World-class wildlife clinic opens its doors at Onderstepoort

From left is Dr Rebone Moerane, department head of production animal studies, Dr Paul van Dam, newly appointed director of the OVAH and Professor Vinny Naidoo, dean of the faculty of Veterinary Science, holding the plaque of the new wildlife clinic.

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Veterinary Science recently expanded the services it offers by opening its very own wildlife clinic. The clinic is the latest addition to the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital (OVAH) and is situated on the Onderstepoort campus. The new facility officially opened its doors on 6 March.

The OVAH provides first-class practical training to final-year veterinary and veterinary nursing students. With the establishment of the new wildlife clinic, the faculty will now be able to explore new research and learning avenues.

A first of its kind

According to Dr Paul van Dam, newly appointed director of the OVAH, they could until recently only treat farm animals and pets at the OVAH. “Our goal of establishing a dedicated wildlife facility has now been realised. In the past we could only treat wild animals at certain locations such as on a farm or at a zoo. But now we are able to transport these animals to our wildlife clinic which is in close proximity to all our clinical specialists, state of the art equipment and diagnostic laboratories. This gives us the opportunity to house and treat the animals in a controlled environment, which also simplifies follow-up treatments,” he added.

wildlife clinic
The seven-year-old tiger, Sombra was the clinic’s first patient.

The Onderstepoort wildlife clinic is the first of its kind in South Africa and raises the bar of national wildlife care. Herbivores, ranging from small antelope to larger animals such as young rhinos, will be treated in the herbivore bomas, one of two new buildings that make up the new wildlife clinic. The other building will house carnivores and has already been used to treat the clinic’s very first animal, a seven-year-old tiger named Sombra. A honey badger, a few anacondas and a southern ground hornbill have also been treated at the new wildlife clinic.

One of the wildlife clinic’s most recent patients, Badgie the honey badger, ready to undergo a CT-scan.

Impact on the wildlife sector

Dr Van Dam added that this new facility will allow wildlife clinicians to perform more specialist diagnostic procedures and expose students to a wider range of wild animals. “Our undergraduate veterinary students are now exposed to a wider range of wild animals, not just with regard to diseases and treatment, but also in terms of feeding and overall management of the animals.

“We have the opportunity to research these animals and better the services, advice, information and support we offer to the wildlife industry and also to farmers that come into contact with these animals,” said Dr Van Dam.

Innovative leaps toward bettering wildlife management

Dean of the faculty, Prof Vinny Naidoo, said the new facility will allow graduates to be more innovative in caring for wildlife. According to a press release, he predicts that new advances in the field of wildlife medicine will be one of the facility’s many positive impacts that will ultimately benefit the wildlife industry.

UP wildlife clinic
The new wildlife clinic at UP’s Faculty of Veterinary Science.

“We intend on expanding the faculty’s impact on wildlife research and conservation, with the new wildlife facility being symbolic of the faculty’s commitment to progress. Wild animals will now have access to the latest equipment that a modern animal hospital can offer. This includes an expert team of diagnosticians, images, clinical pathologists and surgeons, all part of an integrated team,” he said.

Historic day for UP’s Faculty of Veterinary Science

UP vice-chancellor and principal professor Tawana Kupe said at the opening of the clinic: “The opening of this world-class facility that serves the wildlife sector and industry will be marked as a historic day for the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria. The establishment of the new wildlife clinic also coincides with the faculty’s 100th year of existence, which to me is quite symbolic of our progress.

“I am proud of the expertise of our wildlife vets who have built a reputation for excellence worldwide. Not only are they called on for their expertise in wide-ranging areas, but our vets also play an important role in the conservation of endangered wildlife species,” he concluded. – Claudi Nortjé, Plaas Media