Vet students go wild in South Africa

September 17, 2013

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A group of Murdoch veterinary students have just returned from the 'excursion of a lifetime' at a game ranch in South Africa.

(L-R) Students Jacqui Stewart and Melissa Tjahaja help relocate a zebra.

Dr Kris Warren and Dr Lian Yeap from Murdoch’s Conservation Medicine Program led the 22 undergraduate students, who are in their third or fourth year of study.

"For many of these students, it was their first taste of certain clinical procedures," Dr Warren said.

"Rather than working with a small dog or cat, the students assisted with catheterising a rhino or removing an ulcerated mass from a zebra."

The students also assisted in relocating impalas, zebras and porcupines to safe reserve areas within the Mpumalanga province.

A group of 12 students managed to muster and tranquilise 40 buffalos in one day at Loskop Dam, working with staff from Wildlifevets.com and the Mpumalanga Parks Board. The second group of 10 students then took blood samples and tested for tuberculosis.

"We performed a rumenotomy on a sick buffalo, removing four bucket loads of rumen content from one of the stomachs, including rope, metal and fencing wire," Dr Yeap said.

"We also helped immobilise a lame giraffe on a local reserve, so that veterinarians could provide much-needed medical help."

The students also learned about the complexities of rhino conservation, a species still threatened by poachers.

"Our hosts, Dr Cobus Raath and Dr Derik Venter of Wildlifevets.com, showed the students how to de-horn a rhino. When done safely, it's no more harmful than clipping fingernails," Dr Warren said.

The South African duo told the group that de-horning rhinos made them less attractive to poachers, who were often poverty-stricken citizens of Mozambique.

Rhino horn can fetch up to $60,000 per kilogram and is used in oriental medicine for a wide range of conditions. Even though modern science has proven there are no therapeutic benefits, cultural practices still drive demand.

"Now that rhinos are all but extinct in Mozambique, some poachers are working with organised crime gangs and risking a trip into South Africa, where they butcher rhinos with machetes and chainsaws," Dr Warren said.

This has led to calls from many conservationists in South Africa to legalise the rhino horn trade, which some experts say would encourage commercial efforts to harvest rhino horn safely and put the poachers out of business.

"This was an eye-opening experience for the students, who learned that conserving these animals isn't as easy as it seems," Dr Warren said.

"With over 400 rhinos already killed by poachers in South Africa this year, it's an urgent issue requiring urgent action."

Browse the selection of photographs below to see the students in action.

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