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What is the significance of the Rhinoceros?

Albrecht Durer

This is a famous woodcut of an Indian Rhinoceros (one horn and amour plating) made by Albrecht Durer, a German artist, in 1515.

In fact he never saw this creature, rather he based this image on a written description and brief sketch sent to him by a friend. This rhinoceros had arrived in Lisborn in early 1515 and was the first rhinoceros seen in Europe since Roman times. The King of Portugal later sent the animal to Pope Leo X , but it died in a shipwreck of the coast of Italy. 

Sir Richard Owen

Almost three hundred years later another famous Indian rhinoceros died in London zoo in 1849. Sir Richard Owen who was then the Hunterian and Conservator of the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons performed an autopsy on this creature.  When describing the appearance of the larynx  he discussed “a small compact yellow glandular body, attached to the thyroid at a point where the veins emerge”,  which as it turns out is the first time the  parathyroid glands were  examined. These small glands which were subse-quently found to be very important in calcium control, were the last organs to ever be discovered in a mammal.  

The connection of the Indian rhinoceros (rhinoceros unicornis)  with the parathy-roid gland has made this animal the symbol for Endocrine Surgery around the world.  An oil painting of this rhinoceros and his preserved larynx are  available to  be seen in the Royal College of Surgeons in London. 

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