We are all the custodians of Mother Nature, creatures and plants, great and small. Whilst we have been staying indoors, the guardians of South Africa’s magnificent wildlife have been out there, continuing their crucial mission to preserve our natural heritage. So, what is it that they do every day and how can we contribute?
The average day in the life of a Wildlife Conservationist is anything but average! On the front line these ‘Wilderness Warriors’ have the enormous responsibility of seeking to maintain the fragile balance of nature in the many breathtaking parks and reserves for which South Africa is so famous.
Two dedicated heroes and prominent figures in the field, Dr Peter Buss who is the Veterinary Senior Manager of the Veterinary Unit for the Veterinary Wildlife Services in the world famous Kruger National Park and Dr David Zimmermann, the Veterinarian Senior Manager of the Veterinary Wildlife Services for SANParks (South African National Parks), spoke to The South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) giving a behind-the-scenes look at life in the wild.
One of their principal concerns is the maintenance of animal populations, which includes the relocation of specific species – when they overpopulate a particular park – to other areas where their numbers are lower or diminishing. This is an incredibly complicated and delicate process. Dr Buss commented that this is not a common occurrence in the enormous Kruger National Park, and that for his team, the most critical focus of their daily work is to provide veterinary support in the fight against poaching. Where possible and without interfering in the course of nature – this includes treating injured rhinos, recovery and care of orphaned rhino calves, and removal of life-threatening snares, a growing problem, from a variety of species.
They also spend a lot of time on “veterinary-themed research projects”, tourist protection measures (which can include removing dangerous animals from tourist camps), disease monitoring as well as educational programmes and mentoring for veterinary students. He added that though it is never easy to assess with certainty, there has been a notable level of success in the protection of the rhino, an emblematic creature in the struggle to stop its demise caused by the illegal trade of rhino horn.
As can be expected, many parks risk facing financial pressure due to the lack of international visitors, although local tourism is on the rise, allowing more South Africans to experience the beauty of our extraordinary natural reserves. Thankfully the tourism factor has a very limited negative impact on the wildlife, with some exceptions, like the illegal feeding of animals which encourages them to become reliant on “hand-outs”, thereby disrupting their natural ability to find the food they need – the problem with the baboons at Cape Point is a perfect example of this.
On the other hand visitors to the reserves can help by reporting as much information as possible when they find an animal that is suffering from a human induced injury (e.g. a snare, vehicle accident or poaching injuries) during their safari, thereby allowing rangers and vets to intervene where possible. Tourism remains fundamentally important, as an awareness of the plight of our wildlife is heightened when people experience animals and are educated first-hand during their safari. This is especially important for the younger generations, and results in the sharing of a passion for all things natural as well as a common desire to protect our great natural heritage.
As a prominent member of the SANparks team with 20 years of experience behind him, Dr. Zimmermann has many different parks under his microscope. This includes parks such as Addo Elephant National Park and Tsitsikamma National Park, which have marine management components. Part of his job is to facilitate research into the endangered African penguin and even the Great White shark in Algoa Bay, where the application of tracking devices needs to be conducted by an experienced veterinarian. In contrast to the poaching problems in the Kruger National Park, Dr. Zimmermann’s principal occupations include population management, animal relocation, predator monitoring, the management of human/wildlife conflict in communities surrounding the parks and assessing whether or not to intervene. As he says “sometimes hard decisions have to be taken. It’s a balancing act from a welfare point of view between empathy for the animals and the importance of protecting human lives”. As a multi-disciplinary profession, working as a veterinarian for a conservation organisation such as SANParks requires constant collaboration with other teams, park managers, scientists, rangers and the government, especially when dealing with larger animals like elephants or rhinos.
By celebrating the diversity of South Africa and teaching one another how to nurture our precious nature, the best way forward is for us to ‘get out there’. Explore this beautiful country and share the awareness of the infinite value of our natural environment and the need for its preservation.
Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your vet or other qualified health care provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.