Veterinary science in South Africa dates back to approximately 1874 with the appointment of the first Colonial Veterinary Surgeon in Port Natal (present day Durban in Kwazulu-Natal). This was followed by the appointment of the first Colonial Veterinary Surgeon in the Cape Colony in 1876 and the arrival of private practitioners at the turn of the decade. A major event was the arrival in South Africa in 1891 of a Swiss-born veterinarian, Arnold Theiler, who went on to establish a disinfection station and vaccine factory at Daspoort close to Pretoria in 1898. When this facility became unsuitable in 1905, Arnold Theiler was instrumental in establishing a new facility at Onderstepoort in 1908 which became the current ARC – Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (www.arc.agric.za)
During this time and in the years thereafter, the possibility of training veterinarians in South Africa was frequently raised but it was not until 1920 that Sir Arnold Theiler was appointed as Director of Veterinary Education and Research. He served as the first Dean when the first students enrolled for a degree in veterinary science at “Onderstepoort” under the supervision of the then Transvaal University College. New facilities were inaugurated at the end of 1921 and the first residence opened its doors in 1924. The first South African trained veterinarians (8) qualified in 1924.
The initial intakes were small and the number of veterinarians graduating from the Faculty every year remained below 20 until 1956. The first batch of graduates to exceed 40 in number, qualified in 1967. The numbers fluctuated around the 40 mark until 1978 and was followed by the first large batch of graduates in 1979 (69) following an increase in the intake of second year students in 1976. Since then it has remained, other than for the odd exception either way, in the region of approximately 85 per annum until 2007. A marked increase has been noticeable from 2008 when 99 graduated in 2008 and 119 in 2009 due to an increase in intake to 120 per annum in 2000 and to 135 in 2005.
Physical facilities were gradually added to the original facilities created in 1921 and totally revamped or renewed between 1986 and 1996. The Faculty now boasts a campus which compares most favourably with the best in the world.
The Faculty was the only one of its kind in South Africa until 1980 when a second Faculty of Veterinary Science was established within the Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA). This Faculty admitted its first students in 1982, produced its first graduates in 1987 and was amalgamated with the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria in 1999. The amalgamated Faculty (new National Faculty) created in this way continues to utilise the facilities of the Onderstepoort campus of the University of Pretoria and continues to function as a fully-fledged faculty of the University of Pretoria. It is once again the only one of its kind in South Africa.
The undergraduate veterinary programme has developed from the original 5-year programme to a five-and-a-half year programme in the mid 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s. It was changed to a 6-year programme in the late 1990’s and to a split degree structure consisting of a 3-year BSc(Veterinary Biology) degree and 4-year BVSc degree in 2003. A new 6-year core-elective programme was introduced in 2011.
A University Diploma in Veterinary Nursing was offered for the first time in 1977 but was recently replaced with a three-year, full-time Bachelor of Veterinary Nursing (BVetNurs) degree programme.