Comprehensive  Ways To Delightful Healthy Pets
RHINO AND REPRODUCTION
IHAVE LONG ARMS THAT COME IN HANDY IN VETERINARY WORK. Especially in rhino reproduction work.
“Can you hold this so I can use it as a guide?” Dr. Nan Schaffer asked me one day during a rhino exam.
I was elated. I was about to get hands-on experience working on a state-of-the-art, scientific effort to save rhinos from extinction.
“Of course!” I exclaimed. “Where should I stand?”
“Well, you’ll have to be standing at her bum,” she said as she handed me a rectal thermometer and an extraordinarily long blue exam glove.
Forty-five minutes later, my arm felt like it was made of stone, and I could barely feel my fingers. My other arm had to stop the whiplike rhino tail from painting my face with urine. I have rarely felt so important. Nan was engrossed in maneuvering her endoscopy probe into the reproductive tract and my hand was in the colon, helping her orient and measure where she was. The rhino was standing, but dreamily snoring in perfect sedation.
An often unseen but unusual feature in rhinos is their uncommonly long, twisting, tubular reproductive road to the lotuslike folds of the cervix. Dr. Schaffer was trying to work out a method for in vitro fertilization, but evidently it is nearly impossible to find your way to the eggs without a very long and slender arm in the colon showing the way, which is where I came in.
Later that day, Dr. Schaffer and I discussed the issues rhinos confront. Poaching for their horns decimated their populations, but other factors have exacerbated this sad story. If it were easy for rhinos to find each other in their fractured habitat, if their reproductive efforts had a quicker turnaround time, and if they weren’t so picky about their mates, things might be just a little bit better for their species.
The female’s tortuous labyrinth and the inconsistent sperm counts in semen that Dr. Schaffer collected from male rhinos made in vitro fertilization very difficult. Years later we even discussed ways to use acupuncture, as they do for human reproduction, to possibly increase sperm count. But this was early on, and I had yet to consider acupuncture in my veterinary career.
The shipping of a male rhino to mate with a potential female is a daunting undertaking. If a male can be safely shipped to the female, the pre-mating ritual itself is difficult. And after all that effort, they may not like each other.
In the wild, there is a long and often fierce battle before mating. After the male travels miles and miles to find a female, the first thing they do is fight. The female will often repeatedly attack the male, and horns and hooves fly. This is risky even in wide-open spaces of Africa, but in an enclosed space in a zoo it is downright terrifying to watch, and can even be dangerous. The male has to withstand the repeated attacks and keep the female near him by wailing and chasing after her if she tries to leave. During breeding, males have been known to toss females into the air.
After an undetermined amount of time, she may consider mating with him. Then the odd-shaped reproductive organs of each manage to sort out their differences. A rhino penis is shaped like a lightning bolt and evidently is made to navigate the twists and turns inside the female. If she gets pregnant, which doesn’t always happen, she will have only one calf, and will not mate again for at least three to five years. Sadly, this taxing and involved reproductive method doesn’t bode well for animals who, in some places, count their worldwide numbers in single digits.
A couple of days later, I went back to see Naivasha, the female rhino. She is one of my favorites, and the keeper and I called her name in that singsong way people do for their pets. Naivaaaasha! Her head popped up out of her water trough and she trotted over. All the medical tests and her exam hadn’t changed her demeanor. She always seemed genuinely glad to see people. I know that most of her affection was for the carrots in our pockets and some well-deserved back and ear scratching, but I took her keen-eyed sweet look at me as rhino love. The white rhinos are more gregarious than most. What a wonderful pet she would make. If only I could live on a few hundred acres of savanna and keep her safe from poachers, while avoiding her blind mood swings.
For some species it may be impossible to duplicate the wild where they once flourished. For the rhino, they have so much at stake, and even with so many people devoted to them, their survival is still in question. We may have to rely on the extravagant powers of technology to keep the species alive. But without their habitat in place, we may never find a way to make them thrive again.
With our dogs and cats we are more fortunate. Overpopulation is a concern; extinction is not. Improving overall health is an issue. Since the needs of dogs and cats are not so complicated that we can’t meet the basics to help them thrive, we really have no excuse for not doing all we can.
“How was your weekend?” my mom asked when I stopped by for a visit.
I handed her a cup of tea and said, “Well, I don’t think you want to know where this hand has been.”