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Elephant and Rhino Medicine Course

South Africa


This course aims to provide an in-depth level of veterinary knowledge to professionals in the industry who have an interest in megaherbivore (elephant and rhinoceros) care. The course will consist of theoretical lectures, practical aspects and in-the-field clinical work with African elephants and rhinoceros. It is led by Dr John Marias from charity Saving the Survivors, who is world renowned for his field work, research, and clinical skills, and supported by Dr Gemma Campling who has many years of experience with African wildlife. 


  • Gain confidence with clinical exams of elephant and rhino

  • Hands-on veterinary experience with megaherbivores in Africa

  • Guaranteed work with both elephant and rhino in the field

  • Learn immobilization, sedation and anxiolytic drugs utilized for megaherbivores

  • Learn to plan and execute wildlife procedures by doing them with an experienced team

  • Enjoy additional activities like safari drives, bush walks, sundowners, and spending time in the wild. 

  • Live and learn in one of the most beautiful areas of South Africa

Project video

Focusing on elephant and rhino (megaherbivore) physiology, capture, handling, medicine, and surgical intervention, dlegates will enjoy lecture teaching, practical sessions, and learning from real wildlife work in South Africa. The week long course is broken down into 6 modules, one being covered each day. Each module has a practical aspect and is complimented by getting out in the bush to work with real cases. 


Module One 

Focuses on planning the work. Topics will include clinical exam (hands-on and hands-off), normal physiology when intervention is required, logistical management of wildlife procedures, health and safety measures for staff, procedural planning, and legal considerations

Module Goals:

1. Confidence with clinical exams in elephant and rhino, hands-on and hands-off

2. Understand the normal parameters of megaherbivores during clinical examination

3. Able to plan a veterinary procedure for a megaherbivore

4. Thorough understanding of health and safety protocols, and how they can be implemented, to keep people and animals safe

Practical work:

1. Visual exam of wild rhino and elephant at a distance

2. Hands-on examination of anaesthetised elephant and rhino in the field

3. Assist in planning and executing immobilisation procedures on at least one elephant and one rhino

4. Safari drives to understand location selection for vet procedures

Module Two 

Focuses on the chemical immobilization of mega-herbivores. There will be a significant focus on the difference between combinations used for black and white rhinoceros, and age groups of different elephants. We will present options for helicopter versus land darting, captive vs wild animals. Standard drugs which have been utilized will be highlighted, along with new research-based combinations being used by experts in the field in Africa.

Module Goals:

1. Know the immobilization, sedation and anxiolytic drugs utilized for megaherbivores

2. Understand partial and full reversal of immobilization drugs

3. Understanding of how techniques vary based on capture method

4. Select the most appropriate immobilization method, based on the animal/scenario

Practical work:

1. Practice selecting the correct projectile (dart) for procedures

2. Loading and priming a dart

3. Handling a variety of dart guns (uncase, prepare, load, fire, maintenance)

4. Practice firing darts at a target

Module Three 

Covers the pharmacology of medications for megaherbivores that do not fall into the immobilization category. In-depth discussions of contraception, antibiotic protocols, and anti-inflammatory and antiparasitic medications will be presented.

Module Goals:

1. Understand methods providing contraception for megaherbivores

2. Select a suitable antibiotic protocol for a range of ailments

3. Ethical use of anti-inflammatory medication to provide analgesia

4. Responsible use of antibiotics in wildlife species

5. Diagnosis of parasites in wildlife

6. Efficient use of antiparasitic medications

Practical work:

1. Selecting, dosing, and administering the above medications during wild elephant and rhino immobilization

Module Four 

Presents anaesthesia monitoring for megaherbivores. Veterinary and nursing interventions to maintain stable anaesthesia for a range of procedures will be discussed.

Module Goals:

1. Confidence monitoring anaesthesia in megaherbivores

2. Understanding physiological ranges under anaesthesia

3. Plan environments to reduce risk factors of field anaesthesia

4. Understand laboratory sampling to analyze physiology

Practical work:

1. One rhino and one elephant (minimum) per course will be receiving vet care and delegates will assist with all aspects of stabilizing the patient, monitoring anaesthesia, and drawing samples.

2. Assessment of samples drawn from patients

Module Five 

Discusses the transportation of megaherbivores over short and long distances. The legalities of transporting animals on the IUCN red list are observed, lifting, rolling, loading and transportation methods will be covered.

Module Goals:

1. Understanding legal requirements for moving and relocating megaherbivores.

2. Knowledge of where to seek information on regulatory bodies which need to be informed or present.

3. Confident lifting, rolling, loading, and transporting megaherbivores.

Practical work:

1. Practice aspects of rolling, lifting and moving with a dummy animal

2. Case planning in discussion groups

3. Carry out rolling, lifting and moving, if required by elective procedures during the course

Module Six 

Covers veterinary intervention and treatment plans in the case of poaching-induced trauma. This will include snare wound management, gunshot management, and methods for facial reconstruction in the case of horn poaching. The latter will involve case studies carried out by the educating veterinarian, historically successful treatment methods, and new methods under trial and research.

Module Goals:

1. Understand current methods and developing research for wound management

2. Understand current methods and developing research for facial trauma reconstruction

Practical work:

1. Anatomy labs/museum to visualize megaherbivore skull structure

2. Visit the wildlife rescue centre and meet rhino recovering from poaching

3. Discuss case recovery in small groups with colleagues

Project Photos


Your base will be at a beautiful safari camp in the Limpopo region. This stunning camp is a very special place that will feel like home right away. This is where you will spend your free time and receive lectures. The rooms are shared same-sex spaces with 2 people per room (and a chance to upgrade for a single supplement), with comfy beds and crisp sheets. There are nice bathrooms and hot and cold running water.

The power supply is good and there is a great common area where you can enjoy spending your evening at leisure, watching the sunset, sitting around the fire, and enjoying life in Africa. There is WIFI up in the lecture room yard. We do suggest that you buy a prepaid sim card at the airport or set your phone to roaming. Our meals are South African dining at its finest (Vegetarians can be accommodated) with local ingredients and flavors. Expect a braai (BBQ) on the 1st night you arrive, breakfasts of cereals, toast, spreads, and a cooked option. Lunch on site is a cooked meal or if onsite, a packed lunch. Dinner is a hearty South African-style home-cooked meal. Tea, coffee, and juice are provided. The tap water is safe for drinking.


South Africa sits at the Southernmost tip of the continent, enjoys a subtropical climate, and is booming with biodiversity. The culture is warm and welcoming and we have some of the best foods to try, and authentic customs and traditions to discover. The course is based on reserves 2 hours north of Johannesburg International Airport, in the Limpopo province, a region needing little introduction. It is one of the largest safari areas in South Africa and is one of the best places to spot the big 5 as well as all the other iconic species of wildlife people enjoy seeing on the course.

The course is carried out in numerous locations including lecture spaces and out in the reserve whilst planning and doing procedures. This is true immersion into the African veterinary field, and a chance to see the wild side of South Africa in a way few people ever do. You will be surrounded by nature and enjoy life under the warm sun during the day, and bright stars at night.



COMING SOON! Look forward to this project in the coming year

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