VetX Wildlife Capture & Care
Updated: Jul 18, 2020
This summer I spent 2 weeks on one of the best trips of my life. I went expecting to learn about wildlife medicine and MAYBE gain some hands-on experience. What I ended up leaving with was more than I could’ve imagined. I gained an immense amount of knowledge, diverse experience, new family and the goal to one day return to work in South Africa. I still can’t stop talking about this trip which is why I want to share this with you! Before we dive into what VetX was like I feel that it’s important to explain my previous experiences in Africa. The year before I entered vet school I went on an international student volunteer program where we explored South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland. This trip was more conservation focused and the actual program was hosted at the Anne Van Dyke Cheetah center. I fell in love with all the wildlife and knew I had to go back. So here I am, so excited to tell you about this trip because it’s been my absolute favorite experience to date.
VetX is located against the Langeberg mountain range on the world-famous Garden Route Coast in South Africa. This is roughly 4 hours outside of Cape town and is run by Umkhondo Big-5 Wildlife Volunteering. I felt completely at home and safe the entire time I was on the trip. The accommodations and people are absolutely fantastic. The program leader, Hein, is an extremely experienced individual in wildlife (& everything else) and I honestly felt like I learned more from him than some of my classes at school. Vicki is another leader who helps with VetX but works more closely with volunteers from around the world who participate in the conservation program. She is my soul sister and one of the most genuine humans to walk this planet. I miss her every day! And I can’t forget about Madre. The woman who made sure we were all fed, taken care of, and laughing 24/7. There’s just so much to say about these individuals. I’m already planning to go back to visit them during a fourth-year block!
The VetX program incorporates lectures alongside hands-on learning which I felt was extremely helpful since I didn’t have much wildlife experience prior to this trip. Imagine sitting in lecture learning about all the different African species and then actually capturing/relocating them a day later. It doesn’t get much better than that. This program is fast paced, exhilarating, and always full of surprises. That’s what I love about wildlife medicine...you never know what’s going to happen. You must be quick, innovative, and confident for this kind of work and I LOVE it.
A lot of our first week was spent learning the background and basics of the area, different animal species, and various procedures. Usually any lecture regarding a procedure was followed with time to go out and practice that procedure. Our first activity revolved around techniques to capture and relocate Sables, an African antelope species. That very next day we were out helping the local vet and farmers capture and relocate 8 Sables. This was my first taste of wildlife medicine and it satisfied this adrenaline junkie! I had the opportunity to take TPRs, deworm, vaccinate, and help restrain during these days.
The days following involved us assisting in giraffe capture/relocations, relocating/treating Cape buffalo, darting out of helicopters, and so much more. Everyday was packed with new opportunities for us to learn about wildlife medicine and conservation. In my opinion, this experience encompassed everything I could want as someone starting out in wildlife medicine. The only downfall about this program is that it wasn’t long enough. I could’ve stayed there for months but I do plan on applying for an off-campus block to go back! So, if you’re someone that’s interested in wildlife medicine, loves traveling, or wants an adventurous veterinary experience I would 11/10 recommend this program. You will leave with so much knowledge and new friends from around the world.
This program is structured for those who are in the veterinary field (vet students & vet nurses) and others can be considered via a Skype interview. A short list of some of the hands-on experiences include relocating animals, DNA sampling, medical treatments, measuring horn sizes, TB testing in buffalo, rhino de-horning, microchip implants, fitting collars to animals for tracking, deworming, and darting practice. If you aren’t in the veterinary field don’t fret! They also have awesome conservation programs.
If you’re interested in this program check out Umkhondo volunteer programs! If you decide this program is the right fit for you, please let them know you heard about this trip from DogtorKristi! They look forward to having you 😊