Northern White Rhino Undergoes Medical Procedure at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Nola, a critically endangered 41-year-old northern white rhinoceros, underwent a medical procedure earlier today at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in an effort to determine the cause of swelling in her right hip. The elderly animal, already being treated for age-related issues, was treated for an abscess on the same hip in May of this year. At that time, Nola was placed on a regimen of wound flushing and antibiotics, and the abscess had appeared to heal. Last week, keepers noticed the abscess had reemerged and Nola also had swelling around her hip bone, causing concern for the animal.

“Today we performed a biopsy on Nola’s hip, in an attempt to see what might be causing the abscess and the swelling,” stated Dr. Jeff Zuba, senior veterinarian, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “At this point, it appears the original abscess sealed itself off without completely healing, but we need to investigate further. We obtained tissue and fluid samples from the hip swelling to assist with the diagnosis. A blood sample also was collected to assess overall health. Until we receive these test results, we will start her on antibiotics based on culture results obtained last week and provide daily wound care, while monitoring her closely.”

To allow the veterinary team to perform the biopsy, Nola was placed in a boma (barn) inside her field habitat and given mild sedation, allowing her to remain awake and standing during the procedure. Nola’s primary keepers stayed close by throughout the procedure, rewarding her with her favorite treats of apples and alfalfa, as well as rubbing her head and ears while Zuba took the biopsy and fluids. “Nola was an exceptional patient, as usual,” added Zuba.

As a precautionary measure, Nola will be kept in the boma overnight, with plans to release her back into her 65-acre field habitat early Friday, Sept. 4. Keepers report that while the abscessed area is sore to the touch, Nola appears to be feeling well, and is eating and walking normally. Test results from today should be available within seven to ten days.

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.