THE RHINOCEROS AND THE PARATHYROID

 

The one-horned Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis)  is the worldwide mascot of  parathyroid and thyroid surgeons, with most members of the Australian and New Zealand Endocrine Surgeons Association having a bronze bust on their desk or a collection of  rhinoceroses in their office. The rhinoceros was chosen as the mascot as it was in this animal that the  parathyroid glands were first discovered in 1849. The story of the discovery of the parathyroid glands goes as follows: the  London Zoo purchased its first Great Indian Rhinoceros in 1833 and it was one of the zoo’s central attraction until it died 15 years later after an altercation with an elephant leading to rib fractures. Richard Owen was the Conservator of the Hunterian Museum at the time and he performed a post-mortem. It is rumoured that he was searching for the “secret gland” that  was thought to be responsible for the renowned prowess of the male rhinoceros in its mating habits, with intercourse often lasting many hours.  He did indeed find a new macroscopic gland in the neck located behind the thyroid gland on each side which he called the “parathyroid gland”. In his paper to the Zoological Society of London he described it as follows: “a small compact yellow glandular body was attached to the thyroid at the point where the veins emerge”. The parathyroids were, in fact, the last grossly visible mammalian organs  ever to be discovered. Their importance to endocrine surgeons worldwide has led to the Indian Rhinoceros becoming the international mascot of endocrine surgery.