- Associated Press - Saturday, May 3, 2014

LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. (AP) - Lissa the Rhino is struggling to keep her footing - and those aren’t small feet.

A team of doctors, surgeons and rhinoceros wranglers have gathered at Lissa’s pen at Lion Country Safari. They’ve injected her with a narcotic and are trying to maneuver all 3,500 pounds of wobbly beast into the center of her space and away from a hip-high pile of dung.

After a three-hour surgery to remove part of a cancerous tumor, Lissa, tries to get to her feet.

She has someone’s black windbreaker thrown over her eyes. Three grown men and one woman, each tug at lassoes looped around her neck.


Wherever she lands will be their operating suite for the next three hours.

Lissa has cancer. On her horn.

Jokes about rhinoplasty aside, this is serious. Few rhinoceroses in captivity ever develop cancer. There was the one in Arizona with a sarcoma on his foot. Another in Los Angeles had something on its horn, but the growth was very small.

The tumor here is bigger than a squished basketball. It’s not just on her horn, it’s in it.

And on this day in February, surgeons - the kind who work on humans and the kind who work on animals - are planning a two-pronged attack: cut out as much of the tumor as possible and then inject a chemotherapy drug into the rest.

They’ve already operated three other times. Those times they had to trip her into place. This time she sits on her back haunches first and then lowers that car-engine-sized head onto a pile of foam mats.

The surgeons have three hours. Not one minute more.

Let the timer begin.

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Lissa was born Dec. 11, 1980 at Lion Country Safari, a drive-through zoo off Southern Boulevard in Loxahatchee. She’s one of 14 rhinos living on the property. Her most constant companion: her daughter Aliza.

“In the wild, if they live to be 35 that’s ancient. Here, we have some 40-year-olds and one 50-year-old,” said the park’s Wildlife Director Terry Wolf.

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