Elephant and Rhino Skin Suturing – An Update

The closure of large wounds in elephants and rhino is a substantial challenge for veterinarians.  This is especially true if there is no underlying bone that may be used to fasten dressings like elephant leather, which will protect the wound and keep it sealed for better healing.  The Saving the Survivors vets were the first to develop a method to close rhino facial wounds, where the horn has been removed by poachers, with fibreglass, by using sterile orthopaedic screws to drill into the underlying bone.  This protects the wound so it heals maximally underneath and at the same time caused minimal damage.

However, where the bone has also been removed, the Saving the Survivors vets have developed a method to use elephant leather, which acts as a protective covering, that is sutured onto the rhino skin.  However, the rhino skin is extremely thick and tough on the face, and even stainless steel sutures do not last very long.  A new method that was tried recently involved the use of self-tapping screws that was inserted into the horn and skin, but that proved not to last very long.

We are currently developing an instrument that will enable us to put a larger diameter wire, deeper through the thick skin, so that the dressing may stay on for at least 2 to 3 weeks.  We are not there yet, but hopefully in the near future this will allow us to be more successful in keeping these wounds covered, and will allow these type of wounds to heal better and quicker.