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South African wildlife veterinarian speaks at FGCU

South Africa is home to some of the world’s most endangered animals suffering in silence.

President of the Pre-Vet Society, Amber Elalem, organized a guest lecture with renowned wildlife veterinarian and zoologist, Dr. James Roxburgh, on Tuesday, Jan. 31 with the purpose of educating the public on wildlife conservation and providing insight on the life of a wildlife veterinarian.

Roxburgh, a native from South Africa, specializes in the veterinary care of all wildlife species from squirrels to elephants and focuses on the re-location and conservation of wildlife in Africa.

South Africa is the forefront of wildlife conservation in the world, revolutionizing game capture techniques and possessing the necessary equipment to treat larger animals such as elephants and rhinos, according to Roxburgh.

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Roxburgh and his team travel by helicopter to locate injured animals in distress. When located, they tranquilize the animal, analyze the severity of the situation, try to determine if there was human involvement and treat the animal when possible.

“Our biggest hardship is having to euthanize animals that have been affected by poaching or any kind of human intervention. That’s our biggest hardship,”  Roxburgh said.

Poaching is illegal in South Africa; however, this has not deterred poachers as they continue to target wildlife with little to no consequences.

In 2016, 900 rhinos lost their lives at the hands of poachers. Between two to three rhinos are killed every day with only 10,000 rhinos left in the world, according to Roxburgh.

The white rhino is the closest animal to extinction due to its abundance and peaceful nature. According to Roxburgh, white rhinos are easier to approach for shooting purposes as opposed to the aggressive black rhino that is rarer.

Rhinos are shot and mutilated for their horns because they are status symbols, dagger handles and serve as traditional medicines in some continents such as Asia. According to Roxburgh, contrary to popular belief, rhino horns are not aphrodisiacs and serve no medicinal purpose.

When a rhino is injured, wildlife veterinarians tend to the wounds and keep them clean to prevent infection. When possible, rhinos go under facial reconstruction surgery by replacing the wound with elephant skin.

Every time a rhino is shot or injured, wildlife veterinarians perform a forensic investigation. Unfortunately, not all rhinos receive a happy ending.

Baby rhinos are often orphaned and relocated to rhino orphanages while others are euthanized due to irreparable injuries.

“When we euthanize a rhino, just before we euthanize them, they scream. It’s really hard for us to go through. They don’t teach you beforehand the horrible side of being a vet. They teach you the wonderful side of treating animals but it’s a very rewarding career,” Roxburgh said.

Roxburgh attributes poaching to lack of education, poverty and government corruption.

South Africa has an abundant hunting industry where people travel to hunt “excess” animals with a special permit.

Despite certain animals being protected under the law, paying the right person enough money allows the hunting of protected animals while the government remains silent.

“The main thing is lack of education in Africa; it’s what blocks the people knowing about conservation but the rest of the world is also uneducated,” Roxburgh said. “Especially like the rhino poaching where the rest of the world doesn’t know what’s going on, clearly, because they haven’t been educated in knowing what’s going on in wildlife.”

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