International team pulls off life-saving surgery on Puntung the rhino

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 19 Apr 2017

Puntung waking up after the successful surgery.

KOTA KINABALU: A global team of veterinary experts has successfully pulled off a life-saving operation on Puntung, one of the last three Sumatran Rhinos in Malaysia.

According to the Sabah Wildlife Department, Puntung was responding well after a 140-minute surgery that began at 7am Wednesday, and was already beginning to feed by late afternoon.

Rhino conservationists breathed a cautious sigh of relief, but say it will take some time for Puntung to fully recover.

Puntung had an abscess in her jaw that would not heal despite intensive treatment since mid-March.

"This is a remarkable and successful operation that came about as a result of global discussion and multinational collaboration over the past two weeks," department director Augustine Tuuga said in a statement.

He said Thai veterinary dentist Dr Tum Chinkangsadarn extracted two molars and one premolar from Puntung's left upper jaw during the operation.

The animal was put under general anaesthesia for 110 minutes.

"The abscess was caused by the build-up of calcium salts on one of Puntung's molars, causing a bacterial infection that also loosened two adjacent teeth," Tuuga said.

Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) veterinarian Dr Zainal Zainuddin said they were relieved and grateful to Dr Tum, the team of doctors from the South Africa-based NGO Saving the Survivors, and the specialist veterinarians who have given Puntung a new lease of life.

"Incredibly, she started feeding within two hours of the operation but we are not done yet," Dr Zainal said.

"There will be a period of post-op care which will mean trying to keep her clean, stress-free and under medication, including for pain relief," he added.

Dr Abraham Mathew, senior veterinarian from Singapore Zoo, helped with the anaesthesia while Dr Johan Marais and Dr Zoe Glyphis of Saving the Survivors initiated the planning, advised on procedures and provided major financial support to ensure that the team got together in Tabin.

"We had vets in attendance, with assistance from my department as well as the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia and Bora," Tuuga said.

He added that the surgical team did a fantastic job even though it was the first time they had worked together.


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