Saturday, January 23, 2010

King of the animal kingdom?

This beautiful elephant bull we saw in Kruger National Park. He just wanted to show off and luckily never showed real agression. But still...very impressive! Don't wanna know how impressive these animals are when they charge seriously. During my work the Gabonese rainforest I have run for bush elephants almost on a daily basis, but the good thing was that you did not see them (only heared their footsteps in the thick rainforest), so you could not see how big and impressive they were. Also bush elephants are much smaller than this adult bull savanah elephant. This elephant just wanted to let us know that he knew himself how big and strong he was!

Dutch problem in Africa

African buffalos carry many diseases. They do not get ill themselves, but they can infect more vulnerable cattle with disasterous results. Therefore in most regions in South Africa (west of Kruger NP) it is only allowed to keep African buffalos free of the main South African contagious diseases: Tuberculosis, brucella, East Coast Fever and Foot and Mouth. These 'disease free buffalos' are very popular. Therefore the price for a disease free buffalo can go up to approximately 30.000 euros (more than a white rhino!) Over the years raising African buffalo calfs disease free has been very popular: these calfs are taken away from their diseased mothers and raised by disease free Jersey cows to make sure they stay healthy. The motherhood skills of these Jersey cows are very good: they always adopt the calfs easily. Because of this disease free buffalo raising we have a lot of Jersey cows here. My first day at work, I diagnosed a very common disease in cattle the Netherlands, but never expected to find it here: a displaced stomach. Wild bovines and local cattle will never get this problem as the high concentrated diet of domestic cattle (to get them to produce milk) has a big influence in the cause of this problem. The normal position of the stomach (abomasum) of a cow is at the lowest part of the abdomen. Gas or too much space in the belly (after giving birth) can cause the stomach to go up and the gas will keep it at the upper part of the abdomen. This creates stomach pain and the cow will stop eating. In the end she will always die. So, the first day at work in Africa I did a very common Dutch operation: putting the stomach back into place and stitching it into to the abdominal wall so that the stomach will stay in place. The African people could not believe their eyes how I, a foreign white female with much less muscles than them, got this cow on her back (an easy and funny trick; will tell you later) and opened her belly to find the stomach. It was hilarious to see these African surprised faces!

Greybok with sores

Skinproblems are quite common in wild animals. Treating skin problems reminds me of the small animal surgeries, as domestic dogs and cats often suffer from various skin problems, e.g. mites, fungal infections and allergies. The approach is similar. The only problem is that a wild animal needs to go under anaesthetics each time you want to examine it: luckily this is not the case with your pets. This small antelope (Grijsbok) showed crusts and sores on the nose and on the ear shelves. I darted the animal with a low dosage of Etorphine and treated it for mites, fungus and a bacterial infection. At scrapings I could not find any external parasites, but I treated the animal for it anyway, because not finding them does not guarantee they are not there. Another big difference between working in the bush and in a city veterinary clinic is the logistics: here it's not always easy to get samples to a lab. In this case it would have been nice to do a fungal culture, but because of the isolation here I decided to first treat it and see whether the treatment worked. I darted the animal after 2 weeks again to treat it a second time and since then the sores are healing. We are keeping a good eye on it, because skin problems can return easily when a treatment is stopped too early. When the improvement does not continue, I will dart the animal again to do skin biopsies to investigate it for other skin diseases, such as allergies. Will keep you posted. The Etorphine anaesthetics (mainly used for big game) was amazing. The antidote of this drugs works within a minute, so after injecting it into the vene, the animal run off, completely awake, within 45 seconds! Really impressive. And it was great to get help from 2 good friends visiting from the Netherlands and Ireland, Pieter and Claire.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

ALL respect for black rhinos!

Learning every day here. Lucky to work with the best wildlife specialists in the field, because some actions with wild animals are just too difficult and too dangerous to do without lots of experience. One of them is releasing a black rhino into the field from a crate. Black rhinos are very different from white rhinos; the more I learn about them, the more I understand that they are completely different animals. Black rhinos have very poor eyesight and are smaller than white rhinos. Because black rhinos live in thick bush, they are more quickly irritated and can be very agressive! One would say that it must be easy to release a black rhino from a crate: just open the door! This happened in previous days, but the agression of an aggitated black rhino (after being transported in a crate, he or she is for sure not in the best mood!) is BIG problem, for both the people and the rhino itself. Very often the just released animal attacks everything he/she sees first thing: the crate, the cars, the people... Therefore wildlife vets have developed this new technique and I was lucky to assist, as it was very impressive and learnful! The theory is: let the rhino walk out only a few steps and let him fall asleep just a few steps in front of the crate. This required very good timing! First of all the 'brake' was applied: a rope around a hind leg to be able to stop the animal when it takes off, the same as when 'walking a white rhino'. Then a rope was prepared in front of the door to be able to stop the rhino from running away. When the team was ready and prepared, the rhino was darted with anaesthetics inside the crate. Then we waited until the rhino was almost falling asleep... The timing of when to open the door requires loads and loads of experience with this species. In this case the door opened a little bit too early and the rhino run off. Luckily the rope and lots of strong arms kept the rhino close the crate, where he fell asleep. Wow, very impressive to see the power of this beautiful animal. While he was sleeping, we removed everything: the crate, the truck and all cars. He woke up very relaxed only seeing bush, trying to find out what had happened! In the moment he has settled well into his new home.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just a pic of my old fashion boiler. My hot water is heated by: wood. Works fantastic and completely independent from the South African authorities. Start to understand that this is always a plus, haha!

Buffalo bull fight

Yes, natural bull fights do exist. No red laps are needed. No fool who ever wants to try a bull fight with an African buffalo anyway, as its massive horns will 100% sure kill you (good idea for the spanish bulls: just be EXTREMELY aggressive, the fun stops immediately). Bull in a herd will always protect their females and calfs aggressively. This is exactly their job and that's why you will always see the adult bulls in front, back and at the edges of a wild buffalo herd. The females and calfs you will always see in the middle of the herd, safely protected. Adult buffalo bulls can also really go for each other and sometimes even kill each other. Luckily this is rare and the 'loser' will give up before it's damaged too bad. This sole buffalo bull was found with a wound in his neck. Luckily we saw it in time, so that we could dart him and treat the wound, before it got worse. In the tropics, fleas just LOVE wounds and will lay their eggs in it soon (also will never forget my first rabbit at 3 am during my night duty almost completely eaten by maggots, in the Netherlands; no that's not a dream job at all!). Also this wound was covered with maggots eating their way into the meat. After I darted the bull with Etorphine and Stresnil, he took off rapidly! So quickly we followed him with the jeep to make sure we did not loose him. After 4.5 minutes he feel asleep, nice in th shadow (which is important in the hot summer now). First the wound had to be cleaned with sterile water, washed and desinfected. I also gave long-acting antibiotics, painkilling and anti-parasite injections. Because the wound was not too large, older than a day and dirty, I decided to leave the wound open to let it drain, covered with wound healing cream. After I gave the antidote the bull recovered very relaxed under a tree. He has been seen by the trackers recently and I was happy to hear that he is doing fine!

Monday, January 4, 2010


As most little girls I also watched Daktari, dreaming about a life in Africa working with wild animals. Never thought that it would really happen. After graduating I worked as mixed and small animal vet, but never stopped dreaming about working as a wildlife vet in Africa. Still have to pinch myself regularly to make sure I am not dreaming. Living surrounded by so many amazing creatures, beautiful nature and open African smiles is still very special for this dutch Kaaskop. The way how African people make the best of each (often challenging) situation is inspiring. Every day you see something incredible here. For example our riding horses have joined up with wild zebra's. Nacho, an handsome thoroughbred, is with his size and temperament the leader of the herd and the wild zebras, including a cute young foal, also follow him. These horses have the best of both worlds: during the day free-roaming and in the night a warm and safe stable. And in between, a nice ride through the bush, passing buffalos, giraffes, black and white rhinos, giraffes, impalas, elands, warthogs, kudus, zebras, waterbuck, red hartebeest, ostriches, nyalas, sable and roan antilopes, hippos, snakes and lots of birds. For them they are all just neighbours, nothing special.