A trip to the dentist is always stressful — but when the patient is a 2-ton rhino in need of a tooth extraction, the procedure gets even more tense.
A team of 20 performed just such a task at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, in what’s being called a first-of-its-kind dental procedure on the zoo’s 39-year-old rhino, Princess. The procedure happened Sept. 18, but zoo officials announced the results Friday.
Hogle staff had noticed Princess drooling excessively and dropping hay while eating, and diagnosed some form of dental disease. This was before Princess gained attention for her custom-made mask to keep flies out of her eyes.
“Working with animals is like caring for a family member,” said Lauren LeCoque, rhino keeper at Hogle. “We know their behaviors and personalities. We’d been monitoring her drooling for a few months, then we knew it was time to ask for help.”
Hogle Zoo brought in two national experts: Michael Lowder, a rhino dental expert from the University of Georgia, and Ellen Wiedner, a specialist in large-mammal anesthesia from Colorado.
For months before the procedure, Hogle staff trained Princess, to prepare her for receiving the injections needed to sedate her. Wiedner said the training and preparation made the job of giving Princess the anesthesia “very easy.”
Once inside Princess’ mouth, Lowder found three molars — one of them the size of a deck of playing cards — that needed to be removed. Using tools specifically designed for rhinos, Lowder was able to remove the teeth in about three hours.
Princess recovered quickly, zoo staff said, and was back to normal — and drooling less — within a week of the extraction. Keepers are training Princess to accept a hose in her mouth to rinse her teeth, and plan to follow Lowder’s suggestion of using a homemade water pick the way humans would use dental floss.