Rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Under Medical Treatment for Suspected Bullet Wound

Southern white rhino appears to be victim of failed poaching attempt while in South Africa

A 5-year-old female southern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center is undergoing veterinary care for a non-healing wound on the rhino’s left side.

The animal care staff at the Safari Park has been treating the rhino, named Wallis, since she was moved from a private reserve in South Africa to the Safari Park. A minor surgical procedure was performed to explore and clean the wound. When this did not result in resolution, a second procedure was performed and revealed the wound to be more extensive than it appeared. There has been speculation that the wound was originally caused by a penetrating foreign body.


Earlier this week, a metal detector provided a strong signal for a brass or lead object under the current wound site. Radiography will be attempted to further evaluate the affected area; however, there are concerns that the size of the animal will limit the effectiveness of this study. The animal care team may seek assistance in the near future from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, which has offered the use of specialized imaging equipment utilized by their bomb squad. Veterinarians want to pursue all noninvasive diagnostic techniques available to give them a better understanding of this chronic wound and the best treatment approach.

While it can’t be confirmed, it appears Wallis may have been the target of a failed poaching attempt while in South Africa. Poaching has dramatically affected rhino populations in the wild and in private reserves in 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 Asian 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.

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—and all rhino species—from extinction.

San Diego Zoo Global has 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 the wild. The Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center furthers this commitment and helps in establishing the Safari Park as a sanctuary to protect rhinos—at a time when an average of three rhinos are killed each day in the wild by poachers.