The airplane wheels touched down on the Namibian runway, and slowly came to a halt. Andrew Bush and I disembarked from the small aircraft to see, somewhat surprisingly, the scale of the international airport in Windhoek. After spending 4 weeks travelling through South Africa as part of our Global Vets program through the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, we had become accustomed to the larger airports of Johannesburg and Cape Town. We knew right then that Namibia would be an entirely different adventure.
As veterinary students, we embarked on this trip intending to gain an amalgam of experiences in wildlife medicine, farm animal medicine and small animal medicine, while learning about wildlife conservation, and, with any luck, leaving a lasting impression wherever we travelled.
We were greeted at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), located in Otjiwarongo, by Elizabeth Puiss, CCF Research and Education Technician. She showed us to our dorm-style room followed by a tour of CCF’s facilities. The interns stay in rooms of approximately 4 people and share a common lounging area while all meals are served at the Hot Spot cafeteria. This setup offers an environment that breeds socialization and bonding, one that allows for the formation of long-lasting friendships.
We spent our days (between 8 am and 5 pm) tending to our daily tasks, which meant working with the veterinary team in the clinic. Our role at the clinic was to oversee the health of the resident cheetahs and all other animals at the centre, including the livestock guarding dogs, and goats and sheep. Thanks to the guidance and support of head veterinarian, Dr. Robin Gieling, we had the privilege of assisting in preparations for the spays and neuters of six Anatolian Shepherd puppies in the Livestock Guarding Dog Program.
We also assisted in livestock emergencies, participated in post-mortems, assisted in cheetah health work-ups and castrations, as well as auxiliary work including monitoring a diabetic dog, performing radiographs, vaccinating the animals and analyzing fecal samples for parasite eggs. While the amount of veterinary work is abundant, led by Dr. Robin Gieling and veterinary technician Vistoria Tuhemwe, our tasks went beyond the clinic itself and included monitoring the health of the livestock, feeding and walking the dogs, assisting in husbandry of the cheetahs, and other vital maintenance work.
Additionally, we were able to participate in a waterhole count along with students from a local secondary school in Otjiwarongo. We spent 12 hours in a hideout with the objective of identifying and sexing all animals that frequented the watering hole. CCF conducts these counts on a regular basis and they are important to estimating wildlife populations and study population dynamics over time.
Overall, the environment cultivated at CCF allows for a diverse group of like-minded individuals from all over the world, committed to the goal of saving the cheetah and to form memorable relationships. We are proud to say we achieved our goals at CCF, as we were not only involved in the veterinary care of a number of animals but we enjoyed ourselves immensely and have made new friends from around the world.
Cheetah Conservation Fund Canada is very pleased that, once again, two excellent student vets, Alex Geduld-Boucher and Andrew Bush spent two weeks at CCF Namibia in early August and impressed the CCF vet team with their enthusiasm and dedication.
Dr. Robin Geiling, their supervisor during their time at CCF wrote: “They have been fantastic and super eager to learn. They also created a good atmosphere within the team. Their confidence has allowed them to learn more (incl. practical skills) in 2 weeks then most students. I’m confident they will become really good vets.”