23 May 2023
A large team of highly skilled veterinarians, equine dental experts and zookeepers have worked together to give a comprehensive dental check up to a female southern white rhino at Whipsnade Zoo.
Senior Veterinary Officer Doctor Taina Strike said the conservation zoo, a world leader in animal care for threatened species, worked collaboratively with experts from around the world to help care for the gentle giant’s oversized teeth.
“For the average 31-year-old a trip to the dentist may be a walk in the park, but if you’re a 2,100kg rhino like Mikumi, a simple dental check-up can become a bit more complicated,” she said.
“As humans age they may naturally develop tooth wear and tear, as well as decay and it’s no different for rhinos. Mikumi is in excellent health overall, but she is of advancing age, so it was important for us to investigate how her teeth were and prevent any future issues from arising.”
Taina explains that a southern white rhino’s teeth, which continuously grow throughout their life, are incredibly important: “Mikumi has huge teeth which help her to crush and grind the grass and other vegetation she eats into tiny pieces. Without these large teeth remaining in tip top condition she would struggle to eat, or poorly digested pieces of plant fibres could make their way into her digestive tract, causing health issues.”
The dedicated team at the conservation zoo reached out to experts in New Zealand, Australia and America for advice, and invited equine veterinary dental specialist Dr Chris Pearce to give her a check-up in the comfort of her own den on Tuesday 16 May.
Mikumi was anaesthetised in her cosy behind-the-scenes indoor den before more than 20 zookeepers helped to gently re-position her on her bed of soft straw for the exam. Throughout the dental examination four zookeepers helped to keep Mikumi’s heavy jaw open wide as Chris examined Mikumi’s teeth, while specially designed equipment helped the equine dentist to perform a thorough dental exam as Mikumi slept.
“Thanks to Whipsnade’s amazing zookeepers and veterinary team looking after Mikumi’s health - alongside our nutritionists, who have created a well-balanced and nutritious diet for all our white rhinos - we found that the 31-year-old's teeth were in excellent condition,” Dr Taina said.
During the exam, Dr Chris discovered one of Mikumi’s molars had a small fracture: the dentist was able to the clean the tooth and fix the problem, preventing future dental disease.
Thanks to the successful collaborative procedure, Mikumi may need another check-up in 18 months' time, as her teeth continue to grow.
“We will also assess some of our other white rhinos who are also starting to advance in age and look at providing them with dental check-ups too,” Taina said.