Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spaying a big cat

As part of a national campaign to prevent inbreeding in lions, I was last year involved in spaying lionesses and doing vasectomies in male lions. Luckily I have spayed thousands of cats in six years mixed and small animal practise, so the procedure was clear to me. The interesting things is, that this operation in lions is really exactly the same as in domestic cats. The ovaries are just little a bit bigger! We hands plenty of hands from international vets and veterinary students as part of our Chemical Immobilization Course. Great! Thanks to all of you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Baby pics

The owner of the zebra which was attacked by a wildebeest, send me these pictures of the lovely foal what was born 1.5 month after I stitched up the deep wound. The delivery went well and mother and son are doing very well! Wanted to share this happy news with all of you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

This pregnant zebra was attacked by a wildebeest a few days earlier. The horns penetrated deeply into the tissue under the tail, involving the vulva. It was looking bad, but luckily wild animals have an amazing healing capacity! I first darted her with a transmittor dart to be able to find her after darting. All went perfect and we found her easily. I cleaned the wound and stitched it up in several layers, leaving an opening at the lowest point for drainage.
Only 3 days later it was looking like this:
And 3 weeks later like this!
The lowest drainage point was dry and healing last, which is exactly how we want a deep dirty wound to heal. This mare will for sure be fine giving birth in the coming month. Great news. Looking forward to see the pictures of the foal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finally we could remove the snare!!!

For 7 weeks we were trying to catch this young male lion. A snare was seen around his left paw and it was getting more and more painful. These pieces of wire in the shape of a loop attached to a tree are used by the locals to trap small antilopes to get an extra meal. Many other species, such as elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions, leopards, wild dogs, kudus and other large antilopes, can also accidently step into it or walk through it, causing horrible suffering. The wire will be tight around the neck or a limp. Most animals are able to pull the wire off the tree, but the loop will stay around the neck or limb. Sadly it's impossible for most animals to get these snare off and they can only go tighter, never looser. The wire will cut deep into the skin and later throat (if around the neck) or tendons and even bone (if around a limb). A snare will always result in death if not removed. Unfortunately I have seen many horendous examples, but luckily most wild animals heal very quickly once the wire is removed.

It was very clear to us that we had to remove the wire to save the life of this amazing cat. But easier said than done! Catching a shy, wild lion is not an easy task. He and 2 lionesses were living dense bush and mountains. They were very wild and shy lions. Rangers could track them, but could never get closer than 50 meters. This is too far to be able dart the lion. Also in thick bush it is impossible to dart a lion, so we had to wait until they were in open terrain....and hungry.

We had been searching for this lion several times already over the past month. One night we had been waiting next to a bait, playing our 'lion capture music': a warthog in distress or singing hyenas after they got a prey. In both cases lions will check it out and come to the bait. Not this night. They were too far to hear to sounds or too shy. It was getting more and more urgent. He was observed limping badly on his left front leg. The wire would cut through his tendons soon. Time was running out.

Suddenly on a Thursday evening I got a phone call from the ranger that the lions were seen in open terrain. I advised him to throw a bait to keep them busy for while, packed my stuff and I jumped in the car. Luckily they were hungry and started eating. That would keep them in the open terrain for a while!

I arrived within an hour and immediately made up a dart. We put all medicines into the rangers open jeep and drove through the reserve in the dark. A spot light was lighting up the bush. I always have my rifle ready to shoot, as you never know when you're gonna see the animal. We often only get one chance, before a wild animal runs away, so shooting fast is important. After an approximately 45 minutes drive I asked the ranger if he had any idea how close the lions were. One second later a lioness crossed the road! The spot light cleared up her stunning body. Ten meter behind her the male followed. I noticed a limp, but he was walking better than expected. When his hind leg was open to get a good shot, I immediately pulled the trigger. The dart nicely hit the muscle. He growled and run off! We waited a few minutes to not stress him and then we started looking for him. Lions most times don't run far, which was also the case this time. He was sleeping beautifully under a tree. First we had to chase the other lions away. Then I approached the lion and pulled his tail to see how deep he was asleep. He was blinking his eyes and moving a little bit, so I topped up his anesthesia. Then we loaded him on the back of our jeep. In a safe place, far away from his dangerous girlfriends, I removed the snare, cleaned the wound and put some stitches. Luckily the tendons were still intact.

A day later the ranger called me that he was walking much better already. We were all tremendously happy and I am sure the lion too. He made a full recovery in only a week.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

African buffalos are one of the species I work with most. Because they are identical to domestic cattle, they can get infected with all bovine diseases. African buffalos don't get ill and don't show any symptoms, but once infected they are able to infect domestic cattle, with devastating results for the South African meat and cattle industry. Therefore the movements of buffalos is highly controlled and restricted by the South African government. Each buffalo must get tested several times with a TB skin test and serology (anti-bodies in the blood) for the most common infectious diseases (TB, Corridors disease, Brucella abortus and Foot and Mouth disease), prior to getting a permit to move. By now I have darted over 5.000 buffalos and still love working with these highly intelligent and social herd animals. Never underestimate an African buffalo! To see how clever they are, go see "Battle of Kruger" on YouTube, one of the best nature films ever made by a lucky tourist.  


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Moving a giant

Elephants have a strong bond with their family members. Therefore it's important to dart elephants from a helicopter, to make sure that you can keep an eye on family members coming back to help the sleeping one and warn the team on the ground. It is possible to dart elephants on foot, but this can get very dangerous.
If the matriarch, the leader, gets immobilized first the other family members will stay around her. This makes it easier to dart the entire family to re-locate them. The most common reasons for us to dart wild elephants are snares, wounds, to apply a radio-collar for research purposes and sometimes to move them.   

When the elephant is down, I jump out of the helicopter and run to the sleeping giant. The first thing to do when arriving at an elephant under anesthetics is to check the trunk. Elephants can not breath through their mouth, so the airway of trunk must be completely free. If its blocked by a leg or body they will die! A stick in the tip of the trunk helps to keep it nice open. Also, the large abdominal cavity full with heavy organs prevents an elephant to breath well when laying on his or her belly. Therefore the next thing is to push the elephant on his or her side. Capturing an elephant is team work!
The huge weight of an adult elephant can be carried by the four legs, only when the weight is equally divided over all 4 limps. Therefore we must make sure that a four chains are properly attached and can't slip off.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Childrens fantasy

Aren't giraffes absolutely amazing???  I often tell people that if someone would have written a fantasy childrensbook about all amazing wild animals in this world, if none of them would have existed, this person would be an absolute GENIUS. Who would have invented a giraffe, a weired walking animal with long legs and a long neck to be able to eat the highest leaves and use them for fighting? What about an elephant with a highly specialised extra finger, a trunk and big ears to use for cooling?? A zebra with stripes, possible used for camouflage but maybe for thermoregulation or even tick control? And who would even think of snakes, with all organs exacly the same as us, including lungs, spleen, liver, heart, intestines, but all of them thin and long? Feathered animals with light, air containing bones and their front legs in the shape of wings to be able to fly? Rhinos with horns on their heads to use for defence and cutting of branches? The list of incredible miracles around us is endless! Ever thought how a spider walks? A flea jumps? How do insects breath? And what about oxygen supplying most life forms? Focussing our attention on the immense wonders of LIFE on this planet will change our existence forever. Let's hope that humanity will be able to see, truely see, all the amazing creatures on this planet in reality, now and alive, in their natural habitat. It's fascinating and enriching. We are very fortunate to live in this time and have a huge responsibility towards the future of our planet. Let's wake up!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

No babies please!

White lions are stunning animals. Their white colour is caused by a recessive gen, a colour inhibition gene. When both parents carry this gen (they don't have to be white themselves, because the tabby gen is dominant) and give it to their offspring, the lighter colour can express itself. Their colour varies from blonde to near-white. They are not albino, as most people think. The Timbavati region, next the Kruger National Park, is the only place where white lions were ever seen in the wild. The first recorded sighings were in 1938. The local people see white lions as sacred and Timbavati as sacred ground. Chris McBride was the first to take white lions cubs from Timbevati into captivity in the 1970's, because he thought that they would not be able to survive in the wild. He also wrote a book about these special lions. This worldwide attention made white lions popular and high in demand. For example the famous American magicians Siegfried and Roy have a pride of 38 white lions. Sadly hunting white lions is also popular in South Africa. Captive breeding started to supply this market and unfortunately they are often inbred to increase the chances to see this mutation in their offspring. There are estimated 500 white lions worldwide, but all in captivity. The Global White Lion Protection Trust released white lions back into Timbavati and they are hunting and breeding naturally.
A vasectomie is an option to avoid further breeding of captive male lions. A piece of the ductus deferens on both sides  (the sperm rurns through these tubes from both testikels) are ligated and removed, so that the sperm can't run through. Because the testikels are still present, the male feels exactly the same as before the surgery and also keeps his stunning manes. Two male white lions, unfortunately offspring of a father-daughter crossing, had to get this surgery done to avoid further inbreeding. We took 18 international students as part of our chemical immobilization course to assist, so plenty of hands! The vasectomies went very well and both lions were 100% fine immediately after the operation. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Snoozing leopard

One must be lucky to see a wild leopard for a second. Imagine how much luck one needs to see a leopard for 15 minutes, snoozing in the sun! In the Kruger National Park we had this luck and were able to enjoy watching this magnificent leopard. After some time she stood up and walked away, leaving us incredibly happy. Amazing animals, one of the best hunters and the most succesful cats in the world: adaptable, intelligent and extremely fast.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Late night dinner

Going 'on safari' as a tourist is very special for me. It reminds me how amazing it is to be able to work in the bush, especially as a Kaaskop (local word for Dutch person). Before I moved to South Africa to work as a wildlife vet in 2008, a safari was the only way to see wild animals and it always touched me deeply. I remember seeing the first wild animal again, after working as an all-round vet in the Netherlands and the UK for 3 years. We were in Etosha, Namibia. It was 2004. A lone zebra stallion was wandering around. Nobody was feeding it, nobody was looking after it: completely independent and wild. Pure nature. I started crying from happiness! My boyfriend at the time, said that he was jalous that seeing one zebra could make me SO happy. It was special that it felt that strong. At that moment I decided to dedicate my life to wildlife. There was no choice and never regret it.
Sabie Sands is famous for her lions. We were lucky and found 5 lionesses enjoying a fresh buffalo kill. Amazing! Lions are one of my most favorite wild animals to spot in the wild. Their social behaviour is unique in the animal kingdom: the only true social cat in the world (our domestic cats are bred and forced to live with each other). Also unique is the coalition between male lions, which means that they dominate and share all females of their pride together. The larger the pride, the more males are needed to be able to rule. Sometimes 3 males work together such a coalition. It's fascinating that these sometimes non-related males accept from each other to mate with each others females.
The next morning I asked the ranger to go back to the same spot, as I expected to find them there again. It's not easy to move with a large stomach and better to stay with such a large prey until its completely finished. Lions often hang around large carcasses for days, feeding and sleeping. And yes: they were there, exactly as expected: some sleeping, some eating, but all lazy with a huge stomach. Good times for this pride and for us, watching them for a long time. What a pleasure.

Porcupine attacks sable antelope

Porcupines are small but agressive and SHARP. Their sharp needles penetrate deeply into tissue and don't come out by themselves. Once these needles break off, it can be difficult to find the little piece left. Therefore we quite frequently treat wild animals to remove porpupine needles as quick as possible to avoid infections or worse. Luckily this sable antilope was found soon after the attack. I was able to dart it, remove the needles and treat the wound with disinfectants and systemic antibiotics. No penetration in a join was found, so the prognosis is superb. This makes a happy vet!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rhino wars

In 2012 already 137 rhinos are poached for their horns! This is making me very sad and frustrated. This crisis is going on and on. Check out the article Rhino Wars in National Geographic this month to read more about this horrible poaching.
An honour to appear in a picture, but of course very sad about the need to de-horn this rhino. We all love rhinos much more with their horns! Unfortunately this poaching crisis forces humanity to re-think what conservation is about. To me it's very important that the de-horning procedure is not invasive and reversibel: within 3-4 years the complete horn has grown back. Each period a new decision can be made. I would never amputate or make an irreversibel change into a healthy wild animal. That's completely against my idea of wildlife medicine. To help rhinos to survive with a minimal invasive action is the best we can do for them now and hopefully in a decade most rhinos will be able to live with their horns again. If I was a rhino, I would prefer to go to the 'horn-cutter' every 2 years, this period of time to be safer and alive!
We leave a long enough stump to make sure that we don't damage the germinal layer or hit any life tissue. We only cut in dead material. Therefore we can be sure that the rhino does not feel anything. It's the most similar to clipping the hoofs of a horse. With our experienced team it takes around 16 minutes from the time the dart hit the animal to fully awake. We keep the procedure as short as possible. After I administer a full antidote in the bloodvessel, the rhino is 100% awake within a few minutes. Most of the times white rhinos start grazing immediately after waking up. They look happy to me and luckily they don't look into the mirror. Wild rhinos regularly loose their horns, so it's not completely unnatural for them to live without a horn. If you have ever worked with rhinos, you will understand the power of these magnificent animals. A serious attack with 'just a stump' will kill you, a lion or other predator, so calves are still safe next to their mothers.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Magic giraffes

Love giraffes! They are such cool animals. If a person would have written a childrens book about all these amazing wildlife species, without them truely excisting, this person would be a genius. The most creative, out of the box soul ever. How could God create an animal with a very long neck and long legs, what's still able to give birth and drink water? Magic! Can you image in the needed power of the heart to pumb all crucial blood 5-6 meters up in the air? And what about the complexity of bringing down the head for drinking? In an adult giraffe the heart weights around 11kg and is around 61cm long! A complex pressure-regulation prevents excess blood flow to the brain and valves in the venes prevent blood flowing back when the giraffe lowers its head to drink. Because of its hight and body weight, the bloodpressure in the legs of a giraffe is very high. A very tight skin around the legs prevents too much blood from pouring into them. A newborn calf is around 1.8m long and falls literally into life! Magic how nature sorts it all out, isn't it? Fascinating.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

GREAT NEWS! Making me incredibly happy:)

Three days ago I got called about a sad case. A 4 weeks old rhino calf was found very ill and could not stand up anymore. The mother was standing next to him to defend him, as a good mother is supposed to do. I was asked to have a look and to make a decision about the best option for the calf. When a young animal is too ill to follow its mother it's better to hand-raise it to give it all essential care. This is impossible in the wild.
Because you never know what you're gonna find, it's important to bring all drugs and equipment into the field you can think of. Our clinic is often hours away. The calf could be in shock or have a broken leg. So I loaded my rifles, darts, drugs, surgery equipment, lots of IV fluids and medicine and wound treatment boxes into my jeep and I drove to the prive wildpark, where rangers were waiting for me. They guided me to the place where the calf was laying down, a 30 minutes drive through the reserve. Giraffes, zebras and warthogs looked up when we passed. Then they said to stop. We got out of the car and walked into the bush. I saw an adult rhino standing in thick bush, around 30 meters away from us. Before I could have a look at the calf, she charged us. She run off and as a big suprise the little calf followed her: walking! Wobbly, but walking! We saw a big wound on its flank with a lot of flies around it, so it was clear that we had to treat this today. Especially IV fluids are crucial, as young animals dehydrate quickly in hot weather like this. A calf must always stay with the mother when possible, so when I saw the calf was walking I decided to keep the calf with his mum. Hand-raising a rhino calf is extremely challenging and very stressful for the calf. Only a last option. Luckily this rhino cow was calm and very caring: this calf had the best chances in the wild.
I made two darts with etorphine (10.000 morphine). One for the mother and one (less than one drop) for the calf. First a darted the mother. A nice shot in the hindquarters. I always wait around 3 minutes before darting the calf, so that mother is affected before the calf gets affected by the drugs. It's essential to be able to get to the patient as soon as possible and an awake rhino mother would never allow us! The little baby stoot next to his mum and I could easily dart him on foot. When the mother went down, he stood calmly next to his mothers head. I approached the adult rhino, put a blindfold over her eyes and removed the dart. The little baby was just standing there, half asleep. This scenario was perfect, because now I could monitor the anesthesia (breathing) of both animals! When he fell down, I had all treatments ready. We made some shade and used lots of water to keep both rhinos cool in the hot African sun. I gave him IV fluids and cleaned the terrible wound full with maggots. Two ribs were visible! He also had some other smaller wounds, so he clearly had been attacked by another animal.
After having treated the wound and given him 3L glucose 5% IV, antibiotics, a painkiller, vitamins and anti-parasitic treatment I woke them up together. This was the most amazing experience: the calf run to his mother and started drinking straight away. You saw the milk running next to his mouth. I felt very happy with the decision to keep him in the wild.
It's now almost 3 weeks ago. The wound is healing and the calf is doing very well. Can't express how happy this makes me!