Public Health +Wildlife Medicine
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Block 3: Malawi
If you’ve been following my vet school journey via Instagram, you know that I spent my third block in Lilongwe, Malawi. Why? Well, as someone interested in wildlife and public health, I took initiative to find a way to use time during my clinical year to gain more experience in these areas. Before I get into how I made this happen, it’s worth mentioning that I only know how the clinical year curriculum works at my own school so I can’t give any advice on how to make these opportunities fit into your own school’s curriculum and schedule. What I can tell you is who to get in contact with if you’d like to work at the same place that I worked in!
My experiences in Malawi were made possible through the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre which was the first wildlife sanctuary and environmental education facility to be established in Malawi. The wildlife center focuses on 4 main areas: wildlife rescue & welfare, education & advocacy, conservation justice, and biodiversity research. I was able to spend 2 weeks doing hands on clinical work with two wildlife veterinarians and then the rest of my time was spent with alongside another veterinarian that focuses primarily on clinical projects in one health. If there happens to be anyone reading this that isn’t in the vet med field, I want to mention that Lilongwe Wildlife Trust offers opportunities for all kinds of people to work alongside animals, not just veterinary professionals. You don’t have to be a vet student to volunteer with them! I made many friends that worked as orphan care volunteers, helped with wildlife rehabilitation/conservation and even law students that were there to do advocacy work to help protect wildlife. This post will breakdown the experiences I obtained as a vet extern!
Lectures & Wet labs
We had many days that included lectures and wet labs during my externship. For me, some of these lectures were review but I learned a lot from most of them. Some examples of topics discussed included parasitology, hematology, infectious & non-infectious disease, emergency management, and more. Some examples of the wet labs included suturing, hematology, necropsies, behavior/enrichment and darting. I loved learning how to blow dart and dart with a riffle! I can definitely say that I learned a lot about wildlife and exotic animals through the various lectures and activties during my externship.
Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation
Part of being an extern at the clinic meant that we would help with any current and incoming cases that came in. This can range from exams, emergency operations, health checks, and routine diagnostics. During my time, I had the opportunity to help with a rescued porcupine that was caught in a snare, a vervet who nearly drown in a river, and multiple owls that were found and brought into the center.
Primate Health Checks
The Lilongwe wildlife center is home to many vervets, blue monkeys, yellow baboons, and olive baboons. Each troop is required to undergo routine health checks. I was fortunate to help with many health checks on vervets, blue monkeys, and olive baboons. Some of my responsibilities included preparing supplies for health checks, calculating drugs, monitoring anesthesia, taking TPRs, physical exams, administering fluids, giving vaccines, drawing blood, taking body measurements, and helping recover animals from anesthesia. I felt like I was able to apply what I had learned from school while working with these animals and I also learned so much more information that I wouldn’t have gotten from my curriculum at school.
Clinical Projects in One Health
The one health projects were held at a different site at Kuti Wildlife Reserve which was about two hours away from the wildlife center by car. Due to the scarcity of research on wildlife health in Malawi, there is a need to collect and analyze data so there can be better information towards local, regional, and national conservation strategies. Some of the projects I was able to work on included zebra monitoring, parasite ecology, and community outreach. My favorite experience was going out into the community and helping vaccinate dogs for rabies in the local villages. We also helped the veterinarian capture and collar animals on the reserve.
I was slightly skeptical about the safety level in Malawi prior to visiting, but I never felt like I would be in any danger. The staff at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre does a fantastic job at communicating any concerns and providing externs/volunteers with information about working in Malawi. At our extern house in Lilongwe, there was a security system that surrounded the house and was set each night. There are guards on the premises and the actual area where the externs/volunteers sleep is very far away from the entrance to the Wildlife Center aka the main road.
If you are ever concerned about an area you are traveling to, always directly ask the program or check out the CDC travel notice page.
This was the only downside for me, but it wasn’t really an issue at all! The meals provided are all vegetarian but were delicious! I missed having meat for those 3 weeks but I survived 😉 I enjoyed trying some traditional foods while visiting and there was always enough food for us each day!
During my externship, I had the opportunity to have weekends off. I decided to travel to Zambia for the weekend and go on a 2-day Safari. This was a MAJOR highlight and something I recommend everyone taking advantage of and saving extra $ for. This is something you will coordinate yourself once you get to Malawi. The staff at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre will have the information and contacts needed. I went alone and never felt unsafe and had an amazing time. I saw leopards, lions, hyena, elephants, buffalo, zebra, impala, and so much more. There are many options to explore during your time in Malawi and I HIGHLY recommend taking advantage of them.
The staff at the wildlife centre will also take you on a town tour and to the local shops. There you can buy snacks, forgotten supplies, etc. You can also explore the local shops that have many hand crafted items.
Make sure you double check the vaccination requirements prior to entering the country. The externship/volunteer packet has ALL this information. Since I am a vet student, I already fulfilled my rabies vaccinat
In order to help any future students going on this trip, I created an Amazon page that links all the products I found helpful on this trip and others that I wish I had brought! Check out these items here.
Below are linked websites that can help you find out more information regarding the different program’s offered by Lilongwe Wildlife Center. I 110% recommend volunteering here because there’s not many other experiences out there like it and I learned SO much.
I hope this blog post helped answer questions and if you are seriously considering volunteering at Lilongwe, I would love for you to let the staff there know that I helped recommend this program for you! If you have any other questions, feel free to drop them in the comment box below!