It takes 20 people to extract three teeth from 4,000 pound ‘Princess’ at Utah’s Hogle Zoo

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A team of up to 20 people worked together to extract three teeth from Princess, a 39-year-old white rhino at Hogle Zoo.

Zoo staff noticed several months ago that Princess was having problems with eating and excessive drooling, and because they suspected dental disease they contacted experts in that field.

"Working with animals is like caring for a family member," said rhino keeper Lauren LeCoque. "We know their behaviors and personalities. We'd been monitoring her drooling for a few months then we knew it was time to ask for help."

Zoo staff worked with Princess for months in advance of the procedure to train her to receive the necessary injections. On September 18, Dr. Michael Lowder, a rhino dental expert at the University of Georgia, and Dr. Ellen Wiedner, a specialist with experience in anesthesia on large animals, joined with zoo staff to remove three loose molars.

Anesthetizing and managing a 4,000 pound animal during a dental procedure is a daunting task, but a team of up to 20 people made it a success.

"Hogle Zoo staff had prepared so well, including training Princess for a variety of procedures," said Dr. Wiedner afterward. "They made my job of running the anesthesia very easy."

Team members gave Princess oxygen and monitored her closely as Dr. Lowder used 200 pounds worth of rhino-sized dental instruments to extract the molars. The procedure took less than three hours.

One molar was about the size of a deck of cards.

Princess was back on her exhibit with her brother George the day after the procedure.

"Her recovery surpassed our expectation," LeCoque said. "She was back to her spunky self within a week's time."

Zoo staff said Princess has been drooling less and appears to be feeling better in the weeks since the procedure. They have also trained her to let staff use a hose to rinse her mouth and will use a "home-made water pick as a way to 'floss' her teeth, which is important for maintaining oral health."

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