How to become a wildlife vet in South Africa

October 2020 blog by Yashaswini Modak, third-year vet student at the Royal Veterinary College.

Hi, I’m Yashaswini – President of the Zoological Society here at the Royal Veterinary College. I have been a part of The Expedition Project Ambassador team since 2019.

Welcome to my second in a series of monthly Veterinary Student blogs.

Read part 1 here.

Since August 2020, alongside The Expedition Project, we’ve been doing live streams about conservation medicine with Dr. Peter Rogers and students from Nottingham and the Dick Vet School in Edinburgh. Our latest livestream with Dr. Peter Rogers as part of the Wildlife Vet Online course gave us loads of insight into the life of a wildlife veterinarian and I thought I would share some of the key bits of advice that we heard from Dr. Peter Rogers about getting into conservation and the skills you’d need to thrive.

Wildlife medicine is evolving constantly and takes an open mind and willingness to learn and be innovative. “There’s probably only two of us that know how to rehabilitate pangolins”, Peter says. “The cheetah and rhino modules were like second nature”, he says (speaking about the Wildlife Vet Online course, and he jokes that since he’s been working with rhino and cheetah for so long, he could teach those modules in his sleep. The story when it comes to pangolins is far different, though. “The pangolin course was a challenge, it’s a new field, we’re learning on a daily basis and a lot of things are still speculative”. It takes research, trial and error, and out of the box problem solving skills to work in conservation, as Peter talked so much about the specific clinical conundrums pangolins provide a medical professional to work with. This is why they are in so much danger, because even when recovered they are incredibly difficult patients to rehabilitate. “It’s a miracle to get even one through, and the costs are astronomical”, Peter adds – it’s the grim reality of conservation sometimes because there is so much still to be found out about certain species, and even with sufficient knowledge sometimes the price will be a limiting factor. 

Knowledge is to be sought out and freely given. “The more we learn, the more we can broadcast, and the more we can help people”, Peter says, as he talks about how the team conducts post-mortems on every single pangolin that dies at their centre. He has the admirable policy of freely disseminating the post mortem findings to everyone who asks – all in an attempt to develop the field and ultimately better serve the animals. Conservation is not just about medicine, it’s about collaboration, and we heard one of Peter’s favorite lines a second time: “saving one pangolin will not save the species”. Conservation is complicated and involves social change, and scientific teamwork – and you’re best suited to the field if this comes to you naturally.

Balance and perspective is everything, and can actually help you function better in a team, which is so important if you want to be successful and happy in this field. Peter put it very succinctly: “Do you want to have a great life or do you want to be the richest man in the graveyard?”. He talked to us a bit about how he had to force a lot of his staff to take leave on several occasions because they were that dedicated to their work! Conservation work is gruelling and requires a lot of time invested, and at times can get demoralising unless you give yourself the work-life balance that you deserve.

I recommend you check out these courses:

Wildlife Vet Online Module 1: Cheetah Management

Wildlife Vet Online Module 2: The Rhino Revolution – Part 1

Wildlife Vet Online Module 3: The Rhino Revolution – Part 2

Wildlife Vet Online Module 4: Pangolin Protection

And I even have a course that i was involved in developing here:

Junior Wildlife Vet and Ecology Module 1: Animal Identification

Livestream Audio

October 2020

Music intro until 6:30

Watch our live streams here.

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