Curing a tooth root abscess can be a difficult process, so you can imagine the lengths our vet team went to treat an abscess in the world’s third largest land animal.

In 2016, our Pridelands keepers noticed a lump the size of a golf ball under the chin of our white rhino Zambezi. Our vet team determined Zambezi had a jaw abscess, most likely due to a tooth root infection, which is not uncommon in animals past middle age.

Our keepers have likened Zambezi to a slightly grumpy older gentleman, slower and quieter than his energetic son Inkosi. Because of this, there wasn’t an obvious change in behaviour when the abscess formed, but the size of the swelling made it hard to miss for our observant team! 


It's a quick visit to the dentist for rhino Zambezi

“Although grumpy at times, Zambezi is a lovely rhino. He loves a good scratch from his keepers and will do almost anything for a banana,” said Pridelands keeper David Crimp.

Zambezi was initially treated with antibiotics which reduced the swelling, but unfortunately the swelling recurred in 2017 and the abscess broke through the skin, which meant the treatment had not fully cured the infection. Our vets teamed up with Blue Mist Equine Veterinary Centre (who we have worked with for our zebra dental care) and a procedure was booked in for Zambezi to be anesthetised to uncover the extent of the infection, and an attempt to remove the tooth was also made. When large animals like rhino are anesthetised everything needs to be prepared in incredible detail, as there is a one-hour time constraint to complete the procedure due to their heavy body mass.

The vet team are now working with external experts to try and find the best way forward for our gentle giant. Worldwide, there have been no reports of a tooth removal in a white rhino and our team is yet to make contact with a dental specialist who is experienced in the matter. Watch this space as we research the topic, and continue our search for another experienced specialist who can offer their assistance. 

Although grumpy at times, Zambezi is a lovely rhino. He loves a good scratch from his keepers and will do almost anything for a banana

Pridelands keeper David Crimp

Auckland Zoo supports the work of the Lowveld Rhino Trust Zimbabwe which works to protect rhino’s in the wild against poaching. A way you can help is to not support the rhino horn trade, one of the main reasons rhinos are poached.  Unlike elephant tusks, rhino horns are made of thousands of strands of very stiff hair. To learn more about these special giants and how you can help, join us for one of our rhino encounters on your next visit.

Did you know? When you visit Zambezi and Inkosi you’re helping wildlife in the wild, as a portion of your Zoo ticket goes to our Conservation Fund.