Update October 14, 2015: Despite the best efforts of the team from Saving the Survivors, the long-term effects of iThemba's injuries eventually proved too much and she passed away earlier today. Veterinarian, Dr Mike Toft, who treated the injured rhino, believes a blood clot or heart attack to be the cause of death. iThemba was last treated on Sunday after the team noticed that her bandage had lifted slightly. According to a Facebook post from Saving the Survivors, several maggots were seem under her second horn and she was being harassed by blowflies in the extreme heat. "[iThemba is] another rhino who lost her life to this senseless poaching scourge - and worst of all she will not even be a statistic," Saving the Survivors posted on their Facebook page.

Update August 27, 2015: Based on progesterone levels, Saving the Survivors confirmed on August 27 that iThemba - the rhino that survived an attack from poachers - was pregnant. Sadly, the stress of her recent ordeal proved too much and the baby did not survive. "We are now more determined than ever to heal her so that she may be able to have another calf in the future," Saving the Survivors posted on their Facebook page.

Zoe Bonne Johan Final Touches Rhino 2015 08 17
‘STROOP’s Bonné de Bod watching Dr Johan Marais finish tightening the wire screws on the elephant skin shield over rhino poaching survivor iThembi’s face. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film

A rhino found earlier this month with severe injuries to her face has been given a chance at survival thanks to a team of conservationists who dressed the wound with a bandage made from elephant skin.

The 12-year old rhino was shot in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and left unconscious while poachers hacked off her front horn. It’s suspected that the rhino may have woken up during the gruesome dehorning causing the poachers to flee before fully removing her back horn. The rhino’s calf was also shot but did not survive the attack.

Wildlife surgeon, Johan Marais, who works for Saving the Survivors – an organisation committed to rescuing and treating injured species – was called to the scene to assess the wound. "This is a horrific injury and she must be in immense pain," he told USA Today.

After cleaning the badly infected wound, Marais and his team used sponges and dressings to fill in any gaps where dead tissue had been removed. Elephant hide was then placed over the wound and fastened with stainless steel sutures. The elephant skin was supplied by a taxidermist and obtained from an animal that had died of natural causes.

Nicknamed iThemba (which means "Hope" in Zulu), the rhino is the first of her kind to be treated with a "face shield" made from elephant hide, a hardy leather that could prove useful in treating these kinds of injuries. "We have been looking for a material that is strong, lightweight and pliable for us to work with it and conform it to the actual wound and to the face of the rhino," Marais explains.

Plastic or fibreglass face shields have been used in the past; however, Marais has found the material a little too rigid for the job. “This is the first time I have tried elephant skin, which is tough,” he explains, having also experimented with kudu and hippo hide in the past. The team hope that the durable ellie-leather will stand up to abuse when iThemba’s wound begins to itch and she rubs her face against tree-trunks or stumps.

It’s an experimental procedure, but Marais is holding thumbs that the bandage will last four to five weeks, and if successful may be an option for future surgeries. The team is already planning to use the same technique to assist a rhino called Hope that is recovering after being attacked by poachers in May this year.

WARNING: Some of the images below are very graphic in nature.

Ithemba Rhino Shield Cameratrap 2015 08 18
A camera-trap photo taken on August 17, 2015 shows iThemba recovering well after the surgery. Image courtesy of the reserve where iThembi lives.
Johan Marais Bonne Plane KZN 2015 08 17
Dr Johan Marais of Saving the Survivors and Bonné de Bod of ‘STROOP’ die film on board a chartered flight to KZN. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film
Mike Johan Bonne Rhino Survivor 2015 08 17
Dr Mike Toft (attending local veterinarian), Dr Johan Marais of Saving the Survivors and Bonné de Bod of ‘STROOP’ die film during initial treatment of iThemba. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film
Rhino Elephant Skin Survivor Face 2015 08 17
Rhino poaching survivor ‘iThemba’ after her wound had been cleared of infection, maggots and sterilised. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film
Rhino Elephant Skin Survivor Treatment 2015 08 17
Rhino poaching survivor ‘iThemba’ undergoing initial treatment. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film
Rhino Elephant Skin Face Shield 2015 08 17
Rhino poaching survivor ‘iThemba’ in the first few minutes of her operation. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film
Rhino Elephant Skin Shield 2015 08 17
Frame Grab from ‘STROOP’ die film’s footage of the elephant skin shield on rhino poaching survivor ‘iThemba’ in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film
Zoe Johan Bonne Mike Cleaning Rhino Nocrop 2015 08 17
Dr Johan Marais cleaning the wound with a liquid solution while his assistant Zoe Glyphis, Bonné de Bod of ‘STROOP’ and attending local veterinarian Dr Mike Toft look on. Image © Susan Scott for ‘STROOP’ die film

Bonné de Bod and Susan Scott are making a documentary feature film called 'STROOP' ('POACHED' in English) on the rhino poaching crisis. They were on location filming Dr Johan Marais and the Saving the Survivors team last week in KwaZulu-Natal. For more, visit the STROOP Facebook page.