Rhino’s New Face Created Using Elephant Skin After Poachers Rip Off Its Horn

A rhino received a new face made of elephant skin after a group of poachers ripped off the nearly extinct animal’s horn.

According to a report by CNN, the poachers recently shot the 12-year-old rhino, whose name is Ithemba, which means “Hope” in Zulu, in a wildlife park in the KwaZulu-Natal province. They also shot her 5-year-old calf, which sadly didn’t survive.

Dr. Johan Marais, a wildlife surgeon at the University of Pretoria and a member of Saving the Survivors, a group dedicated to helping wounded rhinos, said the rhino went down after the bullet punctured her skin. The poachers then proceeded to mutilate her face in hopes of taking both of her horns, however they only got away with one.

“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.”

Because the poachers removed most of Hope’s underlying bones, leaving only soft tissue, the veterinarians opted to use elephant skin to re-create the rhino’s new face. Marais explained that using the natural materials tends to work better than the hard synthetic shields that are typically used to treat this type of injury. The elephant’s skin, which was retrieved from a taxidermist who collected the skin from an elephant that died from natural causes, is really tough, which is important because Hope will eventually start rubbing her nose.

“I decided with this rhino to make use of elephant skin, as it is quite tough, and hope it will withstand the rubbing efforts of the rhino and the stainless steel sutures we used to fasten the skin on to the rhino’s face,” he said.

Hope’s facial reconstruction using elephant skin is experimental. Kudu, a species of antelope, and hippo skin have previously been used, but was either too weak or too thick. As the Inquisitr previously reported, surgeons have also attempted to use plastic or fiberglass shields, but they were not flexible enough.

According to USA Today, Hope is currently doing well, and is expected to recover. However, the veterinarians are hoping to be able to keep and eye on her, and offer her treatment for at least another year.

In 2014 alone, poachers killed over 1,200 rhinos in South Africa. While not all are currently considered extinct, all five species of rhinos are being considered threatened.

“The amount of trauma rhinos experience by the hand of man is terrible. It’s atrocious,” Marais said. “There’s no solution as yet on what we can do worldwide to actually curb this. We are in trouble.”

[Photo via Shutterstock]