Rhino Run Wines

By Jorisna Bonthuys

Dr. Johan Marais knows the ugly face of rhino poaching all too well. He is one of the veterinarians involved in taking care of the survivors.

Marais, one of the founding members of Saving the Survivors, is regarded as one of the best rhino surgeons in the world. He is part of a team of veterinary specialists supporting rhino conservation efforts through surgical interventions, including groundbreaking facial reconstruction efforts.

Says Marais, “We do his work not only to help these majestic animals in need, but also to learn how to treat them more successfully. The better we get at doing this, the more of them we can save.”

Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon at Onderstepoort, annually treats up to 80 injured rhinos. Most of them have severe head wounds because of the way their horns have been callously hacked off.

Marais, from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, admits the extent of the current poaching crisis often leaves him feeling angry and devastated. “However, there is always hope. That is exactly why we are helping the survivors and will fight to help save every single one of them.”

Marais has been at the forefront of many surgical firsts when it comes to rhinos. He has been instrumental in efforts to surgically rebuild a new face for a rhino called Hope, as well as developing techniques to cover the gaping wounds with a protective fibre glass cast or shield on badly injured head wounds. Marais explains, “These casts ensures that the rhino does not re-injure itself by scratching the wounds on trees and allows the healing to happen underneath.”

Open fractures are very susceptible to infection and it is critical that badly injured rhinos are treated as soon as possible, he explains. “The wounds are, for instance, covered in material that is antibacterial but that also stimulates the growth of granulation tissue during recovery.”

Marais believes “surgical conservation” – taking care of the survivors by using innovative veterinary techniques – can play an important role to help conserve threatened species. “These interventions are important from a conservation perspective, given the rising number of rhinos killed and its impact on population genetics,” he says.

Marais and other researchers in his faculty are also doing applied research that is making a difference for rhino survivors. This includes work on injured rhinos’ reactions to drugs used in these life-saving procedures. “You will be surprised how little we know about the dosage and effect of for instance anti-inflammatory and pain drugs on our rhinos,” says Marais. Two drugs, enrofloxacin and carprofen, are being investigated to establish how effective they are and how best to administer them to the animals. ‘

The role of veterinary medicine cannot be underestimated when it comes to rhinos and other endangered species, Marais believes.“As we treat more and more survivors with facial injuries we are learning and gaining vital experience that we can apply to more poaching victims, and in doing so, help them heal quicker and better.

“We need to work at getting better at this. Every one of them is worth it.”

**Saving the Survivors is an organisation committed to rescuing and medically treating injured rhino and endangered species. Read more about it here.

Hope recovery Saving the Survivors
This picture of Hope was taken shortly after surgery. Her horns and a large section of her face was hacked off by poachers.
Johan Marais
Johan Marais
Hope 1 Saving the survivors
Hope the rhino who has become an international ambassador for rhino survivors. She has received ground-breaking reconstructive surgery to close the massive cavity on her face. In the initial stages her wound was a meter by almost half a meter gaping wound.
Johan Marais
Dr. Johan Marais examining 100 rhino skulls earlier this year from animals that were targeted by poachers.
Johan Marais
Dr. Johan Marais and other veterinary specialists in action during an operation on an injured rhino.