The following day our schedule said we were supposed to go to Ukutula Lion project an Bio-bank. We were essentially supposed to hangout with big cats-WHICH IS WHAT I HAD BEEN DYING TO DO SINCE I CAN REMEMBER. All I ever wanted was to hangout with some lion cubs, and today was the day it was supposed to happen. I was so excited and nervous because I didn’t want to be let down, so I was trying not to get my hopes up. When we got there, we were greeted by the lady who runs the place, whose name I forgot so we’ll call her “crazy lady” because she had fluffy white frizzy hair like Albert Einstein. The first thing we did was toured the place around and she showed us and spoke about her animals. While we were touring around the cheetahs, non-chanaltely and unexpectedly, our guide beings to open up the cheetah enclosure, I was directly behind her so I went in first. I was utterly shocked and had my mouth wide open as I started to walk in because no one had informed us that we would be doing this. I was SO excited and kinda scared as I walked up to the cheetahs. I kinda just stood a few feet away from the 2 cheetahs because I didn’t know how to approach them. I was still in shock. Then one of the cheetahs walked right up to me and moved past me, allowing me to brush my hand against her. That was the first time I touched a big cat. And one of the best moments of my life. We stayed with them for a while, and I was still hestitatnt to comfortably sit right next to them to take pictures- and you could totally sense this in the picture. It was hard to take any though because everyone was dying to take pictures.
After this, Crazy Lady gave us a wonderful and interesting lecture about conservation and how the have bio banks with every seed of every plant out there, and they are trying to do with animals too. I loved her lectures in particular because she really focused on how overpopulation of humans and our consumption of animal products is really negatively affecting our planet. This is what I believe is the root cause of most of our problems with our planet and animals, but practically every other lecture from other speakers try to address problems that have risen because we do not try to fix the root of the problem. After lecture we ate food, and they had a delicious vegan soup. We got to prepare blood smears but missed out on doing the fecal samples because we were running out of time.
Next up was the lion cubs. I was practically peeing from excitement. They brought out 3 lions cubs around 5 weeks old, but they were like medium sized dogs. As soon as I touched one and got to play with one, my life was practically complete. We weren’t allowed to carry them, but one of the cubs really liked my flannel and began to chew it. Later on I noticed he ripped out a chunk and I hadn’t even realized when it happened. Their fur was a lot more rough and coarse than any cat or dog that I had ever felt, and it was drier too. Even though they were babies, I could tell their bites and nails could REALLY do some damage. Their scratches and bites hurt a lot even though they were just lightly playing. Zack and I were infatuated with these cubs. You could hear me squealing the whole time. I think I even cried. We got to see them being fed and how they attacked their food bowls filled with meat pieces. This experience was definitely one of the best of my life even though it wasn’t veterinary experience related it was just getting to interact with these majestic creatures.
The following day we drove out to Zion game lodge. We had some car troubles so we had to push our van for like the 3rd time already. When we got there, we met Dr. John and his family. They were very welcoming and kind. I got to share this beautiful “lovers suite” with Jenny. Then after we went out to his outdoor porch where you had a beautiful view of the land he owned with wildlife roaming around, mainly zebras and ostriches. After lunch we had lecture with Dr. John about tranquilizing and the medical aspects of it. We went over basic vital monitoring principles so that we would know what to do the following day for game capture. The next day for game capture, we worked with buffalo. After Dr.John tranquilized them with his dart gun we went in to make sure the buffalo were ok. Everyone buffalo had 2 students assigned to it except for me and Zack who had our own. Once I got to my buffalo, I had to pull his tongue out of his mouth, remove the dart, inject penicillin into the dart site, check their capillary refill time, the color of their gums, and check their respiration by placing my hand in front of their nostrils. Then had like 15 people load each buffalo into a sling and drive them out to be placed into a truck for relocation. This was my first game capture ever and I loved it so much.
The next day we went to a “rehabilitation” center who’s name I will not use simply because bad publicity would only be making their situation worse. As soon as we got there I had a bad feeling about the place. Many of their animals were pacing back and forth in their small enclosures. The manager also told us they hadn’t eaten in 3 days because they didn’t know when the vet was coming to do surgery. Seeing their animals stressed, frustrated, and bored was really upsetting me. Later on, we did a hysterectomy on a lioness. When we laid her on the table, she wasn’t breathing so they started doing chest compressions on her while the vet gave the reversal drug so that she could breath on her own. After a few minutes we really started to worry because she wasn’t breathing on her own, but then out of nowhere we saw her stomach starting to rise and fall slowly. It was such a sigh of relief for everyone. Because he had administered some of the reversal drug, the lioness started to wake up and started moving. We were all freaking out because imagine having a lion wake up in the middle of surgery. But Dr. John gave her more of the sedative and she was out for the rest of the surgery and it went smoothly.
We went back the following day and as soon as we got there we were told one of their tiger cubs had a serious injury. His entire lower lip was completely hanging from his jaw. They said that it happened over night, but Dr. John told us he did not believe that at all being that the wound was starting to heal, had no fresh blood, and smelled really rotten. They don’t know if it happened because of the fencing or if one of the other cubs did it. So he had to start on an emergency surgery. After sedating the little cub, he started surgery. I held the little cubs head as he screamed in pain and confusion and as the doctor started. He wanted to reattach the lip to any gum tissue, but the cub had nothing. Dr. John improvised and incised a small hole in his lower jaw to attach the lip and did a whole bunch of other amazing improvising that you know only comes with experience of being a vet for a long time. We were all amazed. Although the cub was knocked out, he was shaking and quivering from pain. It was so disheartening to see. Once surgery was done, we put the cub in a separate enclosure to let him rest. They gave him cut up meat pieces that still seemed too large for him to eat. Dr. John also suggested to bring another cub in with him so he wouldn’t be so stressed out. But who knows if they did. We proceeded to do another lioness hysterectomy like the day before and monitored vitals like we did with the buffalo. This surgery went smoothly. The second hysterectomy we did was on a tiger who was very anemic. He was covered in ticks just like all their animals were. That surgery went smoothly and we went on to check on the rest of the animals at this place. There was one tiger who could barely lift his head, probably from being so anemic and not being fed much. They had tortoises that were dead and they didn’t even know about it. The rest of the tiger cubs seemed very undernourished, weak and sick. By the end of seeing all this I was silently in tears. This was definitely the hardest day for me in Africa. Dr. John had some strong words with the owner. The manager of this place was new and didn’t know much about taking care of wildlife. They also had a lot of financial issues and it is very hard for them to buy food for their animals, which is understandable. But if they don’t have the resources to be taking care of all these animals, I don’t see why they had so many. Dr. John also told us they used to do really well with business and would have a lot of people staying at their center but now barely anyone goes. Which is why I choose not to disclose the name of this place because people may decide not to go, but they would actually greatly benefit from people going to visit. After we left, I cried in my room because it broke my heart that there was nothing I could do for their animals. We spoke to Dr. John after and he mentioned that would would ask some of his vet friends to take in the cubs and take care of them as they grow up. I’m glad he said that. Our last day at Dr. Johns we said our goodbyes and headed out for the 6-10 hour ride to our next destination. I asked Dr. John to let us know how the cub was doing. I think that when I get the chance, I will come back for an internship with Dr. John. He was such a knowledgeable and wise veterinarian and I would be honored to work with him as a vet student.