September 7, 2023
Each year Portland Vets funds two employees to travel to South Africa where they volunteer with African Wildlife Vets, who are situated in the Limpopo province. This year was the first year and head nurse Claire and vet Emma from our Horley branch undertook the trip and here Emma shares her experience.
In June 2023, alongside head nurse/partner Claire, I had the privilege of working with wildlife vet Dr Dup du Plessis, and his fantastic assistant Dominique, in South Africa. Being the only vet covering a large area, Dr Dup treats any animals that need his help in addition to wildlife, including farm and small animals (small animals unfortunately often being bitten by venomous snakes).
Much of the work we were involved with was relocating animals to a different location in order to expand the gene pool for breeding. Dr Dup would dart them from a helicopter, and we (6 volunteers under the watchful eye of Dominique) as the ground team were in charge of recovering them, loading them onto transport vehicles and reversing the sedative drugs intravenously, all whilst keeping the animals safe and minimising side effects from the drugs! Everyone was involved with all aspects of this process, and as such we had close up hands on experience with a range of species: buffalo, wildebeest, impala, nyala, waterbuck, tsessebe, roan, kudu, eland and sable.
An alternative to darting was a technique called mass capture, which involved a helicopter guiding animals into a large funnel shaped enclosure (boma) and then making the funnel smaller by running across after the animals had passed with curtains of material. It was certainly an interesting experience that required a lot of communication between the helicopter and the ground team, and a way to relocate animals that didn’t involve darting them.
A highlight was being able to work with rhino and lion. Sadly for the rhino, the reason for this was to de-horn them, making them less of a target for poaching. It involved a large team working together to safely immobilise them and remove the horn. A few minutes after reversing the sedatives they were standing and happily munching some food. For the lion, some of our work with them involved darting them in order to assess and treat wounds, or remove stitches from previously treated wounds. This was very similar to some of our small animal work, although these patients were a lot larger and scarier!
Some of the farm work we were involved with was checking cattle for foot and mouth disease before auction, post-mortems to determine cause of death, and pregnancy checks.
Throughout the whole two weeks we had fantastic hospitality provided by Dominique and her mother Theresa. The accommodation and food were great. We also had just the right amount of lectures so we understood the theory behind what we were involved in and the importance of conservation work. On our day off we were treated to a game drive, where we spotted giraffe, various antelope species, warthog, baboons and hippo. All in all, a once in a lifetime experience!