The last month veterinarian Kate Bodley has help us out at Tacugama. Kate is a very experienced vet, who normally works for Melbourne Zoo. Here she gives you a bit of insight in her experience working with our chimpanzee:
My usual job is to work as one of the veterinarians at Melbourne Zoo, Australia, but this month I have been taking care of some of the veterinary work at Tacugama, while Dr Jenny takes a well earned break.
Melbourne Zoo’s veterinary team comprises four vets, three veterinary nurses, two hospital keepers and an administrative officer. While being only one vet at Tacugama, I have relied upon the expertise of the excellent care team. All are experienced with the veterinary aspects of the care for the chimps. The best thing about coming to Tacugama is the opportunity to learn! I have learned a great deal from the care team, and also from the chimps themselves. Melbourne Zoo has Western lowland gorillas, Sumatran orang utans, siamangs and white-cheeked gibbons in its primate collection, but no chimpanzees. I have discovered that chimps are remarkable.
A zoo vet’s work day can be filled with animal interactions – most may be quite negative ones for our animal patients. It is one of the bad parts of a great job – you move pretty quickly through the day, and spend time with animals only when they are feeling unwell, or when you are performing an unpleasant task, like changing a wound dressing. They are not pets, and for most (with notable exceptions!) a pat on the head is not a nice reward after being held for an injection. So many of Melbourne Zoo’s animals do not view the vets as friends or carers, and some remember our faces as being frightening ones.
It is not possible to work that way at Tacugama. It is important to spend some quiet time with the chimps each day. Practically, this enables you to make an assessment of their health, and gives the opportunity to administer treatments. Their thoughtful intelligence also means that there is some small chance of being friends, for a time. For me, this has been a most enjoyable part of being here. Of course, there are many challenges that are not present while working in a well-resourced city zoo. Sourcing veterinary drugs and consumables, like syringes and needles, can be very challenging, and keeping these valuable items dry during the rainy season is also difficult. The decision to examine an X ray means taking your patient down to a local hospital, but only when when the human patients have finished their x rays for the day.
The forested hills around Freetown provide an amazing backdrop for the day, and the work has been challenging and rewarding. I am sitting in the office and see “Gorilla” climb 50 metres up from the ground at the top of a tall tree, in his beautiful, forested enclosure. What a fantastic thing, for him and for me!