In 2014 we were delighted to be able to extend the breadth of our projects on the Big 5 game reserve in South Africa. The conservation volunteering project had been running for a long time, and we found that many participants were keen to work closely with the vets at the reserve to understand the work that they do. Following on from this, the veterinary internship was born. This project allows veterinary interns to shadow the reserve’s full time vet, learn all about the work that is done with these exotic animals (as well as domestic ones) and combine this with a wide experience in conservation and animal management.
The great thing about this project is that, in essence, it has been running for many years. Only now, those who are keen to study, or are currently studying, veterinary medicine can really become part of a formal programme to open them to life as a vet on a Big 5 game reserve.
The Big 5 reserve is divided into two aspects: a rehabilitation area and the main reserve where the animals roam free. Generally you will begin your day with the full time vet in the rehabilitation area, which is where many sick, orphaned or rehabilitating animals will recuperate. The tasks here vary depending on the conditions of the animals in care, but everything that you do will be clearly explained, offering you an insight into a wide variety of veterinary tasks.
In the rehabilitation area many of the animals that been injured, orphaned or abused. Some come from the reserve after becoming injured and needing veterinary care; others come from owners around the country who cannot look after their animals. Some of the animals can be in quite difficult conditions depending on how far along care they are- so please be prepared for this! You will also see animals that have reached their final stages of care and that are ready to be released back to the wild- this is certainly a highlight! It is amazing to think that many lions ready for rehabilitation started their lives being hand reared by the volunteers, and over the course of three years had completely become independent, living as a pride, learning to fend for themselves.
Across the reserve, your jobs as a veterinary intern will vary. These can involve game counts, monitoring the animals, carrying out autopsies and even helping to dart animals- but nothing can be guaranteed. This is a real project, and no stunts will be carried out here! You will go out into the reserve either with the vet or the game rangers, who are an absolute fountain of knowledge. In just one afternoon you can see elephant, rhino, lion, zebra, giraffe and all types of deer. Combined with this, you will also be helping out in various aspects of conservation such as clearing vegetation, helping to prevent erosion, building paths and other such tasks.
This is a very exciting project which will give veterinary interns a wide knowledge base to put into practice either at university or in the working world.
See our website for more information on the veterinary experience.