Jagged bullet removed from wounded rhino at Safari Park

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SAN DIEGO – A jagged bullet fragment was recently removed from a wounded female rhino, a year after arriving at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center.

Wallis, who arrived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in November 2015 with a skin wound, was likely the target of a failed poaching attempt while living on a reserve in South Africa.

Animal care workers were cleaning the wound of the 5-year-old on Saturday and noticed a tiny, hard, black object. Safari Park veterinarian Jim Oosterhuis suspected the object could be the bullet they had believed was inside the animal.

“I reached into the wound with my Leatherman tool, grasped the object, made a quick jerking motion, and out popped the bullet fragment with jagged edges,” said Oosterhuis. “It feels great to know that we finally have found what we believe to be the source of her infection. By having the fragment work itself out, it eliminated the need for surgery.”

Veterinarians began treating the rhino’s skin wound immediately after arriving at the Safari Park in 2015. A metal detector indicated a brass or lead object – possibly a bullet or bullet fragment – was under the wound.

“The bullet fragment appeared to be lodged under her rib and every time she moved, the rough, jagged edges were irritating the tissue. Since removing the fragment, the wound is healing rapidly, and I expect it to be completely healed in a week,” Oosterhuis said.

Wallis is one of six female rhinos that were relocated to the Safari Park from private reserves in South Africa as part of a collaborative conservation effort to save the critically endangered northern white rhino from extinction.

Shooting and killing rhinos for their horns has dramatically affected rhino populations in South Africa. Rhinos are poached for their horn, which is made of keratin – the same material that forms human fingernails. Rhino horn has been erroneously thought to have medicinal value and is used in traditional remedies in some cultures. In addition, objects made of rhino horn have more recently become a “status symbol,” purchased to display someone’s success and wealth, because the rhino is now so rare and endangered.

San Diego Zoo Global says they have been working for decades, along with other accredited zoos, to keep a sustainable population of rhinos safe under human care while working to protect them in sanctuaries in their native habitat.