What would you do if you found an injured owl hit by a car, or a monkey with a broken hip? There
are plenty of veterinary facilities around, but most of them cater for pets, and not for the smaller indigenous wildlife. Because of this, wildlife does not always receive the specialised care
that is required.
Armed with a childhood dream to create a hospital for wildlife and 16 years’ experience of running a wildlife rehabilitation facility, Nicci Wright knew what had to be done. Together with Dr Karin Lourens, who volunteered at the same rehabilitation facility, the pair joined forces and created the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital (JWVH) in 2016.
“My experience as a wildlife rehabilitation specialist and Karin’s veterinary knowledge make an excellent skillset for what we do here,” says Wright, director of the JWVH. It is the only facility of its kind in South Africa. Indigenous wildlife is treated at no cost to those who bring the animals in, before being released back into the wild.
“Careful consideration is taken on multiple levels to ensure that each patient is able to be released back into suitable habitat. Our aim is to get them back to the wild as fully functioning members of their species.
If this is not possible, we humanely euthanase them as we don’t believe captivity is a humane solution for a wild animal that cannot be fully itself again,” she says.
The JWVH receives many patients – since opening the team has taken care of almost 5 000 animals.
These include everything from mammals and reptiles to birds. “We’ve treated bats, owls, raptors, mongoose, pangolins, meerkats, servals, genets, hedgehogs, bushbabies, garden birds, water birds and otters.”
They have also had the privilege of treating many unusual species, such as the African striped weasel, European honey buzzard and Temminck’s ground pangolin.
The hospital also contributes to research projects and is at the forefront of groundbreaking treatment. Wright says apart from the interesting species they have treated, Lourens has performed several ‘world firsts’ in the treatment of pangolins, such as pangolin to pangolin blood transfusions and feeding with a PEG tube.
On the research front, the hospital collaborates widely with local and international researchers, and contributes data towards research papers and studies.
Wright says they have attached telemetry devices to track both migratory European honey buzzards and secretarybirds.
They also contribute carcasses towards specialised eye and brain research projects and to the BioBank for DNA banking.
“Other collaborations include monitoring lead levels in raptors, the migratory distribution behaviours of grey-headed gulls, and pangolin behaviour and distribution post-release,” Wright adds.
The JWVH collaborates with the African Pangolin Working Group and the Humane Society International – Africa.
As the JWVH is a nonprofit company, it relies on public support and donations. These can include anything from unused pet carriers and plastic kennels to food supplies such as eggs, mealworms, birdseed
and fruit. If you have a favourite animal, you could sponsor a specific species by making a small monthly contribution.
For information on how you can assist, visit www.johannesburgwildlifevet.com
Written by René de Klerk
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