Getting experience with wildlife, zoo animals and conservation
The European Wildlife Service (EWS) provides a wildlife veterinary service for the conservation and zoo industries. Initially, our work began in Portugal and Spain, although we now work in a number of countries, from Namibia to Angola and the United Arab Emirates. This year, we were joined by wildlife vet Graca Oliveira who runs our extramural studies programme.
In 2014, I completed a masters degree in wild animal health with the Zoological Society of London and the Royal Veterinary College.
Since then my work has broadened and I currently run the only wildlife veterinary unit in Mozambique, supporting animals in protected areas and private reserves.
My role involves wildlife capture and translocation, treatment of injured and sick endangered species, and immobilisation of animals for research and tracking purposes.
The most common species I deal with are elephants, rhinos and large predators – lions, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs – and antelope. My work in Mozambique is supported by several non-governmental organisations, the main one being Saving the Survivors (www.savingthesurvivors.com).
I began my career working with horses in the UK, which proved to be an extremely rewarding experience. I gained lots of clinical experience and expertise, and also had the opportunity to complete an RCVS certificate in equine practice.
However, my career changing moment happened a few years ago when I was called out to a local safari park to treat a zebra with severe colic. That event stayed with me – it was a good feeling that I couldn’t get out of my head.
I worked as a wildlife vet in South Africa for six years. My work focused on the treatment, transportation, rehabilitation and monitoring of wild animal species, from African antelope, buffalo, rhino, giraffe to lions, jackals and hyenas.
A big part of my daily activities involved treating and caring for rhinos rescued from poachers and rhino calves that had become separated from their mothers. Care of these animals focuses on the possibility of reintroducing them to the wild and deterring poachers by dehorning rhinos.
From South Africa I moved to Portugal to work with Iberian lynx and their reintroduction to the wild.
Bringing together our combined experience and areas of interest benefits the species we work with.
Performing diagnostic procedures and surgeries on difficult species involves planning, similar to the way we carry out the capture and translocation of large numbers of wild animals. Whatever we do involves using the most up-to-date techniques, drugs and equipment.
"Our combined experience and areas of interest benefit the animals we work with"
The service has expanded significantly in the past few years. We now run an African Safari Park in Portugal, which is where vet students come for their EMS and vets can gain experience of working with zoo species. We also provide consultation services at other zoos.
The park is a 45-hectare enclosure with cork and pine trees. The species range from giraffe and ostrich to buffalo and springbok, small primates and chimpanzees.
We care for wildlife through local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres, and we also manage a number of deer reserves – establishing prophylactic health programmes, treating sick animals and, on occasion, we are even called upon to capture wild cows.
Using our clinical knowledge to achieve wildlife conservation really matters to us.
We strive to create strong and trusting relationships with everyone working in the field of wildlife conservation, including raising public awareness through events.
The diverse work we do is interesting and enriching for vets with an interest in wildlife medicine. Because of this, we offer work experience placements in Portugal for vet students, young graduates or any vet who would like to find out what working with different species is like. The experience includes learning about wildlife medicine and anaesthesia, animal transportation, clinical research, husbandry, caring for orphaned animals, practical experience using a dart gun – and other relevant devices – hands-on assistance in wildlife immobilisation and the administration of appropriate treatments.
A chance to reassess
Portuguese vet Carlos Costa recently spent some time with EWS while he reassessed his career
The experience helped me to discover the vet I want to be. From the start I was offered opportunities to get involved – on my first day we immobilised a buffalo. I have learned about, and experienced, capture, movement and treatment of many types of animals, from small tortoises to monkeys, birds, deer, zebra, gnus, camels, American bison, llamas, kudus, tigers and waterbuck, to the tallest animal on earth, the giraffe.
My top three experiences include anesthetising a baboon to stitch up some deep wounds, removing a mummified fetus from a female waterbuck and trimming a giraffe’s hooves, which involved anaesthetising the animal in order to radiograph its feet.
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