Rare black rhino at Brookfield Zoo celebrates 8th birthday after year of surgeries

BROOKFIELD, Ill. — Brookfield Zoo's Layla the rhino is turning 8 years old. That's a big deal considering that not only is she a rare black rhino, but she's had two dozen medical procedures this year alone.

In December, Brookfield Zoo veterinarians noticed Layla had trouble breathing and diagnosed her with a potentially deadly obstruction in the sinuses.

Rhinos rely heavily on the ability to breathe through their noses, so any issues preventing that can be a major health hazard.

Treatments started in January with a bilateral sinusotomy surgery to provide access to the sinuses.

Then in April, veterinarians performed the first ever CT scan on an adult rhinoceros. The scan revealed the obstruction was tissue that had grown because of an infected, impacted tooth.

It took several more surgeries to gradually remove the obstructing tissue from the airway.

In August, veterinarians put in a stent in the right nasal passage. The stent held the passage open to allow normal airflow.

Another stent was then put in the left nasal passage.

Now that Layla can breathe comfortably through the nose, it is time to celebrate.

"She's turning 8 years old, which is a fantastic achievement after what we've been going through over the last year to get her back to good health," Dr. Mike Adkesson said.

Layla's birthday party Thursday at the Brookfield Zoo includes cake made of fruits and vegetables in frozen ice blocks. There's also some carrot and watermelon.

Children visiting Hamill Family Play Zoo can make a birthday card for one of the last black rhinos on the planet.

"Their numbers are down to 2,300 in all of Africa," zoo curator Joan Daniels said. "Black rhinos are critically endangered. We have about 100 in managed care in North America, and Layla is one of the most valuable rhinos, genetically, to that population."