Tag Archives: safari

South African Safari

A month volunteering at a vet project in Limpopo, South Africa

Russ Fleming in South AfricaRussell Kelaart

Firstly, I would like to encourage everyone reading this to take a gap year.  There were various reasons for me taking a gap year, primarily to gain more work experience in preparation for veterinary medicine applications to university.  It is my goal to become a wildlife vet in African conservation, and undertaking work experience in this field has been extremely beneficial.  It has enabled me to participate in the work that I would be doing as a vet, it was able to make contacts there, and I have learnt a great deal not only about the work but also South Africa and life in general.  I also made some amazing friends.  Having paid for the entire trip myself and for a short time living on my own out there I have gained that much more independence.

“It was the best month of my life.”

I travelled with a company called the African Conservation Experience.  They support select conservation projects by sending volunteers, and volunteers pay them indirectly via ACE.

My project is listed under Phola Veterinary Experience and is located at a small frontier town called Alldays in Limpopo province.  80% of our time was spent the vet Dr. Dup Du Plessis who runs the recently built clinic in the town.  Nearly all of this time was spent out in the field on game farms, the rest of the time (generally weekends) was spent at the local game farm were we slept in tents out in the bush where the night sky was always dark enough to see the Milky Way.

With the vet day to day operations consisted largely of animal capture.  We would draw up a dart for the animal, then dart it, follow it until it went down, get it on a stretcher if we had to move it, and then wake it up.  Depending on the circumstance this entire process could take anything from 7 minutes to half an hour.  When using anaesthetics such as etorphine, animals lose their ability to regulate their temperature so it was of paramount importance that we got the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible when most days it was nearly 35*C.  We soon became an efficient team in the process of game capture.

At our first capture Dup said “We don’t go around bushes, we go through bushes.”  At first I thought he was joking but in that kind of environment there is not the time or space for anything between 6 and 18 people to walk around a Winter Thorn Bush or the aptly named “Stay a while” thorn bush.  Dragging a male Waterbuck 100m to the transport “bakkie” through dense scrub can be interesting to say the least.  At times we were aided by “pangas” or machetes, other times we just ploughed through.

A bakkie is a pick-up truck, in which we travelled everywhere.  Getting to drive a Toyota Hilux through the African bush at night on my own was an experience I will never forget!  Given that there was often not enough space in the cab extra passengers rode on the back everywhere.  And depending on who was driving you could sometimes find yourself temporarily suspended in the air over a particularly rough track.

Generally we were safety conscious and took all the precautions we could, but you can never really fully predict animals.  Having worked with lions, rhinos and crocodiles most people are surprised to hear that I would consider the most dangerous animal there the buffalo.  One day we darted 38 to draw bloods to test for Bovine Tuberculosis.  Nervous creatures at the best of times they were becoming increasingly skittish as we removed completed individuals out of the temporary holding pen and back onto the reserve via a partition through the pen.  After a buffalo had gone down the rest of the herd would be moved into the other half of the pen by the tractor and the owner’s bakkie.  It was a huge operation, but was running smoothly.

One went down near the corner.  Needing a new needle and shoulder to draw blood for samples I was to go and get them – they were outside the pen the other side of the gate.  The small remainder of the herd had been driven to the other side so thinking we were alone the owner, Jaque, and I went to open the gate in the corner.  Reaching the gate Dup screams.  Turning, we face a buffalo cow that has been separated from her calf.  We are cornered.  She charges.  Jaque grabs her horns to push her out of the corner, having none of it she easily flicks him back tearing a huge whole across his shirt.   For some reason she suddenly turns around and runs off.  With Jaque on the floor against the wall I am assuming the worst but he shouts to get up on the fence.  Somehow he follows, just before the buffalo returns to have another go, eyeing us above her on the fence.  The rest of the team manage to get her out.  Unbelievably, Jaque is asking if I am OK!  I reply yes then tentatively ask him if he is.  I cannot believe he is still breathing, let alone climbing the 4m fence.  By some extraordinary stroke of luck he is largely unscathed with only a substantial bruise.

After, as the adrenaline rush hits I can only laugh.  I laugh with the workers as they ask me what I saw in that corner. With a wry smile Dup says “It’s funny now,” then shakes his head in disbelief.  He seems more relieved than I.  Later he tells the anecdote of how the same situation occurred but where the gate was locked and he watched another vet have his heart and rib cage gored out by a buffalo.  Over the next few weeks he reminds me every now and then about how lucky I was, and how I probably don’t fully appreciate what peril I was actually in.  It is funny how an incident that lasted no longer than 5 seconds stays with you.

“Some people would say it’s strange that I can’t imagine anything better than doing this for the rest of my life.”

LionessDespite the large amounts of exhilarating buffalo work the real highlight of my trip was getting to work with a lioness.  Due to a land dispute on a huge game farm she was being kept in temporary accommodation with her ‘husband’ and her son.  In such a limited abode any family pride structure had broken down and being the little one she was on the receiving end of frequent altercations.  She was limping badly, but more worryingly her right ear was torn and badly infected.  We darted her then others in 4x4s drove the male lions as far away as they could within the confines of this camp.  Monitoring vitals is crucial, as it’s the first indicator that something’s going wrong.

Listening to her heartbeat was an experience I will never forget.

Big cats, Big surprises

lion, leopard, tigerThe standout feature of this week’s Safari Vet School – other than ITV’s incredible ability to massively over-dramatise everything –  was the lion dart, transport and release experience. As in previous posts most of the fun adventures that the students get up to manage to trigger some memory I have that I am able to draw parallels from with the safari experience. After all, in spite of being born in South Africa there are not too many Lions roaming the streets of Hampshire for me to get my clinical teeth into. Plenty of unpredictable, oft grumpy and sharp moggies though.

The students had to administer sedation to the two lions in question, in order to safely transport them across the reserve, and had to remain vigilant during the process due to the risk of the lions waking up. It highlighted the inherent unpredictability of sedation in general and how not all of our patients take note of the dose charts. We had a feline patient in yesterday who it was suspected may have had a foreign body impaction (ie may have had something stuck in his guts) as he had not been to the toilet and had been seen for vomiting previously. In order to fully assess him, including taking an xray of his abdomen, we opted to admit him for sedation and to start him on a drip in order to rehydrate him. In the end we needed to sedate him before we were able to place an i/v line as he was a bit of a flighty chap. The sedation worked a treat and within a few minutes our bouncy feline customer was a pliable bundle of fluff. This proved two points for me: 1. it is often preferable, both in terms of reducing stress on the patient and for making sure you, as the vet, are able to do the best job possible in the least amount of time, to sedate animals that are making life a little tricky when it comes to examining them; and 2. the response to sedation is such an inherently unpredictable game – another cat of the same weight may not have been touched by the dose we gave whilst the cat yesterday responded perfectly. Having top-up drugs, reversal agents, and additional medications and supportive treatments, such as oxygen, on hand is therefore essential, so that you are able to respond in real time to what is actually happening with your patient, rather than relying on what is ‘supposed’ to happen, as it rarely goes the way it should. The other thing to remember is that even though our patient wasn’t a 300kg lion, it could still have caused a decent amount of damage to either myself or one of my colleagues, especially during the recovery phase when animals are often very disorientated and confused. Anyone who has been on the sharp ends of a cat will certainly know what I mean. In terms of what was wrong with the cat, it turned out he was massively constipated and so a decent period of rehydration and an enema later and he was right as rain, including being significantly lighter than before! Ah, the glamour.

As a footnote, I just wanted to commend Fitz on her rather spectacular feat of acrobatics in diving out of the way of the zebra’s flailing hoof, which would have made quite a dent in her head if it had hit. Vets do seem to have to develop the reactions of a wired cat as, again, the unpredictability of our patients means that danger can literally fly at you from any direction at any time. Another feature of vets, and indeed nurses, seems to be our ability to contort ourselves into the oddest of positions and maintain said postures for lengthy periods of time in the course of administering to our patients. It sometimes feels like being a vet instantly puts you in contention for the title of World Twister Champion. Maybe compulsory yoga classes should form a part of the vetty curriculum?!

 

Take a moment and breeeeaaathe…

Don't panic buttonErm, really?

Although I am enjoying the Safari Vet School series, and it always cool to see vets getting airtime – especially prime time – I do feel compelled to pull ITV up on a couple of, what may seem trivial, points. The first is in response to the opening lines, “Amakhala Game Reserve is home to one of the most demanding vet schools in the world.” The course the students are on is NOT a “vet school,” and the show should really be careful with how it uses the term. The second point is in response to the statement, “the course forms part of the vital work-experience the students need to qualify as vets.” It is more accurate to say that the course CAN form part of students’ EMS, but that students don’t have to do it in order to qualify, which is the impression the show does give. The fact is that most vet students simply would not be able to participate in the course, which in spite of the fantastic conservation work that is done and the incredible role the course plays in promoting conservation, does cost a lot of money to take part in. Most vet students will and do complete all of their EMS prior to graduation in the UK. Pedantic points perhaps but worth just clarifying I think.

One other thing…

It has been interesting to see the contrast between the two sets of students, although I must say that it does feel like we’re simply seeing the same show repeated, as they are doing effectively the same things as the previous group we followed: giraffe capture; mass capture of a herd using the funnel system etc. As such, I do wonder whether the show could have actually been a few episodes shorter than it has been(?). Controversial view perhaps. I also wanted to offer a note to any students reading this who feel that they wouldn’t be able to get the same experience from their more ‘pedestrian’ UK based work experience: you can and will. The excitement of herding sheep, or a herd of cows in Wales can easily match that of herding wild safari herbivores, with the same level of danger and adrenaline being provided. If you have ever been faced with a cow that has spotted a gap and you’re the only one standing between them breaking free and staying put then you’ll understand. Although it is amazing to have the chance to get that level of excitement and animal contact in a more exotic location and setting, the fact is that you will be able to experience similar levels of adrenaline and satisfaction right here.

Stress: a vet’s permanent companion

The main theme seemed to be ‘the stress of being in charge,’ with the pressures of leading a team in a high pressure situation where time is of the essence and lives are at risk being explored. The students were involved in the tense activity of capturing Giraffe which, as we saw in a previous episode, carries a high level of risk to the animal, especially if the vet does not administer the sedative antidote in time. Any vet who has been in the situation where a genuine emergency (eg a dog that has been rushed in after being hit by a car) has occurred will know the surge of stress and excitement that accompanies such a situation. It is all too easy to lose your head in such scenarios as you are expected to think fast and act rapidly. The added pressure of being in charge of directing a team adds to the pressure cooker of emotions that can result. I have been in many situations where I could feel myself starting to freeze like a rabbit in headlamps and hear my thoughts go from a steady, ordered, organised set of signals to a random fuzz of static. The key, however, is to realise that you can, and should, take a moment – and that’s all you really need – to gather yourself as it is only once you are in control of your own thoughts that you can take control of the emergency and keep everyone else focused and effective. As a vet, even a newly qualified one, you possess all of the skills and knowledge to apply basic first-level emergency care to a patient. These basics don’t really change regardless of the emergency and are obvious when you think about it:

1. Is there any bleeding and if yes, is it both possible and safe to halt, or at the least reduce it, immediately? For example, if there is a large wound to the neck and significant bleeding from the area, rapid application of a pressure dressing would be appropriate. After all, a patient who has bled out is not really going to be bothered that you haven’t detected and dealt with it’s fractured leg straight away. Because it will be dead.

Rapid access to a vein, and starting on fluids to support the animal’s circulatory system is another thing that, if you think about it, makes immediate sense. The rate and other factors can easily be adjusted once the animal is more comfortable and stable, but at least you will have intravenous (i/v) access and thus be in more control.

2. Is the animal in pain? Probably yes. Would giving decent pain relief straight away be a good idea? Again, probably yes. The likelihood is that the animal that is wildly thrashing about in a frantic panic, thus making the entire scene ten times more dramatic than it could be, suddenly becomes calmer and thus easier to more fully assess. I, for one, would want my doctor to get some decent analgesia into me long before he starts messing around with my busted leg! In fact, if they didn’t then I would probably bite them, so we can’t really blame our patients for doing the same.

3. Is the animal having trouble breathing? Can you give it oxygen safely? Yes? Well do it! Either put the animal in an oxygen cage (these can even be ‘mocked up’ with the use of a kennel, or carrier, and roll of cling-film) or apply a mask to deliver oxygen enriched air to the patient. Is the animal unconscious? If so then getting control over it’s airway by placing an endotracheal tube would be the thing to do. Again, once you have control of the basics then you can pause, reassess and adjust the plan accordingly.

So, the key point really that I am trying to make is that it is all too easy to get caught up in the stress and excitement of an emergency situation and forget that you do actually know what to do, at the very least, to stabilise your patient. Oh, and one thing to remember at this point: in spite of all your best efforts and pulling out a textbook Super Vet act, some patients will die on you. Fact. Although every one is a shock and hurts, it is a fact of being a vet and something we have to accept and be able to move on from.

Death Is Coming

Red Hartebeest
Red Hartebeest

Elephant Adventures

The latest episode of Safari Vet School saw a new group of vet students arrive at the reserve, with most being more experienced than their predecessors yet just as keen to get stuck in to the fun. This week’s episode seemed to have much more of an edge to it, with the word ‘danger’ very much being the one that kept cropping up. Whether it was the ‘danger’ posed by getting too close to a protective female elephant and her calves, or the ‘danger’ posed to the Hartebeest that was very close to succumbing to the effects of hyperthermia, the new students had a lot to really keep their adrenaline levels at maximum.

The elephant experience reminded me of a story my late grandfather used to tell us, in which he came face to face with a rogue bull elephant whilst living in Kenya right out in the bush. The elephant in question had apparently been terrorising local people and it was suspected that it had something very wrong with it. My grandad was charged by it and had the terrifying and upsetting decision to make of having to kill it, in order to safeguard his own life and those of his family. As a result, we had it drilled into us from a very early age of the unpredictabilty and ‘danger’ posed by animals, even those we consider to be cute and generally harmless.

Overheating & Death as an unhappy fact of the job

The incident with the Hartebeest was a close one and it was clear that the group very nearly lost the animal to over-heating. This really drove home the fact that in spite of our best efforts, animals are ultimately complex biological systems with all of the inherent unpredictability that you’d perhaps expect but which can serve up real curve-balls on occasion. This is an important lesson to learn early on in a veterinary career as there are guaranteed to be a number of such situations throughout any vet’s working life. I had one such case on the weekend. We had a middle-aged Rottweiler transferred to us from it’s vet for ongoing fluid therapy and treatment for vomiting, weight loss and bloody diarrhoea (not the nicest of combinations). The dog was also very yellow and clearly had significant liver issues. Owners have a great way of really piling on the pressure and the owner’s parting words were that her dog “could not die.” As I say, no pressure. Further blood tests and an ultrasound scan later made it clear that the dog had serious liver problems and as such the prognosis was guarded to poor. She did, however, start to look better and more responsive after a few hours of fluid therapy, and as such we felt that we may have made a difference. Now this is where as a vet you have to be very careful as animals like this have a particularly nasty habit of perking up just before a major crisis, and that’s exactly what happened. The dog suddenly went downhill, turned pale and basically started dying in front of our eyes. Unfortunately, in spite of our very best efforts, the damage was too great and she was put to sleep. This really drove home the fact that cases can take an unexpected turn, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and that as vets one of our most important tasks is to sensibly manage owner expectations. It would have been easy at admit to reassure the owner by telling her that her dog was “going to be OK,” but that would have been misleading and caused even greater anguish to her compared to being realistic and cautious by advising a guarded prognosis. Although the dog’s owner was understandably very upset, she had been given a chance to come to terms with the fact that her pet was very ill and may well die rather than languising under false, or misguided, thoughts that everything was going to be OK. So, the thing I would say to the Safari Vet School students is that in spite of their best efforts, that particular Hartebeest on that particular day had obviously ‘decided’ that it was going to test the boundaries between life and death. Sometimes stuff just happens and you have to be prepared to accept the fallout, learn any lessons and then move on.

All change down on the range

Black rhinoWell, what can I say? Life has managed to get in the way and interrupt my normal Safari Vet School musings this week, hence the ridiculously late penning of this week’s rambling offering. For those of you who may have been waiting with baited breath for the next installment – that’ll be you then mum – I can only apologise and endeavour to do better this week. So, on with it…

It was our final week with the current group of students and it all ended rather nicely really – we couldn’t not see some lion action, afterall. I reiterate what I have said before but Will is a master shot with the old darts. Truly classic stuff. Good job too as well, as wanting to get in and have the job done swiftly must have definately have been the aim of the game when dealing with the lion cubs (although what I saw looked nothing like the cute bundles of fluff and claws that I think of when I hear the word ‘cub’), especially given the short work they were all making of the cow. A bite from a lion would certainly entitle the recipient to some serious man (or woman) points and usurp any tales of being ‘savaged’ by a bog standard domestic kitty, something which, to date, I have still managed to avoid and intend to continue to avoid.

I am just trying to recall what else happened (it is late as I write this)…. oh yes, rhinos. The main recollection I have of that part of the show was the fact that the rhino apparently ended up getting jabbed about fifteen times! Ouch. I am sure there was a good reason why they didn’t just opt to swap syringes whilst leaving the needle in place, rather than have to repeatedly make new needle stabs? Again, I am probably prompting shouts of derision and cries of ‘ignorance’ as I say that. I have not, after all, ever had to administer antibiotics to a wild rhino so I guess that’s the way it is done. Just a though though.

Its been great fun watching the students work together and grow as individuals over the course of the past few weeks and I am sure they all returned to their respective vet schools refreshed and full of new found enthusiasm and passion for the subject. Lets see what the next lot are like…

Stress, Cheetahs & Loved Ones

cheetahDogs everywhere!

Watching Safari Vet School this week reminded me of those days in practice when you find yourself, for no apparent reason, completely behind with consults and as a result feeling the stress levels rise and the panic start to simmer beneath the cool, controlled exterior that one must always be seen to command whilst consulting. The students, led by mentor Steve Leonard, although by his own admission, in somewhat of a haphazard and seat-of-your-pants manner, had the task of administering first opinion veterinary healthcare to the area’s pet dogs, with apparently hundreds of animals being presented patiently by their owners, who could not really afford to provide the sort of basic veterinary care that we often take very much for granted in this country. The team conducted clinical exams, vaccinated the dogs against rabies and administered both preventative measures, such as worming, to treatments for specific problems, mostly skin issues such as mange. Many of the dogs were unused to veterinary attention and so the work was clearly hazardous, not only from the risk of being bitten, but also the risks of potentially contracting one of the plethora of conditions that the dogs were likely to have been carrying. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of picking up mange – something I thankfully have not – will attest to how uncomfortable it is and how repeating the experience is not high on the wish list. Still, despite the challenges and eventually running low on supplies, the students all seemed to get on brilliantly and no one got bitten, which is always a bonus!

The work conducted by the team with the local community really helped drive home the importance of animals to communities, especially in impoverished parts of the world. Animals play many vital roles within society, from providing food, to powering agriculture, and, on a more social level, to providing companionship for people, and the importance to such communities of ensuring their animals remain fit and healthy is clear to see. I had the good fortune to become involved with the charity WVS (Worldwide Veterinary Service) a couple of years ago after competing in three triathlons over three months to raise money to help fund their amazing work. Their belief is in educating and thus empowering the local people to care for and safeguard their own animals’ health, rather than simply flying in, firefighting the problems and then flying out again, as is the case with a lot of charitable endeavours. They offer vets the chance to go out to various parts of the world and volunteer their expertise and time to help in much the same way that the Safari Vet School students do. Steve mentioned in the show that he was going to repeat the experience and I would suggest that he gets in touch with the WVS, who I am sure would be thrilled to benefit from his profile in supporting the work they do.

Give that man a medal

Can I say right now that vet Will should be on the South African shooting team at the Olympics because someone who is able to hit two Cheetahs running at full pelt with a dart, from a helicopter, first shot, deserves a gold medal!

Missed yet Proud

There was one part of the show this week that particularly struck me on a personal level, and that was when vet student Vicky was talking very honestly about the sadness felt due to her grandmother passing away before she was able to see her attend the course. I fully empathise with Vicky here as I longed for my grandfather, who had always been an encouraging and positive influence in my life and efforts to gain a place at vet school, to see me graduate as a vet. Unfortunately he passed away even before I had started university and was not even able to see me commence my training, something I find very sad, especially as I know how happy and proud he would have been. I am certain, Vicky, that your grandmother would have been as proud of your achievements with the Safari Vet School as I know my grandfather was of me 🙂

Rediscovery

OryxQuite an adrenaline fueled episode of Safari Vet School this week with stress levels at an all time high as the students tackled the task of darting and then transporting a number of Oryx to be loaded on to a trailer and sent to another reserve. The main danger, as I could tell from the safety of my comfortable armchair, were the HUGE horns that these animals have, and which more closely resemble fencing foils than anything else, with the very clear potential to impale anyone unfortunate enough to be found on the end of one. I would say that the plastic tubing used by the team was probably one of the best inventions ever, in that particular moment!

I did wonder whether it would have been an idea for them to get intravenous catheters in place in the animals’ ear veins at the outset, given the fact that they needed to be transported what seemed to be a reasonable distance, and would have provided much swifter and safer venous access to allow the repeated top-ups of medication that the animals ended up requiring. Needless to say these would then be removed prior to the animals waking up. Perhaps that is my small animal logic and experience coming into play as I don’t have any direct experience of managing wild large animals. Feel free to shoot down my idea 🙂 Or should that be dart down?

One very interesting part of the show for me was the segment at the end on Tom’s rediscovery, if you will, of his desire to continue in veterinary. He is certainly not the first vet student who nears the end of the course feeling disillusioned and doubtful about whether a life as a vet is the path for them after all, nor will he be the last. The facts are these: veterinary is a very demanding and intense course, often with little opportunity to really disconnect, step back and take in the wider picture of what it means to be a vet and of the opportunities, including globally, that being qualified offers graduates. Due to the huge body of knowledge that needs to be imparted to veterinary undergraduates it can at times feel as though we spend the course having to rote learn huge volumes of knowledge, with the result being that the theory and the practical ‘magic’ of the course and profession – the primary reason many of us choose veterinary as a career option – become disconnected.

Vets are by their very nature the type of academic high achievers that are always seeking mental stimulation and a challenge. This, again, is one of the reasons why veterinary, with its “hardest course to get onto” label, is so attractive to such students and why occasionally the trudgery of endless rote learning can grind us down and leave us feeling somewhat uninspired and seeking professional and academic gratification elsewhere. Its a very real shame and unfortunately something that needs to be addressed at the training level. After all, how is it that you can start five years training with a hundred or so super motivated and über enthusiastic individuals who have dream’t of nothing other than becoming vets, to find several of those same people seriously questioning their path and looking for an alternative one by the end? It’s not really as though they didn’t have some idea of what they were letting themselves in for, as the vet schools do expect applicants to to demonstrate work experience.

Aside from the fact that many vet students realise that they are smart enough and qualified enough to do anything they set their minds to, including in careers that pay considerably more than veterinary does, two of the main factors that I can personally identify as being important in the feelings of disillusionment felt near the end of the course are a) a sense of feeling like a trained chimp, having to plough relentlessly through swathes of endless course material and ‘lists’, with no real requirement to engage the brain and really think about a problem, and b) the fatigue, both physical and mental that sets in by the end of the course. The fact is that very little of a vet student’s time at university is truly their own, with term time a busy blur and “holidays” anything but, as you are expected to complete a lot of EMS placements. There is very little opportunity, in my opinion, to just take some time to explore yourself, try new things and connect with people and experiences truly outside of the confines of the vet school and profession as a whole. It is often the students who do “venture out” of this circle, for example by intercalating, that are the ones to start questioning their ongoing interest and desire to stay within the profession, often as a result of them being able to take a year out to “exercise their grey matter” in a completely different manner and to expose themselves to ideas beyond veterinary ones. There will, of course, be those students who intercalate and re-enter the vet course rejuvenated and full of fresh motivation and enthusiasm for their veterinary career, and this is excellent. I believe that this kind of motivational shot in the arm is just what’s needed during the latter stages of the course.

I personally wish Tom all the very best whatever he decides and it is especially important to remember that just because we happen to be doing one thing today, there is no reason why we have to be doing the same thing tomorrow – people change, careers change, lives change. Embrace change.

You’re havin’ a Giraffe!

GiraffeAnother fun and adrenaline packed installment of Safari Vet School, with the primary focus of this week’s adventures centering on the capture of two giraffe, a mother and her calf. I don’t think I would be alone in commenting on how beautifully graceful they are and to see them running in their natural habitat must have been an absolute joy to behold – am very envious of the students!

The show seemed to really highlight well the dangers faced by the team from the powerful legs of the giraffe, with a well placed kick potentially fatal. Many a vet will attest to the pain and surprise that can be inflicted form an unfortunately timed lashing out of an animal’s leg, whether it be a cow whilst milking (been there, worn the resulting shitty T-shirt), a horse (unsurprisingly more painful and potentially more damaging owing to the metal shoes), or indeed a wild Safari animal. The job of a vet is one that is filled with dangers as it is often our patients’ natural response to lash out at us regardless of the fact that we are, of course, doing our best to help them.

I was pleased that Chris highlighted the fact that veterinary work is highly stressful and as a result it is important for vets to be able to kick back and indulge in a little R&R. The adage that vet students (and vets) “work hard but play harder” is a certainly a trueism – just look at the famous AVS Sports Weekend – and is actually a very important part of being able to discharge and deal with the huge number of emotions and ‘baggage’ that vets are expected to deal with as professionals. To party in Africa, and especially to spend your birthday out there, is just awesome! Which reminds me, happy (for when the show was filmed) birthday to both Chris and Jacqueline 🙂

Cry Me a (Safari) River

Rhino mother and calfWow! Quite an emotional episode of Safari Vet School this week – I could feel the water table in my own eyes rising slightly whilst watching. The main focus of this week’s adventures were Rhino, and in particular the problems associated with poaching, which is unfortunately on the rise. Rhino horn is a much coveted component of many traditional Chinese remedies and there is an increased demand for such products, and with it a sad upsurge in the demand for Rhino horn. One of the main issues with poaching is that the poachers do not have the skills, knowledge, or regard for the Rhino’s welfare to even attempt to harvest horn humanely and sustainably, either cutting them off in such a way that leaves the animals mutilated and doomed to suffer a long, painful, lingering demise, or to just kill them outright, which is a criminal waste of life.

The show touched upon the story of Will, the head vet at the reserve, who had to suffer putting a Rhino he had seen grow up being destroyed as a result of poaching activity. Quite an upsetting thing for any person, let alone vet, to have to do. It did make me think, however, that every vet is faced with the harsh realities of life’s unfairness in various forms during the course of their daily lives, even in daily, general practice. Whether it be the case of the misguided and uneducated owners unwittingly buying a puppy from a puppy farm, or not engaging in simple routine preventative healthcare, such as lungworm control, with the result being that you, as a vet, have the task of fighting to save that pet, or even cases of deliberate animal cruelty. I still cannot get my head around how anyone can condone or even be involved, directly or otherwise, in animal cruelty acts such as dog fighting or physically abusing an animal. These are the sad examples of unfair animal exploitation that occur here, in our country, and are not, to my mind, too dissimilar to the issues facing the Safari Vet School team this week, albeit with obviously different causes and repercussions. It seems to me, however, that the common underlying issue in all such examples is education – if only people really, truly understood the implications of their actions then I predict that animal cruelty and ‘unfairness’ would be but a sporadic event.

On a more upbeat, less soap-boxy note, it was awesome to see how genuinely thrilled Camilla was with her experiences of microchipping and blood sampling the Rhino. That’s one of the great things about Vet School and veterinary in general: the series of ‘firsts’ that you get to be involved in, from performing your first caesarian and delivering healthy puppies, to your first fracture repair, right the way through to your first Rhino encounter 🙂 Nice one!

To learn more about the issue of Rhino poaching and how to get involved in putting a halt to it, check out the Team Rhino website by clicking here.

Two of the most motivating words ever: “Can’t” & “Never”

LionManaged to catch up on Safari Vet School thanks to the good old ITV iPlayer (did I mention how much I love my iPad?!). This week’s episode saw the team of vet students and safari vets take on darting and surgically implanting a tracking device into a lioness, which was pretty nerve-wracking stuff, and then finish up with a mass capture of Zebra, who apparently can kill with a single kick, something that anyone who has worked with horses will appreciate. Of course I’m not saying that rounding up a herd of Zebra is anything like working with your standard hack but the power and innate unpredictability of large animals – well, in fact ANY animal – is something that’s important to always have in the back of your mind as a vet.

One of the stand-out parts of the show for me was the point at which Charlotte was recalling the advice she received whilst at school, regarding her ambitions to become a vet. She was advised to “have a plan B” and to “give up,” something which I hear a lot of from prospective vet students. Yes, it’s a tough course to apply to and yes, it’s not a bad idea to consider, even for a fleeting moment, what you might do if, all things going awry, you don’t succeed with applying, but to be told to give up just seems ridiculous. One of the main issues I have identified through advising prospective vet school applicants and through my book is that many careers advisers (I use the term in the very broad sense to include teachers who are not necessarily careers ‘specialists’) don’t fully understand the unique nuances of preparing for and applying to vet school and as such, rather than seek to fill the gaps in their knowledge so that they can better inform and guide their students, it is often easier to revert to the assumed misconceptions about veterinary being “impossibly hard” to get into and to thus encourage other career options to be pursued. I wonder how many really fantastic vets we may be missing out on simply as a result of a student being told at that critical point in their young lives to “give up.” It’s something to ponder. Good on Charlotte though for sticking to her guns and focusing on her ultimate aim of getting to vet school – if she hadn’t been so determined then darting lions in Africa would have been but a hazy daydream!