South Africa has one of the most diverse and exciting populations of wildlife in the world. In Chintsa, we are surrounded by a number of game reserves that frequently capture and release animals. We work with several highly qualified and experienced wildlife vets who enjoy teaching students about their profession and the incredible animals they work with every day. Students work closely with the wildlife vet and their capture team to locate, immobilize, transport, and release wildlife, a process commonly known as “Game Capture”. Students also work with wildlife through our rehabilitation program at the East London Zoo, and the reptile sanctuary.
The majority of our African wildlife experience is through game capture: the tranquilization of wild animals for treatment or relocation. Tasks include monitoring vitals, injecting medication, and physically transporting the animal. Students also learn about the dart gun and have an opportunity to practice under supervision (firearm operation & safety training is provided).
There are many reasons that an animal might need to be captured, including:
- Genetic variation: Most wild animals in South Africa are contained within a government and private game reserves to protect them from the growing human population. This has created a need to closely monitor the population of animals within each reserve to prevent inbreeding and overpopulation. Animals are moved in and out periodically to mix up the gene pool.
- Land: Sometimes the land on a game reserve becomes inappropriate for type or number of animals on it and they must be relocated, i.e. during a drought or after a bush fire.
- Poachers: Another danger for animals in game reserves is illegal hunting, also known as poaching. This is especially troubling for reserves with certain species like the white rhino. When a game reserve experiences a high level of poaching, the animals may be removed to a different part of the reserve or another reserve for their own safety.
- Illness/injury: This is not as common a reason as most people think it is, because wildlife are usually more difficult to find and capture when they’re ill or injured. The sedation may even be more of a risk than leaving the condition unattended. Money is also a consideration, as it often is in veterinary medicine- the worth of one animal may not be great enough to warrant the necessary vet bills (similar to a production animal point-of-view).
- Game Farms: This is a major reason for game capture in South Africa and it’s a strange concept for people from the Western world- a man with a private game reserve may buy a giraffe simply because he wants to own a giraffe. The process is strictly regulated to ensure that the land is appropriate, the vet is using acceptable drugs & equipment, and the animal’s welfare is not compromised. This is a controversial topic and there are many factors to consider (including those mentioned above)- students have an opportunity discuss this topic with our wildlife vet, Program Coordinators, and each other as a group discussion.
Exotic veterinary medicine involves species of all shapes and sizes. At the local reptile sanctuary, students are taught basic reptile handling, identification, and husbandry. A full reptile handling certification course may be available upon request.
Students work with the East London Zoo to provide environmental enrichment for the resident animals. Enrichment allows animals to demonstrate their species-specific behavior, thereby enhancing their mental and physical well-being. Enrichment projects include constructing and introducing objects, sounds, and smells into relevant groups of animals. Our volunteers provide the main source of enrichment for many of the animals at the East London Zoo for a well-rounded African wildlife experience.
NOTE: Small animal, large animal, and African wildlife experience are all covered within a 2-week period, however, activities are planned according to the needs of the community so we cannot guarantee which species or activities will be offered at any given time.