San Diego Zoo Finds Cause of Rhino's Trouble: a Bullet

'Wallis' was apparently shot by a poacher in South Africa
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 27, 2016 3:17 AM CST
Southern white rhinos graze peacefully at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.   (John Gibbins/U-T San Diego via AP)

(Newser) – A resident at the San Diego Zoo came within inches of becoming a poaching victim instead of part of a conservation program. Zoo authorities say that after southern white rhino Wallis came to the zoo from South Africa in November 2015, evidence including a wound near her heart that wouldn't heal led them to believe the 5-year-old female might have been shot at some point, the Los Angeles Times reports. With the help of an extremely powerful metal detector brought in by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Bomb Squad, the zoo has confirmed that there was metal inside the 3,000-pound animal. Keepers were preparing Wallis for exploratory surgery when they discovered that a bullet fragment had worked its way back to the wound, so they called zoo veterinarian Dr. Jim Oosterhuis over to remove it.

"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," Oosterhuis says in a zoo press release. "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." He believes poachers were aiming for a heart or lung shot, but "she turned toward them and the shot came in at a shallow angle and bounced off a rib." Wallis was brought to the zoo as part of a program to bring the northern white rhino back from the edge of extinction. Researchers hope Wallis and other southern whites will be able to carry lab-grown northern white embryos. (This ancient "Siberian unicorn" rhino species may have coexisted with humans.)

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