One of Phila’s guardians refused to talk to The Associated Press on the telephone, saying: “I don’t know who you are.”
Dr. Georgina Cole, a veterinarian at the Johannesburg Zoo, said she knew of 10 rhinos that survived poaching attacks in South Africa in the past year, and she believes the unreported number is much higher.
Dr. Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon at the University of Pretoria, said a “conservative” estimate of rhino survivors is 40 to 60 a year. Marais predicted: “As the amount of poaching goes up, we’ll probably get more and more of these survivors.”
Marais said he recently visited a rhino that still had bullet pieces in its flesh from a shooting a year ago. The rhino suffered lingering wound infections. While a few lucky rhinos elude their shooters, others survive a grislier fate: being shot with a tranquilizer dart and having their horns hurriedly carved out of their faces while they are unconscious.
“Guys are calling us up and saying, ‘Listen, I have a rhino that was poached and its horn has been hacked off. It’s alive. Can you please come and fix it,’” said Marais, who seeks funding for CAT scan software to map the head of the white rhino. Three-dimensional images of facial muscles, nerves, blood vessels and the sinuses around the horns would make surgical treatment easier.
In February 2011, Dr. William Fowlds, a wildlife veterinarian, was summoned to a game reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province where Geza, a rhino, had lost its horns to machete-wielding poachers. The rhino was clinging to life.
“In a small clearing enclosed by bush, stood an animal, hardly recognizable as a rhino. His profile completely changed by the absence of those iconic horns attributed to no other species,” Fowlds wrote in an emotional account. “More nauseating than that, the skull and soft tissue trauma extended down into the remnants of his face, through the outer layer of bones, to expose the underlying nasal passages.”