Not every veterinary student will witness surgery on a rhinoceros.
But for two of Wagga’s CSU undergrads, the “fantastic” once-in-a-lifetime experience became their reality this week.
Fifth-year veterinary science student Molly Watts “never in a million years” thought she would be at the side of a critically endangered black rhino, assisting a team of experts investigate a mysterious condition.
“It was such a great experience,” Ms Watts said. “I was blown away.”
As part of the school’s final year of rotations, Ms Watts said she had been working alongside equine specialists, focusing on medical treatment for horses.
It turns out a horse’s anatomy is not not dissimilar to the large African mammal.
So when the 26-year-old’s CSU associate-professor, renowned equine surgeon Bryan Hilbert was called to help Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s black rhino, Kwanzaa, she and fellow student Amber Davis tagged along.
Even though the pair were not involved in the surgery, Ms Watts said they were grateful for the opportunity to see the majestic 1000-kilo animal up close.
“I never really thought about working at a zoo,” she said. “Now I’ve had a taste of it, who knows?”
They joined the team of equine specialists on Monday’s road trip to Dubbo, after the zoo’s senior veterinarian Benn Bryant requested help to figure out what was wrong with Kwanzaa.
Doctor Bryant said the bull’s first nose bleed a few years ago had initially been dismissed.
“These guys kind of shove their faces into prickly browse to eat,” Dr Bryant said. “We just presumed he had damaged his lining of his nose with a piece of vegetation."
But in the years that followed, Kwanzaa continued to suffer bleeds.
After a bad episode in recent weeks, zookeepers feared something sinister might be at play.
Mr Bryant said with the skills and knowledge of Wagga's equine experts, the formidable team were able to investigate Kwanzaa’s respiratory system and rule out a number of potential causes.
“It was a significant achievement,” Dr Bryant said. “Kwanzaa recovered well after the surgery.”
Wagga's Dr Bryan Hilbert said the biggest challenge of the non-invasive procedure had been Kwanzaa's 1000-kilogram size.
“We were working on the ground in an enclosure,” Dr Hilbert said. “So it was not ideal conditions.”