Not your average ultrasound!

A greater one-horned rhinoceros recently underwent general anaesthetic for an internal ultrasound scan at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, and keepers captured the rare moment on camera.

Keepers noticed that 22-year-old Behan, a female greater one-horned rhino, was having irregular reproductive cycles, and were concerned that something was wrong. The Zoo’s vets called in the help of Robert Hermes, an international rhinoceros reproductive specialist from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, who flew over to the UK’s largest Zoo for the ultrasound scan. 

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s veterinary officer, Fieke Molenaar said: “It’s rare for us to put a big animal like Behan under a general anaesthetic, because it can be risky for the animal, as well as for the team working with her. The anaesthetic we have to use on a rhino is so strong that even one drop could be lethal to humans. 

“However, we needed to see what was going on inside Behan, and the only way to do that was to give her an internal scan. The reproductive organs in a rhinoceros are hidden behind a huge amount of belly, so you can’t ultrasound them in the same way you would a human. Unfortunately, the only way to get close enough to a rhino’s ovaries is by going up their bottom!”

While the ultrasound scan was taking place, the Zoo’s veterinary team also carried out foot-care on Behan. 

Fieke continued: “The scans showed that Behan is, in fact, very healthy, and the issues with her cycle can be dealt with through regular hormone injections. To be reassured that she is in good health is great news for all of us that work with Behan. It’s also fantastic for the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), because we now know that, although she is an older female, it may still be possible for her to have another calf… which would be her fifth!”

Greater one-horned rhinoceroses are found in Nepal and India, where their habitat is threatened in particular by expanding human populations. ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is working in Nepal to conserve the fragile grassland ecosystem and protect this rhino species, alongside other wildlife. Improved protected area management and law enforcement by national authorities, supported by the work of conservation organisations including ZSL, has caused the numbers of rhino in Chitwan National Park to increase from a low of 100 rhinos in the late 1960s to at least 645 in 2015.

Families will be able to discover what it takes to be a vet, and much more about the true superheroes of the Zoo this May half-term, at Superheroes and Villains at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. 

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