Rhino Surgery

From HIMAL, Volume 8, Issue 2  (MAR/APR 1995)

On 18 December, a 15-year-old male rhinoceros from the eastern precincts of the Royal Chitwan National Park forded the Rapti river to raid the fields of Pyaredhap village. It was the season for wheat, mustard and chili pepper (khursani), which the rhinos relish.


In trying to shoo the rhino away, the villagers used iron-tipped spears of the kind found in most Tarai villages. One throw opened a gash on the rhino’s rearleft flank, while another spear lodged itself deep in the soft cartilage of the right foot. The wooden shaft dropped off, leaving the tip firmly in place.


On the morning of 19th, elephant drivers from the Chitwan Jungle Lodge taking tourists for a morning of sightseeing in the riverine forest noticed the rhino in the undergrowth. As the rhino tried to move away from the elephants, they noticed the two-ton animal’s heavy limp. Upon closer scrutiny, the sharp-eyed elephant drivers noticed the metal imbedded in the front right instep.

The Lodge manager alerted the Park headquarters at Kasara, 15 km to the west, downstream along the Rapti. Assistant Warden Tikaram Adhikari arrived the next morning with vets Kamal Gaire and Balakrishna Giri. The Park’s most experienced shot, Bal Bahadur Lama, propelled a tranquiliser dart towards the rhino’s backside. Before ten minutes had passed, the beast began to sway on its feet and then went down to a crouch. In another few minutes, he was out.

When the rhino did not stir in response to a smart kick from Adhikari, the rest of the party quickly got off the elephants to complete work before the tranquiliser wore off. The rhino was rolled over so that the wounded leg showed. A salve was applied on the open eyeballs to ensure that they did not get dry. Cloth was used to cover the eyes and plug the ears to reduce the sensations affecting the heavily breathing animal.


The vets first tried to pull the spear point out of the swollen, puss-laden foot, but the arrowhead was stuck in the tendons and was impossible to free up despite, furious tugs. After several minutes of heaving at the metal shaft, Gaire and Giri decided to operate. Using scalpels, they cut into the bloody foot and pried out the long arrowhead.

Antiseptic powder was applied to the wound and the rhino woke up with an antidote injection that countered the effect of the tranquiliser. The Park staff scurried up their elephants and within two minutes the rhino was on his feet. Swaying and leaning against nearby trunks for support, the patient limped into the Chitwan undergrowth.

Spotters from the Lodge reported a few days later that the rhino was doing fine, in place once again in his role as dominant species of the Chitwan jungle. He might or might not go back to raid the khursani fields which beckon from across the Rapti.

pictures and text by Kanak Mani Dixit

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