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To provide the surgical materials for a ground breaking surgical procedure, to rebuild the lost facial structures after poaching attacks

by Benjamin Peters in Weston Super Mare, England, United Kingdom

Tackling the point of rhino poaching: using advanced biomaterials to preserve the world’s rhino population.

Poaching of African large mammal species is a global concern.  Despite many initiatives to tackle the problem, the number of animals lost to poaching has recently been increasing: in 2017, over 1,000 rhinos were killed.  The Northern White Rhino is essentially now extinct and numbers of Black Rhinos and Southern White Rhinos are under immense pressure.  Consequently, saving just one animal is an important goal.

A South African charity, ‘Saving the Survivors’, treats and rehabilitates animals orphaned by poaching. 

Adults are also sometimes not killed outright but suffer horrendous injuries as a result of their horns or tusks being removed.  They often die because current techniques in veterinary medicine cannot effectively treat their injuries, or even if these animals survive their pain means that they cannot socialize effectively and reproduce.  A team from the University of Nottingham are seeking funding to investigate ground-breaking new surgical biomaterials in treating these devastating injuries.

Dr John Burford is a Specialist in Equine Surgery at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, and whose research is primarily focused on animal welfare.  Professor Kevin Shakesheff of the School of Pharmacy is a world-leader in bioengineering and bioprinting.

They believe that they would be able to use innovative and revolutionary products developed at The University of Nottingham to create surgical techniques addressing injuries that cannot be solved by conventional medicine.

They will work with Dr Johan Marais, founder of the charity and a veterinary surgeon to attempt to fully rehabilitate these animals.

Sadly, most animals targeted by poachers are killed and so the project has a second aim: to increase public awareness of the plight of these animals and the impact of poaching.  The third member of the team is Ben Peters, an explorer, director and filmmaker.  Ben will be assisted by master’s students in Wildlife Filmmaking from the University of Bristol to follow the progress of these animals during their surgical rehabilitation.  This will lead to a documentary which will have a far wider impact for the project by engaging the public and challenging policymakers to reinvigorate inter-governmental solutions.

It is a sad indictment of the modern age that the public may be numb to the image of a dead rhino; a living animal which bears the lifelong scars of poaching whilst experts in their field give their time, knowledge and expertise to ease its suffering will create a new angle to engage and provoke.

Poaching not only affects animals, but also puts human lives in danger and funds criminal networks.  This collaboration will not only try to improve the welfare of individuals but by leading to changes in attitudes and policies will have an effect on all the animals living under the constant threat of poaching.


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