On March 11, 2020, I was very excited about my upcoming trip to Namibia to volunteer at the Cheetah Conservation Fund the following month. I had heard Dr. Laurie Marker speak on two different occasions and I was very much looking forward to being a part of the work that she and every one at CCF does.
Then, the World Health Organization declared the Novel Coronavirus was a pandemic and over the next several days, borders were closed. I was very disappointed that my trip would need to be postponed to an unknown time in the future. However, this disappointment turned into a very rewarding year that I might not have experienced otherwise. I emailed CCF to see if there was anything I could help with remotely from home. Dr. Marker emailed me back and asked if I could help with the FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) project for the cheetahs in Somaliland and I thought that it would be interesting to help out.
The Somaliland cheetahs need all the help that they can get. They are young cubs rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Unfortunately, they are exposed to diseases and stressful situations. As a practicing veterinarian who has worked in feline only clinics for 15 years, I had some knowledge that could cross over to help them. While volunteering for this project, I was able to help, and also to learn a lot about FIP (also a Coronavirus, but one that affects only feline species). Along with Dr. Shira Yashphe, Dr. Anne Schmidt-Kuntzel, Dr. Karina Flores, and Dr. Marker, I was able to be on many calls with experts on Coronaviruses, learning the latest information on treatments and protocols to treat this fatal disease. From that, I lent support in creating protocols for prevention, diagnosis, potential treatment options, and grant proposals. I also have been organizing their medical records and transferring them to the main CCF database – which has been a big project, but also educational.
In April, 2021, I was finally able to come to Namibia to volunteer in person. The CCF facility is beautifully set near the Waterberg Plateau. The views here are amazing. I have been enjoying helping out in the CCF Veterinary Clinic and also learning about all the different aspects of the programs that CCF has. As mentioned above, I have worked in a feline only practice for 15 years, so it is very exciting to help with and observe surgeries on cheetahs, monitor their anesthesia, and do things that I do routinely on domestic cats – but it takes on a whole new level of excitement to do this with the beautiful cheetahs, such as drawing blood and doing vaccines.
I also have been able to work with species, such as dogs, goats, sheep, and a horse that I have not worked with for most of my career. This has been a lot of fun! And all for a good cause. The livestock guarding dogs, the Anatolian Shepherd, is an awesome breed of dog! They protect the small livestock from predators, and because of this, the farmers are less likely to kill the cheetahs and leopards, and therefore, the cheetahs can co-exist with the farmers. I have been enjoying caring for them and getting to know the individual dogs and I will definitely miss them when I go home.
I will be sad to leave Namibia at the end of this week, but I’m looking forward to going to Somaliland to meet in person the cheetahs who I met at home and feel like I already know. What would have been a 4 week long trip in 2020 has turned into a year long adventure that I might not have had otherwise – and that is the silver lining to the pandemic.