Young Veterinarians Get Hands-On Training With Wildlife in Africa

They spent 10 days learning how to immobilize animals for treatment and study.

veterinarians work with an oryx in Namibia
Veterinarians work with an oryx in Namibia.


In a kind of wildlife boot camp involving helicopters and GPS tracking, a team of young veterinarians in Africa recently participated in intensive hands-on training in Namibia.

The eight young veterinarians were mentored by experienced wildlife experts in a 10-day course that focused on how to safely and effectively immobilize wild animals. During the program, the veterinarians darted giraffes from helicopters, safely moved a sable antelope, and fitted GPS tracking devices to elephants and oryxes.

The vets worked at Etosha Heights Private Reserve, one of the country’s largest private reserves, which borders Etosha National Park. The park is home to so much wildlife including endangered black rhinos, leopards, lions, giraffes, and more than 340 species of birds.

The program was organized by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in collaboration with several education, conservation, and government partners. GCF works with local wildlife veterinarians while supporting giraffe conservation programs in 17 African countries.

There’s no shortage of vets in most countries in Africa, according to GCF, but not many of the animal doctors have experience with wildlife medicine or have certain specialized skills. So the organization works with other groups to bring in wildlife experts from Southern Africa to help strengthen knowledge for local vets.

“Giraffe can be particularly difficult to immobilize due to their unique physiology. To ensure their safety, we often bring our own vet or experts along if there is not sufficient experience in the country,” Julian Fennessy, conservation director of GCF, said in a statement.

“The problem is not a lack of local vets, but often there is limited expertise in wildlife or simply a lack of confidence—confidence that can only be developed through experience. It was with this in mind that we developed this hands-on practical course here in Namibia to build these future African conservation leaders who collectively work in more than 1.3 billion hectares of land.” 

Hands-On Experience

vet in Namibia with a giraffe


The young veterinarians who participated in the recent program were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Uganda. They were instructed by four wildlife ecologists, seven wildlife vets, and four members of the game capture team from the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry & Tourism.

The young vets worked under the guidance of the experts to learn how to immobilize animals for medication and/or tagging. Some of the wildlife operations were done by helicopter and others were performed on the ground. Before and after each exercise, the vets and their mentors discussed safety, drug treatments, and what worked well and what didn’t.

The teams worked to capture, immobilize, and move animals including sable antelopes and waterbucks on the reserve. They placed ear tag tracking devices on many species including Angolan giraffes, African savannah elephants, Hartmann’s mountain zebras, and elands so the animals could be monitored remotely.

The young vets practiced using dart projectors from vehicles, the ground, and helicopters. During training, they discussed the ethics of wildlife tagging, as well as conservation science and wildlife legislation.

“Theory and observations are one thing, but a course that gives you practical hands-on experience is definitely the course to take,” veterinarian Israel Amuthitu of the University of Namibia, tells Treehugger.

The program was offered by GCF along with the University of Namibia, Namibia University of Science & Technology, African Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry & Tourism.

“A big thank you goes to the team at GCF and all their partners,” veterinarian Louis-Dominique Tshimbalanga of African Parks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tells Treehugger. “You have equipped me with useful tools to become a better veterinarian. I stand tall and I'm a voice for the giraffe.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Vet Training in Namibia." Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

  2. "Welcome to Etosha National Park." Etosha National Park.