Rosie Bancroft: posing with a sedated antelope

Dangerous animals - enter at own risk

You might not expect that sign greeting you when entering your office for a day’s work – unless you are a wildlife vet!

Rosie Bancroft, a 17 year old zoology student from the UK hoping to become a vet, found out the perils and joys of her dream profession while shadowing a wildlife vet in South Africa.

I spent 2 weeks in south Africa this summer on the Shimongwe project with Dr. Kriel and had the most incredible and life-changing experience. From the first day when a baby baboon came in to the clinic to the last day when I injected a rhino, there was so much hands-on experience and exciting opportunities.

It’s hard to sum up such an incredible experience but there were definitely some highlights from my trip. During our second week we were told that we were going out to dart something but both vets, Sam and Niel, wanted to keep it a surprise so it was only when we pulled up outside a reserve with a sign saying “dangerous animals – enter at own risk” and a picture of a lion that we realised we were working with big cats!

We first darted a caracal to take blood and test for different illnesses as it was acting unwell. As Niel was talking to the owners, one of the women working there said to us: “Would you like to see a cheetah?” Not sure I’ve ever been quite so excited! She took us to an enclosure and we were able to go inside and sit and play with a full-grown tame cheetah!

Another animal we worked with was the buffalo. We went out on a darting to treat a buffalo with an abscess on its face. Having a stampede of buffalo run right past your truck is definitely something you never forget!

We saw a lot of different types of antelope in my two weeks such as eland, sable and kudu and we had one darting which was about 5 hours hanging on the back of a bakkie (pick-up truck) for dear life with the darted animals on the back with us and about 8 men! It was exciting to say the least. Niel would go up in the helicopter with his darting gun and would dart the antelope or wildebeest from the helicopter and once it was down we would race through the bush to where it was and would give it any necessary injections or treatment before it was loaded onto the back of the truck with us. We even got to ride in the helicopter! The opportunities to help treat these animals and inject them were so valuable and we all got to inject animals such as wildebeest, eland and more. I felt like I learnt so much from actually helping to treat them!

It’s hard to choose a favourite moment but if I had to it would probably be when we darted and took blood samples from a female rhino.

It was suspected that she was pregnant and because of the rhino’s skin it’s often hard to tell if they are so we darted and took blood to test for this as well as giving some vaccinations. When Niel asked if anyone would like to give the rhino the antidote I immediately jumped at the chance and I’m glad I did as it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. The rhino was up and awake quite quickly after injecting the antidote however so we had to be up and out of the way!

This project not only offers hands on work and seeing some beautiful animals but also offers the chance to meet and spend time with some of the best people you’ll ever meet. The family you stay with are just so loving and wonderful and I felt at home and comfortable the whole time and we were always without fail welcomed home after a long day with a big hug and a delicious meal. In your free time you also get to go out places – we got to go rock climbing at Niels farm, to the hippo pool and to see and cuddle baby lion and tiger cubs.

I honestly can’t recommend this project enough!