Our Time at CCF – OVC Veterinary Internship

  • by Jessica Mark, Adrienne Lee, and Crystal Cheung October 8, 2023
Our Time at CCF – OVC Veterinary Internship

When we first arrived at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in August, we weren’t sure what to expect. We had applied to go to CCF through a group called Global Vets at the Ontario Veterinary College, a student run program that gives veterinarian students an opportunity to work and collaborate in animal healthcare in various countries around the world. We wanted to go to CCF for our internship as there were a number of programs they ran that we were interested in learning more about; they work in many different sectors of animal health, including conservation, research, education, and of course, veterinary work and rehabilitation. We were very excited to learn more about cheetahs (Adrienne’s favourite animal), as well as see firsthand the work that CCF does.

When we first arrived at the airport in Windhoek, we found out that we had happened to be on the same plane as Dr. Laurie Marker, which we didn’t find out until afterwards! It was a pleasant surprise to meet her, and be able to speak to her a bit about her experiences leading up to her establishing CCF.

As we made our way towards CCF, we were blown away from the beauty of southern Africa – the sunrises and sunsets are something we’ll always remember. We saw various wildlife roaming around too, which were in stark contrast to our lives in Canada.

After Dr. Marker and Capy (CCF’s driver) dropped us off, we met the other interns working at CCF. They were from all over, from the USA, Canada, to Belgium and Namibia. Little did we know that we’d be making friends for a lifetime – there are already plans for a reunion in the future. The interns and staff at CCF were some of the most friendly and welcoming people we’ve ever met, and we miss them dearly. Some of our best memories were working alongside our fellow interns, as well as the movie nights, night walks, the karaoke and bonfire nights, and the night drives.

As for our vet-related work at CCF, we saw a lot – namely with the dogs and the goats. In the vet clinic, we did daily goat checks twice a day – checking for goats and sheep that exhibited any lameness, or any signs of illness. There were a couple cases we were able to see and assist with, including a goat with mastitis, another with an abscess, and a goat kid that had an eye ulcer. We were also fortunate to have witnessed a goat birth, in which a doe gave birth to two beautiful kids. Their umbilical cords were dipped in iodine to prevent infection, and we made sure they were able to stand and feed. The goat kids were some of the highlights of our day; especially the ones that would jump up and try to eat our hair because they thought it was hay (while cute, would not recommend). We also were able to see some of CCF’s local farms, and their herds where their rams reside. At the clinic, the vet team collected blood and semen for testing fertility.

As for our work with the resident livestock guardian dogs, we were able to observe and assist with taking radiographs of their hips and elbows for wellness check-ups. We also observed an ultrasound of April, as she was pregnant; she should have given birth by now (we wished we had been there for the puppies!). The vet team also treated some cases, including eye ulcers and hot spots. They also did a dental cleaning, which we were able to monitor for. Another livestock guardian dog originally from CCF had come back to the clinic from his resident farm, as he had gotten into a scuffle with a wild animal and had some wounds that needed tending to. He was one of our favourite residents, as he had a very sweet and calm demeanour, and always looked forward to his daily walks.

As for the cheetahs, we observed a workup on a wild cheetah, Scarlett, whom CCF has actually recently released. We were able to take a heart rate and monitor her vitals as they took blood, and sutured and cleaned her wounds. We were also able to watch how they take blood samples from some of the resident cheetahs without tranquilization, in which the cheetahs voluntarily allowed them to take blood in exchange for tasty meat treats.

While we may not have had a lot of hands-on opportunities with the cheetahs in the clinic, while on the Cheetah Husbandry team, we were able to learn more about the work that goes on behind the scenes when taking care of their 26 cheetahs currently at the center. It involves a lot of meat preparation, but exercise is also an important part of their routines. They do daily cheetah runs, in which the cheetahs will chase after a lure attached to a pulley system, showcasing their true agility and speed. They are rewarded for their successful catch with meat treats, though some definitely prefer to keep their “prey” still. This was another highlight for us during our stay at CCF.

All in all, we had a great time at CCF and it was definitely an experience to remember. We saw so much, and learned a little more about goats, dogs, and cheetahs. The veterinarians, Dr. Ana Basto and Dr. Mercelin Gawanis, and the veterinary technicians, Johanna and Vistoria, were all extremely kind and taught us many things about veterinary medicine in cheetahs, dogs and goats/sheep. They were always willing to let us observe any procedures and made our time at the clinic super exciting! We saw and learned a lot during our time with the veterinary team at CCF, and are grateful to them for taking the time to teach us more about veterinary medicine and animal health. We want to send a huge thanks to them for allowing us to learn alongside them and for igniting a spark for us to learn more about wildlife veterinary medicine.

This experience has definitely made an impact on our future careers as veterinarians –  for Jessica as she aspires to eventually practice zoological medicine on day, her internship was invaluable. For Adrienne, working with the goats and sheep made her realized that she really enjoy working with them. She decided to take a course at school in small ruminant health, and I want to learn more about small ruminant veterinary medicine.

We have made friends for life, and we would love to return to CCF again one day – hopefully as official veterinarians the next time around!

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