The Life of a Wildlife Vet
You can’t plan when an animal will be caught in a snare or when poachers have come into a protected area and killed a rhino. Neither can you plan when an animal that you have been looking for decides to show up in an accessible area that provides a good darting opportunity. The life of a wildlife vet is often unpredictable. They’re on call 24/7.
Due to human impact on wildlife such as limited habitat, fenced areas, snaring, poaching, livestock farming and continued land-use change, wildlife now needs to be closely monitored and managed to ensure the long term survival of each species. An important aspect of this type of conservation is wildlife veterinary care. African Wildlife Vets (a non-profit organisation) has been established to assist with funding of conservation operations in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa due to the continuous decline in state funding and the escalation of veterinary costs. They assist with the conservation of threatened species by
providing veterinary services through the funding of vets, veterinary equipment,
pharmaceuticals and other operational costs.
With the recent increase of poaching and the onslaught that rhino are facing the focus of wildlife veterinary has shifted towards rhino intervention and poaching intervention which involves dehorning operations, relocations of rhino from threatened areas and post-mortem examinations of rhino. The vets assist investigating officers with forensic examinations. Dr Dave Cooper said that the effects of poaching are more than the death of the animals: “We also have to deal with the collateral damage which includes the wounded rhino and the orphans that are orphaned during these events.”
Wildlife vets have a true passion for conservation and they are dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing and survival of wildlife species, including endangered and threatened animals. They experience many heart-felt situations where they have been able to successfully save animals from snares, poaching wounds and other human-wildlife conflict situations. They have assisted with many relocations, ensuring genetic exchange takes place in smaller protected areas and therefore assist with the prolonged existence of species such as African wild dogs, lions, cheetah and rhino.
Alongside the rewarding and gratifying experiences unfortunately come depressing situations too. Dr Leeming shared with us the most challenging part of his job: “A lot of challenges will come your way and they can come in many forms, like a patient dying on you from complications. Although there was nothing you could’ve done to avoid it from happening, you have to live with it, and no matter how hard you try to believe that, you feel responsible. You have to somehow learn to live with these feelings and truly back yourself when you go back and ask yourself if there was anything more you could have done to avoid that happening. You have to trust yourself that you will always do your best for the wellbeing of that animal in your hands. Focus on doing what’s right and you will always outdo the wrongs.
Another very challenging part of this job is dealing with people against conservation and wildlife. Ignorance and greed can be toxic human characters and poaching is the main result. I have had to deal with horrors beyond my imagination of animals poached (mainly rhino, but also snared lion, wild dog, cheetah, etc.) for their “precious” body parts. Inhumane and sinister things happen to animals when people believe in strange, superstitious things, and
dealing with its results has been the most challenging thing yet in my career.”
Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife with the assistance of African Wildlife Vets works hard to ensure the survival and protection of wildlife. Veterinary care is a very important aspect of conservation.
Founder / Managing Director
Visit the African Wildlife Vets website here to find out more information.