Finally, it’s time for the Kruger! Our next lodging after leaving Zion and Dr. John was located in the Greater Kruger area, a large strip of privately owned land that surrounds the proper national park territory. Here we studied disease ecology under the most interesting man I’ve met in a while, Cornell. This man was as professional as he was rude and immature. Honestly, his personality and bush camp was a complete 180 change from the humility of Dr. John and his paradise. Even so, these four days would have been extremely boring without him. It is impossible to describe exactly what this man was, but I came to the conclusion he watched ‘Ace Venture, Pet Detective’ as a 12 year old and decided to be that character for the rest of his life, and only lost his social filter from living mostly by himself in a bush camp for many years. I never thought I would appreciate the many years my older brother and his friends harassed me, but Cornell’s witty behavior reminded me of them a lot and that helped me appreciate this time. Not everyone had this advantage, and his lack of social filter did end up making a girl cry and cold shoulder him halfway through our stay. As I said, he was a character. Even so, he lectured us on wildlife diseases and their surveillance, performed autopsies with us, and took us to farms to do some surveillance activity. Throughout all of this, I realized he knew more than most vets about disease ecology and he showed an admirable level of professionalism when working with clients. I’m hoping for the opportunity to intern with him sometime in the future as well, epidemiology and disease ecology are areas I am more passionate about and am thinking of carrying a career in.
Anyway, Thursday was just driving to the Greater Kruger area and adjusting to the level of ridiculous that is living with Cornell. He took us for a game ride in the evening and we ended up seeing elephants, zebras, and impala antelope. Friday started the real fun. A day that was supposed to be spent entirely on lectures suddenly evolved into a spontaneous post mortem examination. The owner of a sanctuary not so far away was worried that his animal had tuberculosis so Cornell was called up to examine. We are for sure the lucky group, getting numerous surgeries and necropsies (post-mortem or autopsy) that were not scheduled. The sanctuary itself had a handful of interns in vet school that watched over as well, and boy am I glad to be a student in the US. In South Africa, they go straight from high school to vet school and I do not know how that’s a functional system because one of these interns volunteered to help and, with only two years left of schooling, could not identify basic organs in the digestive tract. That is something us EcoLife students, not even close to finishing our education, were able to identify instantly. It’s a hard road through vet school but I suddenly feel like I’ll be prepared for life afterward’s now.
With the failed attempt to lecture and the post-mortem exam completed, we decided to have a pizza night to skip cooking and called it an early night. It is exhausting keeping up with a human like Cornell, let alone running between towns throughout the bush to learn about wildlife diseases. Saturday we got to provide preventative and diagnostic healthcare on a small heard of cattle. This was an interesting experience. Mostly because the “farmer” was a Township resident that let his cattle freely roam around, so we had to drive through one of these shanty towns and work on the edge of one. The one thing I will miss most about Africa is how polite 80% of the people we interact with are. Anytime there is a child walking or woman working on the side of the road, they smile and we excitedly wave at each other, which is always a warming experience. And this experience continued while driving through the Township. It became an uncomfortable experience because we were driving behind a government employed vet, who was in a GOLDEN Mercedes SUV. The ability of this vet continued to make me appreciative of how much work it takes in the US. He was unable to perform any of the basic duties that Cornell, who is only a technician, can do in his sleep. It was even funnier when all of us students, taking blood from a cow’s jugular for the first time, all were able to fill a tube. He tried for the neck, failed, tried for the back leg, failed, and tried for the tail, and failed. To top it off, he went to vet school in Kenya and the government paid for all expenses (including flights and materials). That experience was a nice look at corruption. In all, this day was similar to the days in Belize that we worked with cattle, especially since brahman thrive in both countries. Beyond drawing blood, we got to give intramuscular and sub-q shots, monitor vitals, collect fecal samples, give oral de-wormer, apply external parasite medicine, and search for clinical signs of diseases like foot and mouth and TB.
Louis and Cornell were impressed with our good work and gave us the opportunity for something really specially, a meal at a restaurant! I eat out regularly at home and now we are on two weeks of cooking our lives away. This was needed. On Sunday, we attempted to finish the lectures we passed up for the Moholoholo Necropsy. Once lectures were finished, Cornell collected an impala for routine surveillance of diseases and we performed a post mortem. We ended up finding THOUSANDS of tape worms in, surprisingly, the liver of this doe. I’ve never seen that before, but we scoured her digestive tract and found nothing, hinting at the fact that the impala is not the target host of this species of tapeworm. We collected tissues and parasites during the post mortem and moved on to analyze our samples in the lab. It was a fun learning day and it was great to see Cornell acting mature on our last day with him.
Monday was a long travel day, going from central Kruger to southern Kruger. Luis gave us the option and we decided to drive to the very top of the park before heading to our campsite at the bottom, adding another 3 hours to the drive. It was awesome getting to see all the different environments that occur in the park, and just to see how absolutely massive it is. We had at least an 8 hour travel day, with one hour spent outside the park and one spent eating lunch.
The following day we had to drag ourselves out of bed pretty early, we took the roundabout way to our lecture. On our drive out of Kruger, we had the most amazing luck. We saw 7 rhinos total, 2 black and 5 Southern White. While the Southern White is a different species than the one reported to have just lost the last male, all species are extremely endangered in the face of poaching, making the multiple sightings an incredibly rare experience. These sightings tied in perfectly with our lecture for the day. We met with Ralf Kalva, formerly the head ranger of a southern section in Kruger. He taught us about the ecology of the park and the issues the rangers have to constantly manage. The issues range between water and fire management, elephant overpopulation, and poaching.