As a world traveler it was not a big adjustment leaving my practice in the Caribbean to travel to Somaliland. It was my first time on the ground in Africa, but I was eager to be part of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) efforts. Although I was not new to the challenges of wildlife conservation, it was my first time working with cheetahs.
Ever since I was a child I was always fascinated by the big cats. Working with endangered sea turtles in the Caribbean we face problems of over harvesting, illegal poaching and beach erosion, but in the Somali region, in particular Hargeisa, there is a big problem with illegal wildlife trade. Cheetahs are confiscated by the authorities and brought to the Somali branch of CCF which houses over 50 individual cheetahs.
CCF provided a unique opportunity to share ideas with an experienced international veterinary team as well as guide the local veterinary team. My typical working day would bring anything from feeding and cleaning up after the cheetahs, to performing chest taps and taking radiographs.
As with any wild animal there is risk, but I never felt unsafe, because frankly I think the danger of being slapped by a nesting leatherback turtle on a Caribbean beach is on par to being scratched by a cheetah! However, I was more concerned with the safety of the animals we were working with more so than my own safety.
It has been five years since I launched a ‘Snips and Jabs’ campaign back in my home country of Grenada, where we go into the poorest communities to do spay, neuter and vaccination clinics for those who can not afford veterinary care for their pets.
In Hargeisa, the dogs live parallel to humans; they are street dogs with their own social structures and territories. So being able to partner with CCF to launch a ‘Snips and Jabs’ away from home campaign was an awesome achievement and experience. With other veterinarians and NGOs coming onboard, I hope this can continue for years to come.
As someone who has been able to travel the world and experience many cultures, one of my only regrets in Hargeisa is that I did not have the opportunity to see more of the local landscape, wildlife, or experience the cuisine and culture.
Due to covid-19 we were in a lockdown within the CCF compound for most of my time in the country, but hopefully the opportunity will arise that I can return and experience what Somaliland has to offer one day. However, the vast amount of incredible bird species kept me occupied in my spare time and during the lockdown. It only took me a few weeks to become the top documented birder in Somalia with over 200 species listed and I could tell at least 100 from memory.
Although I am back on my little tropical island in the Caribbean, I look forward to the next opportunity to take on another challenge on the African continent.