Today my thoughts are very much in Zimbabwe, more specifically, in Antelope Park where a group of very lucky people is about to start an amazing two-week experience that they will never forget.
Antelope Park is where Worldwide Vets run the 'Zim Vet' project, and in August 2016 I was one of the lucky participants in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am very envious of those who are currently on their way from Bulawayo airport to their home for the next two weeks.
To take away any concerns: you do NOT need to be a vet, or even a vet nurse, what you do need is an interest in animal welfare, wildlife conservation and meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds.
The course is run during July / August and it is worth bearing in mind that these months are the middle of the African winter. As a result, the evenings and nights, as well as early mornings, are chilly and bringing a fleece or jumper is highly recommended. The days were dry though, and mostly sunny so it was really no hardship.
Antelope Park is a stunning 3000-acre wildlife reserve, that is home to a variety of bird life but mainly to many lions of different ages, 4 elephants that came to the Park as orphans after a drought who have settled in very nicely, Giraffe, Warthogs, Impala, Wildebeest, Zebra and Monkeys to name just a few of the species you would encounter during your stay there.
The Zimvet course is not the only project that is run in Antelope Park, volunteers can sign up for the lion project, a photography project or a horse project so there is something for everybody and every type of interest. Besides the volunteering projects and the Zimvet course, Antelope Park has campsites for overnight guests as well as lodges and river tents. There are usually plenty of people there and it can get quite busy at mealtimes.
Our group consisted of participants from Australia, the USA, Europe and two Zimbabwean vet students and because there were only 10 of us, we all had a good chance to get to know each other and bond. The maximum number of delegates on this course is fourteen, to ensure that Gemma can supervise everybody and that each member of the team can ask questions and gets something out
of the experience.
On the first day, Gemma Campling, the resident Antelope Park vet who runs the course, put us through some team-building sessions that were very useful. They were not your usual ‘boring’ exercises, but tasks that actually got us to work as a team in preparation for what was to follow during the next fortnight. After all, we would be doing lion work, taking bloods, vaccinating and monitoring anaesthesia, and we would also get involved in game capture, a very exciting undertaking.
But the first taste of what being a wildlife vet is like, was a visit to a neighboring farm, where a Brahman cow was in trouble with a subluxated knee joint that caused the leg to give way every time it put weight on it. Three of us accompanied Gemma as she visited the farm to see what could be done for the cow. It was there that it became clear to us how we take so many things in vet surgeries in the ‘first world’ for granted. This was not the only time our eyes were opened to the lack of resources and medication, a visit later in the week to the local SPCA showed us again, how lucky we are. And yet, the people who dedicate their lives and efforts to making a difference to the animals, do so with whatever they have and, everything considered, do a very good job. The cow’s leg was splinted, not quite the way you would have seen at home, but, it held the leg in place and that was the main thing.
On we went, to a horse with an abscess on the leg. With the flies that were everywhere it was difficult to keep a wound undisturbed but once the abscess got drained, it was decided to let air get to it, rather than bandage it up, so with some antibiotic spray, we left the animal to get on with it.
The thing with wildlife is, that you never know what you are going to encounter next, and it is worth remembering, that even though there is a syllabus for the course, sometimes the fact that you are dealing with life animals means that plans have to be changed at very short notice. On the other hand, you can also come across something interesting that was not planned but simply crops up. Flexibility is the main thing with a course like Zimvet.
Because I do not want to spoil the excitement of the new experiences for those who are currently embarking on this adventure, I will write more about our experiences next week, with pictures, to give you a taste of what life as a wildlife vet (or a Zimvet student) can be like.