprotected contact with the gentle, but powerful 4,500-pound rhino, were she to move suddenly or try to walk away during the procedure.
Once in the chute, Nola was given mild sedation, allowing her to remain awake and standing for the procedure. Her primary keepers stayed close by throughout the procedure, rewarding her with one of her favorite activities: a rubdown of her back, head and ears. Immediately after the procedure, the portable chute was removed and Nola was able to walk around her field habitat, as she desired. Keepers monitored her closely over the following 12 hours, until the sedation wore off. While the abscessed area is sore to the touch, Nola appears to be feeling well, and she is eating and walking normally. Results from the tests are expected soon.
Nola is one of just four northern white rhinos remaining in the world. Three other northern white rhinos are under human care in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Northern white rhinos are at the brink of extinction due to poaching for their horn.
San Diego Zoo Global is working to save the genome of this rhino subspecies through the collection of genetic material preserved in the Frozen Zoo at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, where researchers also are working to develop and implement assisted reproductive technologies to save the northern white rhino.