Northern White Rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Undergoes Procedure for Chronic Infection

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Nola’s procedure went well and she is eating and walking normally.

Nola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhinoceros who has been under medical care since early September, underwent a surgical procedure earlier today at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Veterinarians caring for the elderly Nola had performed multiple procedures and diagnostic tests over the past few months to pinpoint the source of a chronic draining tract near her right hip. A perirectal abscess—a large accumulation of infectious material in the tissues around the rectum—was identified deep to the animal’s pelvis using ultrasound, and was surgically drained earlier this morning.

“Using local anesthesia and a mild sedative, we were able to access the area of infection and establish drainage,” said Nadine Lamberski, associate director of veterinary services, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We hope this procedure will resolve the infection Nola has had for many months now, and she certainly should feel better in the days to come.”

To perform the procedure, Nola was walked into a protective chute inside a boma (corral) in her African Plains habitat. The protective chute allowed the veterinary team to perform the surgical 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. She was given mild sedation, allowing her to remain awake and standing for the procedure. Her primary keepers stayed with Nola the entire time, keeping her calm by rubbing her back, head and ears.

Immediately after the procedure, Nola was able to walk out of the chute into the boma, where she will remain for the next few weeks. Keepers will monitor her closely and attempt to keep the incision site clean. Nola appears to be feeling well, and she is eating and walking normally.

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.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.