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Phinda Wildlife Research Project: 28 November - 12 December 2023*
I found ACE while searching online, and I knew immediately after reading through the projects and the volunteer testimonials that I needed to apply! I received a quick response from the team and spoke with a wonderful person called Ellie. We scheduled a skype appointment where we spoke for almost 2 hours about me and my interests and the programmes they could offer that would match perfectly with my goals. She also gave me other options but referred me to the ones that she thought would best serve my purpose. Which turned out to be the Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience!
The project was fantastic, I joined a busy clinic where the staff were all very accommodating and I got to observe and learn so many procedures. I am a third-year vet student and was able to get a lot of clinical experience and brush up my knowledge on procedures such as sterilisations, drawing blood, vaccinations, and I also looked after patients and gave them IVs. I also got to see lots of blood smears under the microscope, and do tests for parvovirus. I got to see many diseases that I hadn’t seen before including Bibisia, and different parasites. It was great to be able to brush up on things I have learned in the past and also learn lots of new things as well. I was able to ask the vets any questions I had any chance I got and they were extremely helpful.
I worked on a variety of cases out in the field with many different species. I started off by working on production animals such as cattle. I got to do manual pregnancy detections which the vet is a master at so it was amazing to learn from someone who has got so much experience. I then went out into the field and worked on buffalo. I got to see how the vets prepared the anaesthetics and sedatives for the darts. It was amazing to see how skilled the vets are at darting the animals from such a long distance accurately. I was able to inject the buffalo with multivitamins and the vet showed me exactly how you handle injections on large animals and to give reversal drugs as well.
One of the best experiences I had was being able to work on a rhino. It was amazing to be able to work up close with such an iconic animal and to get to know more about this species’ medical needs. I injected the rhino with antibiotics and multivitamins and observed them draining an abscess that the rhino had. I learnt so much about how you look after rhinos when they are being treated, such as covering their eyes and ears to muffle sounds. The vets are so passionate about their work and conservation and it was really inspiring to learn from them.
Another procedure that I observed was a goat who had two hernias on either side of her abdomen. She was very bloated and it looked pretty bad and the vet gave her some general anaesthesia and opened her up. It was a very interesting procedure to see as the goat was also pregnant at the time, so whilst he was performing surgery he could feel the fetus!
I also visited the Kruger National Park during my trip. It was so exciting to see so many different animals such as giraffes, elephants, buffalo, zebras, wildebeest, waterbuck, vervet monkeys, and baboons. I even got to do a night drive where I saw lions, hyena, and hippopotamus which was incredible. I learnt an amazing amount about elephant anatomy and development just by going to the elephant museum on this trip. I spent the night at the Kruger National Park and the cabins were amazing which was a great exposure to the culture and the people who live in the area.
ACE guided me every step of the way. It’s not common for an organisation that arranges international experiences to be so involved with the person. During my first consultation they helped me choose a project that would fit my own personal interests and goals, they also reassured me if I had concerns. I felt very supported throughout the whole process.
When I arrived in South Africa Martin was there to meet me at the airport, he talked me through everything I needed to know and made me feel very comfortable. The vets were also very attentive, they made sure I observed any surgeries or exciting medical procedures. Throughout the experience I felt very safe and taken care of. There was also amazing food during my stay.
I would definitely recommend this experience to a vet student as you get so much exposure to clinical work, you get to learn about new diseases, about different surgeries, and about different medical procedures. All around the world veterinary medicine uses different technology and techniques and so it was amazing to see how it is handled in South Africa. You also get an idea of what is happening generally in terms of wildlife conservation in South Africa, which is very enlightening. You get so much exposure to the culture, the wildlife, and also clinical work with smaller animals that just add up to making it such an amazing experience.. The people were so amazing and kind. It was incredible to see a part of their culture too, which included eating some of their local food, for example a dish called ‘Pap’, which is made from maize meal. I would definitely recommend this experience if you want to grow as a vet student and have fun at the same time!