A tiger with a stomach ache, an anaconda refusing to eat, a gorilla with a stuffy nose, these are not animals you would find when taking your dog to the vet. But in a clinic in South Africa, the patients are often wild.
“We welcome all animals, from a small black-footed cat to a large giraffe,” said Jacques O’Dell of the Onderstepoort Wildlife Sanctuary Clinic. “However, we would not be able to house a large African elephant. However, a baby elephant would be possible.
Onderstepoort is part of the University Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pretoria. Its facilities have been recently modernized to include state-of-the-art housing for large animals. These facilities allowed patients like Makokou, a gorilla at Johannesburg Zoo with sinus problems, to spend a few nights under surveillance.
“We have a great interest in all of our patients, but rare and endangered species are definitely our favorites,” said O’Dell, chief of the clinical section of wildlife. “Some recent interesting patients have included a honey badger, ground hornbills, and a litter of baby cheetahs.”
Another interesting visitor was the South American green anaconda which was over 16 feet long. “She needed antibiotics for a bacterial infection which caused her to lose weight.” When the snake returned to good health, clinic staff were especially careful because a muscular anaconda could easily run over a human.
There was also a white tiger, admitted after a large piece of bone pierced its colon, or large intestine. The tiger, like other large, ferocious animals, had to be slaughtered with a dart containing medicine to calm it down before staff could safely treat it.
The management of wild animal patients does not always go smoothly. O’Dell said he was recently chased into a pen by an angry badger and had to hang on to the side of the railing.
Prior to installation, wildlife was primarily treated on-site, in zoos, farms or reserves.
“We always treat the animals in their familiar environment, but sometimes the animals need special care at the wildlife hospital,” he said.
And this care continued despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“Sick and injured wild animals remain a priority, and we are committed to helping them regardless of the challenges of Covid-19,” said O’Dell. “There have been a few cases of covid in wild animals, mainly in tigers and pumas. However, it is quite rare to find covid in nature. However, we take the necessary precautions to prevent spread to patients. “
Wild animals develop diseases similar to pets and humans, O’Dell said. In older animals, these can include heart failure, kidney failure, or cancer.
But the clinic is not limited to treating serious illnesses or injuries. The staff also aims to prevent problems.
“Just as children need to drink their milk, eat their vegetables and take their vitamins, wild animals need the right food, and without it they can suffer from a range of nutritional problems, especially those in captivity, ”O’Dell said. “They might even need to visit us to get their multivitamins.”