The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Veterinary Science opened a dedicated Wildlife Clinic at its Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital (OVAH) on Friday 6 March.
The Faculty is the only one of its kind in the country and is celebrating its centenary this year. The OVAH provides world-class practical training to final-year veterinary and veterinary nursing students. It has facilities that render myriad services to all animal species, and can accommodate anything from a pet lizard to a large bull. “There has been a need for a dedicated facility for wildlife that is managed with the highest care available to the patients,” said Dr Paul van Dam, Director of the OVAH. “Having facilities on the Onderstepoort Campus allows easy access to all the clinical specialists as well as services offered by the OVAH and the diagnostic laboratories on campus.”
He explained that being able to accommodate the animals in these facilities has the additional advantage that a more comprehensive and dedicated service can be provided. In the past, wildlife had to be released to the owner’s farm after initial treatment, making follow-up treatment a challenge. “The facility is unique in the sense that it will be used to hospitalise clients’ animals. Similar facilities exist, for example at zoos, but these are all only used for the entity’s own animals.”
This new clinic comprises two buildings – herbivore bomas and one that accommodates carnivores. It meets the legal requirements of the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture. All facilities that accommodate wildlife have to meet the stringent standards set by the Department of Environmental Affairs, which are primarily aimed at animal welfare. Once they approve the facilities, the Department of Agriculture (Veterinary Services) has to approve the facilities from an animal disease control point of view, explained Dr van Dam.
The clinic can accommodate carnivores up to the size of lions, as well as herbivores, from small antelope to the size of young rhino. Patients come from South African game farms, zoos and other registered wildlife breeding and holding facilities. “With the new facilities, animals can be kept under close supervision and regular treatment is now possible. It also allows the wildlife clinicians to perform more specialist diagnostic procedures than would be possible on the farm,” said Dr Van Dam.
While the Faculty’s wildlife clinicians have the expertise to treat all species of wildlife, they can now also call on specialists from other disciplines in the OVAH for procedures – including radiology, surgery, anaesthesiology, medicine and reproduction. “The actual management of wildlife under hospitalised conditions, the general training of students in hospitalised care of wildlife is important. This will allow our new graduates the opportunity to be more innovative in how they manage wildlife when they get into practice. If one looks at the equine industry, the introduction of specialised equine care at the academic hospital many years ago has completely changed how equine patients are managed nowadays,” said Faculty Dean Professor Vinny Naidoo.
UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said at the opening of the clinic, “I am proud of the expertise of our wildlife vets, who have built a reputation for excellence worldwide. Not only are they called on for their expertise in wide-ranging areas, but our vets also play an important role in the conservation of endangered wildlife species.”