Rhino has successful dental surgery

Puntung being prepared for surgery.

Puntung’s molars which were removed.

KOTA KINABALU: After a successful dental surgery, Puntung, one of the only two female Sumatran rhinos still alive in Malaysia is showing signs of improvement.

She has started eating and wildlife officials and rhino conservationists in the state breathed a big sigh of relief after the surgery by Thai veterinary dentist Dr Tum Chinkangsadarn, State Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said.

Puntung has been suffering since mid-March from an abscess inside her upper jaw that would not heal despite treatment.

Augustine said that Dr Tum extracted two molar teeth and one premolar from Puntung’s left upper jaw during the operation that lasted two hours and twenty minutes on Wednesday morning.

“This was a remarkable and successful operation that came about as a result of global discussion and multi-national collaboration over the past two weeks,” he said.

“Sabah thanks Dr Tum and the team who had not worked together before but who did a fantastic job. Dr Abraham Mathew, senior veterinarian from Singapore zoo helped with anaesthesia. Dr Johan Marais and Dr Zoe Glyphis of South Africa-based ‘Saving the Survivors’ initiated the planning, advised on procedures and provided major financial support to ensure that the team got together in Tabin.

“We had vets in attendance and assisting from my department as well as Wildlife Department and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo Rhino Alliance,” he said.

The procedure started at 7am with X-rays done under sedation. Then Puntung was put under general anaesthesia for 110 minutes.

Dr Tum noted severe calcification of one large molar,  which is where bacteria initially accumulated and led to the abscess. The calcification has also loosened two adjacent teeth.

Borneo Rhino Alliance veterinarian Dr Zainal Z Zainuddin said, “We are so relieved and very grateful to Dr Tum, ‘Saving the Survivors’ and the specialist vets who had given Puntung a new lease of life.

“Incredibly, she started feeding within two hours of the operation ending. But we are not done yet. There will be a period of post operation care which will mean trying to keep Puntung clean, stress-free and under medication including for pain relief,” Dr Zainal said.

To a question if the removal of Puntung’s molar would affect her survival as she won’t be able to chew properly, Augustine replied, “We hope for the best.”

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