Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rhinos on the move

Moving large and dangerous animals like white rhinos from one place to another is quite a challenge. Safety for both these highly endangered and special animals as well as all the people around is crucial during this procedure, as they can hurt themselves and us quite badly! Strangely white rhinos are very sensitive for the commonly used 'big game' drug Etorphine. An adult female only needs 0.35 ml while for example a much smaller adult sable bull needs around 0.8ml to get immobilised. They are also known to get respiration depression quickly. Luckily there are very good drugs available to make the narcosis as safe as possible. Five subadult white rhinos had to be transported to another game farm close to Pretoria. Before they could leave here, they had to be in quarantine for one month to make sure that they did not transport any diseases to another part of South Africa. So...first they had to be caught in this 8.000 hectare area. Each rhino was darted with a dart with Etorphine and Stresnil. After they went down (approximately 5 minutes after darting) we could approach them. Never stand in front of the head, even while you think a rhino is asleep, because the power of even the smallest movement of head and horn are amazing (this says a lot about its power when he's awake!). The first thing we did was to apply cottonwool in the ears and a blindfold around the head to keep the animals as relaxed as possible. Each wild animal knows that human voices mean danger, so everybody has to be as quiet as possible to avoid extra stress. Then we drilled a hole in the horn to apply a microchip (the same as what we use in dogs and cats) and we aplied a chip behind the ears. A microchip makes it possible to identify the horn and the rhino. This possibility to track down an illegally traded rhino horn, makes this rhino much less attractive for poachers. Then we went for 'a walk with a rhino'. To be able to 'walk' the rhino to the crate we applied a rope on the head to 'pull' the animal in the correct direction and a rope around one hind leg what acts as a brake (it works, really!). When the whole team was ready for some action, I gave a partial anti-dote to wake up the rhino just a little bit. Just enough for the animal to be able to stand up and walk to the crate. This is the tricky bit, because you do not wanna 'walk' with a fully awake white rhino! Everything went well and when each rhino was in the crate a gave the full antagonist to let the animal wake up completely. I also gave a safe long-acting sedation to make the animal more relaxed for the coming 3 days while getting used to the quarantine. And yes, close up they are even more cute, special and amazing! More later, must go now. Happy Christmas everybody!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bush Blood Bank

Unfortunately the lovely warm climate here is also lovely for many tick, flea and musquito species. These parasites transmit many tropical diseases including blood parasites from animal to animal. Therefore we try to keep the animals tick free to reduce the chances that they get ill. But ticks are clever (and hungry!) and they often still find their way to a nice meal. Unfortunately we found a very ill and anemic roan calf this morning; anemia means a lack of red blood cells. Blood parasites, under which Theileria spp., are very common in this species, especially at young age. We decided to dart the calf for emergency treatments. When you treat an animal to kill these parasites, it will still takes some time before the animal has produced enough new blood cells to survive. In this period the animal can dy because of the anemia. Red blood cells transport oxygen in the blood to organs, so without blood cells, no oxygen: quite lethal. Therefore we needed BLOOD. Quickly. But what to do in the bush when dealing with a very rare wild species?? Indeed! We made the plan to dart a big healthy roan bull to get some blood from him to be able to give the calf a blood transfusion. First we had to find a strong and large bull, who would be able to act as a donor. The size and health of the animal are the most important when selecting a donor. A female with young and pregnant cows you would never dart without a clear reason. Male animals are therefore preferable over females. Great: we found a very handsome healthy bull, I made up a dart with Etorphine and Stresnil and darted him. It was windy and the animal was quite wild, but luckily I shot him nicely in the bump! After 1 minute after the dart went off the bull got quiet, stood still and showed typical Etorphine signs, such as ataxia. Finally he went to lay down. The Ethorphine is a very potent drugs, 10.000 times more potent than morphine. Just around 0.7 to 0.8 ml is necessary to immobilize strong animals like an adult roan bull! When the bull looked deep asleep I approached the bull quietly. Often animals are still strong enough to damage you badly with their horns while half asleep. Therefore you first check how deep the anaesthesia is before approaching the head. He was deep asleep and we kept his head high by holding his horns, both for safety as well as preventing it to regurgitate rumen contents. Putting ruminants under general anaesthetics is always more complicated than animals with 1 stomach, because the increased abdominal pressure while laying down together with stress can force the rumen to empty. An animal what is under anaesthetics can not swallow and the rumen contents can therefore enter the air way. This is in most cases deadly, so it's very important to prevent this! We removed the dart and treated the dart wound with antibiotics. Then we filled up the blood collection bags, just like you get it done at the blood bank. Only instead of your arm, we used the Jugular vene in the neck to be able work as quick as possible. We for sure did not want to put the bull at any risk during this procedure. Therefore I checked his respiration and heart rate all the time, to be able to give him emergency drugs if necessary. His anaesthetics went according to the books (as if he read it), so no further drugs were necessary. When the bags were full I gave the antidote Naltrexone in the ear vene and the very kind blood donor walked away in just a minute as if nothing had happened. And yes I told him: "Thanks for the kind donation". Not sure if he got this, as he took off rapidly! Then we rushed to the roan calf with anemia. I darted her with another drug A3080, quite similar to Etorphine, but it works even faster! It is very important to be able to find the small and fragile calf quickly after it has fallen asleep: the shorther the running time and therefore distance, the easier you can find the calf when it sleeps. The mum was standing close by and we had to be very careful as she would absolutely defend her baby agressively if we did not scare her off. I first applied a normal IV catheter in her Jugular vene. When the IV fluids was running, I attached the blood bag to this system and let it run into the animal very slowly to watch for any allergic reactions. Some small animal experiences in posh London and Amsterdam showed its advantage in quite a different setting with quite a different patient. But the principle is the same. Because the calf was okay, I continued to give the transfusion. I also treated her for different blood parasites, worms and gave multi-vitamins. To be able to check later, I made some blood smear to see if there were any parasites in the red blood cells; this was later confirmed. Unfortunately with wild animals, you can't first do some diagnostics and then give the appropriate treatments for that diagnose. You always try to do everything at once to avoid unnecessary general anaesthetics. The calf got better soon and it is happily running around again. We luckily did not have to dart her again. The rest of the blood bags are now in the fridge to be ready for another emergency case, so if anybody needs roan antilope blood, please let me know! Maybe we should start a Bush Blood Bank?
My daily office.

Monday, December 7, 2009

new job!!

Finally back on the internet in the bush! Sorry that it took so long before you heared from me. The bush and technology do not always go together, unfortunately. But okay, will update you quickly, before the connection breaks up again. STARTED A NEW JOB!! This time as the only wildlife vet in a prive wildlife ranch and 8.000 hectares park, being responsible for 160 white rhinos, 22 black rhinos, hundreds of African buffalos, sable and roan antilopes is this an absolute dream come through! This South African wildlife ranch is just 12 km south of Kruger National Park and only 45minutes drive from the Mozambican border. In the last 2 months I darted, treated, tested over 500 wild animals so having loads of interesting, funny or weired stories to tell. Hope I will be able to share these stories with you, as I have been long enough in civilization (I Amsterdam!) to understand that these bush stories of a wildlife vet in Africa are not quite ordinary for most of you. I will also try to download as many pictures of wild animals and of course the wildlife work as possible with this slow connection... Please contact me any time for comments or questions: always good to hearing from you! Love, Martine