With poachers almost making the rhino extinct in modern times, any effort which may save even one rhino's life is crucial. Using an elephant skin bandage for a rhino's new face may seem cosmetic at first glance, but often times the loss of a rhino's horn causes the animal's death.
In a related report by the Inquisitr, some people were outraged when a Texas big game hunter paid $350,000 to kill the almost extinct black rhino, but the rhino hunter claims that killing them can actually save the species in this case. This argument was also made by another big game hunter, but conservationists were outraged at the rich man's photo of his hunting trophy room.
Back during the 1960s, there were 70,000 black rhinos roaming the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says there were about 850,000 black rhinos alive before hunting and poaching pushed the species to the edge of extinction.
The reason that the world can only watch as poachers make the white rhino extinct is due to ancient, deep-rooted beliefs that are nothing more than myth. Some believe that consuming the white rhino's horn can make you appear younger or even cure certain diseases. In reality, the rhino horn is composed of a tough protective protein called keratin, which means that consuming a white rhino horn is about the same as chewing on your own fingernails.
Regardless, poachers will risk 25 years in prison because a rhino's horn can sell for $75,000 USD per kilo, or $30,000 USD per pound. Unfortunately, the poachers often do not kill a rhino outright. If they cut off the rhino's horns, the poor animals are left vulnerable to infection due to the exposed wound.
Johan Marais, a wildlife surgeon at the University of Pretoria who belongs to Saving the Survivors, said this is exactly what happened to one rhino in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province. Poachers shot the mother rhino's calf dead and then proceeded to hack apart the rhino's face while it was still alive in order to remove the horn.
"This is a horrific injury and she must be in immense pain," Marais said. "They hacked off her front horn really deeply and then they started with the back horn. But she either woke up and actually got up or they actually got disturbed so the back horn has not been removed."
Marais said they installed the rhino's new face after cutting away the dead tissue surround the wound. The hard part about creating the rhin's new face was finding an adequate bandage.
"We have been looking for a material that is strong, lightweight and pliable for us to work with it and conform it to the actual wound and to the face of the rhino," Marais said. "This is the first time I have tried elephant skin which is tough because she will eventually go rub her face because it itches."
The rhino's new face is an "experimental work in progress." Previous attempts tried using kudu or hippo skin, but it was either not strong enough or too thick. The surgeon has also tried using plastic or fiberglass shields for the rhino's new face, but they were not flexible enough.
The group says they plan on treating the rhino's new face for the next year and half. But if this experiment is successful, unfortunately it is possible the procedure will be needed many times in the future.
"The amount of trauma rhinos experience by the hand of man is terrible, it's atrocious," Marais said, according to USA Today. "There's no solution as yet on what we can do worldwide to actually curb this. We are in trouble."
[Image via Shutterstock]