This summer, Team Thailand 1 (Adam Kleinberg, Michael Kwan & Phil Levis) was lucky enough to spend 2 incredible weeks at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There, they tackled the immense challenge of rehabilitating and providing much needed treatment for animals that find refuge at the sanctuary.
The team has made a donation to Save Elephant Foundation, a Thai non–profit organization dedicated to providing care and assistance to Thailand’s captive elephant population through local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs, and educational ecotourism operations. Specifically, the funds will go to elephant care, so that those who work at the park are able to feed the elephant herds a healthy diet, provide them with the best veterinary care, and construct chain-free enclosures so they can have a future of roaming 24 hours per day.
“We hope that our donation will go a long way to care for the delicate animals that find refuge at the park, and encourage people back home in Canada to educate themselves about the dire situation and elephants’ need for our help in Thailand. Our goal is to help raise awareness about the current situation and motivate others to travel to the Elephant Nature Park in the future so they too can make a difference.”
Feels great to have two feet back on home and native land. Bring on the cool green grass, Swiss Chalet quarter chicken dinners and of course, Timmies coffee!
After leaving Canada on May 26, our Global Vets journey has come to an end. It’s time to gear up for school, and prepare to grind said gears for year #3 at the Ontario Veterinary College. Three countries in 3 months; Belize, Guatemala and finally Ecuador, I can’t wait to share some experiences from the last leg of our journey.
We quickly got to work with Dr. Diego Barrera, spending the days at the municipality shelter, where we would work till about 4pm, then hop in the bed of a truck and head to the local clinic, PAE (Protección Animal Ecuador), till about 7pm.
The municipality clinic services consists largely of sterilization, where 15-20 animals are spayed and neutered every day. The clinic also welcomes members of the public to bring their pet in for other medical issues, where the veterinarians will treat the animal, providing they agree to sterilize the animal after treatment in order to control the animal population.
Animals are presented with various ailments, falling on a large spectrum anywhere between mildly injured and severely diseased. From kennel cough – a respiratory infection caused by bacteria, to traumatic injuries and mass removals, the Ambato municipality clinic treats many cases each day, each dog or cat requiring different medications and treatments. Here’s a few examples of cases Laura and I saw at the municipality shelter:
After the first week in Ambato, word spread through the communities about a few Puma attacks on livestock animals in a nearby village. The town brought in the wildlife organization to trap and release the cat to prevent more animals from being attacked and to provide peace of mind and safety to the members of the village. We were called in to treat the livestock attacked by the Puma, we didn’t really know what to expect…. FYI here’s a puma:
WARNING. I know I’ve had a few “Graphic image warnings” in these blogs, but this one is the most graphic of them all. Below are the actual pictures of the animals we were called to treat after being attacked by the puma. Cruise right on by this next paragraph if you don’t wish to see them.
We drove up to a house on top of the mountains above the clouds. After locating the donkey in the forest we noticed green material flowing from the side of her face. No, this was not necrotic gangrenous tissue like I had thought, rather it was chewed grass that had leaked out of the hole in the donkeys face that had been slashed away by the puma. The cat had also taken a large chunk out of the donkeys back leg – I was blown away to see the donkey walking effortlessly.
I was also amazed at how this animal still had a large appetite! These are truly hearty animals and prove the theory of survival of the fittest. For years these animals have been forced to withstand many of natures challenges, including harsh climate, predation and food shortage. The weak ones die and the strong survive.
The next day after work we traveled to another village, not too far from where the donkey was attacked, this time to treat a calf that had been attacked overnight. Again, I was surprised at our clinical findings: No fever and eating fine, literally no significant findings besides the gaping wounds caused by the giant cat. The wildlife folks told us that they think the mother cat is trying to teach the baby how to hunt, explaining why the victims were injured as opposed to killed and eaten – we later found several cattle carcasses throughout our walk through the mountains.
This was not a safe place to be.
This last story was my most memorable case of the entire time working in Central and South America, and came from the final day of our 3-month Global Vets trip.
It had been an uneventful day of surgeries up until this point. I heard a voice ask if someone could come and take a look at one of the dogs on the surgery table. It was scheduled to be a routine spay, but when I rushed over and looked at the animal being operated on, it’s mucous membrane colour was far from routine. Very pale, almost white. The dog was in shock, meaning it was not pumping blood to all of its tissues properly. I listened for the heartbeat, it was there, but barely. Pulse was very weak and the dogs blood pressure was extremely low.
She was not breathing.
The surgery had just finished, and we began ventilations, holding the mouth shut to make a seal, and breathing through her nostrils to fill her lungs, immediately transitioning into emergency CPR measures. I had my stethoscope on the heart and could hear it continue to slow down. Emergency drugs were administered to increase heart rate and beat quality and the heartbeat raced upwards for a short period of time then began to fall again until I could no longer hear it. Manual ventilations continued and I listened to the lungs inflate through the stethoscope I had placed over her chest.
More compressions, more ventilations. The heart and lungs were not functioning, so we were manually operating the organs. Breathing into the lungs of the dog, and compressing the heart to generate pressure allowing blood to pump from the heart to the body. We removed the dog from the surgery table and took her to the recovery area, where a warm blanket and a heat lamp were stationed. She felt cold and surely her temperature had dropped to very dangerous hypothermic ranges.
We were losing her.
I put a catheter into her arm, ran intravenous fluids to increase her blood pressure and respiratory stimulants were given, all while chest compressions and ventilations were being continued. Dr. Diego then placed a needle between the upper lip and nose of the dog, an acupuncture technique very commonly used in emergency CPR. This is an act of desperation, an attempt to cause a release of adrenaline in the animal in order to shock the body and stimulate the nervous system to trigger heart contraction and lung ventilation. Didn’t work. Try again. Try again. Continue compressions and ventilations.
Suddenly a little gasp. Not even close to an adequate breath, but it was a sign of hope. I could feel a great heartbeat and it was not slowing down. We rubbed and rubbed in order to quickly generate as much heat as possible, she was 4 degrees too cold, in extreme risk of death. the body cannot function at temperatures even a few degrees below normal.
The little gasps stopped, then continued, my steth still locked in place, listening as the gasps grew in size, feeling her shivering as she inhaled.
We need to warm this dog up, now. She’s not out of the woods yet, her breathing can stop again at any minute.
I checked her temperature and she was climbing, 0.3 degrees Celsius every few minutes. She was getting warmer. Heart beating rapidly, little gasps turning into bigger breaths. It was working.
Every minute her breathing improved, all on her own, we could now stop breathing into her nose for her.
She was back to life after dying 3 times throughout the 35 minutes of CPR. She didn’t give up, and neither did we. It was an incredible day.
your dedication to the animals and the sacrifices you make for them are inspiring. Thank you for allowing us into your clinic and especially into your home. I can’t say enough about the experience you provided us with. See you next year for the spay and neuter clinic!
I would like to sincerely thank all of our sponsors, Global Vets would not exist without donations and sponsorships. It is with your help that we are able to travel outside of the country and experience the way veterinary medicine is practiced around the world. Each one of our 16 students this year have all come home with different experiences that will help shape them as they develop into young veterinarians, thanks for your support.
And finally, to the millions of readers of this blog, I hope you were able to somewhat vicariously experience what it was like to work in animal shelters in Central and South America. It was an experience we will never forget. Thanks very much for reading.
We had slightly more than a day to shift ourselves and our belongings one country to the left from Belize to Guatemala. Before embarking on the second leg of our 3-part journey, we were able to take a quick pit stop in Flores Guatemala to spend a night enjoying the country before heading off to work in our new destination. After staying overnight in Flores we hopped on a bus to the far North of the country to visit Tikal, home of an ancient Mayan ruin; world renowned as the ruin of all Mayan ruins. The trip was just the right voltage to recharge our batteries and fill our sails full of wind to drive us forward to Panajachel Guatemala where we will be working for the next two weeks.
From Tikal, we boarded a bus at 8pm and drove overnight to Panajachel, stopping once in Antigua. At 9am we finally stepped off the bus and onto Guatemalean soil, hailed a tuk-tuk – the most common way to get around in Guatemala – and unloaded our luggage onto the floor of our new home.
First mission – find Selaine; founder of AYUDA, the organization providing care to the local population of both street dogs and owned animals. Selaine started AYUDA eight years ago and has done an incredible job, attested to by the community members explaining to Laura and I how much the community dog population has benefited from the work of AYUDA over the past 8 years. We would soon see the difference for ourselves.
Panajachel is one of many villages surrounding Lake Atitlan, and each village is only accessible by boat. Hand the captain 20Q (about 3 bucks) and you can go to any village around the lake within the hour. It was really interesting to visit the different villages and notice the different stages the communities were in, with regards to the street dog health and population control.
Thanks to AYUDA, Panajachel’s street dog population is well under control, and is in the most advanced stage in comparison with the other villages. It was amazing to drive around with Selaine and watch her point to a street dog every 10 seconds and tell you the dog’s name, its territory, and the primary caretakers (usually meaning the street vendor who feeds the dog scraps at the end of the night).
In contrast, villages like San Marco and San Tiago are in much earlier stages of animal population control and require much more assistance with regards to the health of street dogs. Panajachel’s success has led to word of mouth around the lake, and soon Selaine was contacted by community leaders asking her to visit and assess the street dog community in their village to help with population control of dogs who are often extremely emaciated, malnourished and loaded with parasites.
Help comes in the form of sterilization clinics and wellness clinics involving vaccination, parasite control, and treatment of TVT – Transmissible Venereal Tumor, a very common sexually transmitted tumor that spreads by contact between animals during mating. Yup, it’s as nasty as it sounds. This is one ugly tumor (*Warning – graphic images below*). Thankfully though, this cancer is COMPLETELY CURABLE, and won’t come into remission once treated with Vincristine, a plant based chemotherapy drug. The cancer usually takes between 2 and 3 chemotherapy administrations to destroy the tumor completely.
Panajachel was an entirely different experience from spay and neuter projects I am accustomed to. Instead of crews of volunteers catching street dogs and bringing them to your clinic for sterilization, Laura and I set out on foot every day making friends with the street dogs in order to bring them in ourselves. We were able to figure out which dogs were unsterilized by checking the females belly for a tattoo, which is a green paste applied to the surgical incision during the spay. Each female is tattooed to prevent a street dog from being operated on multiple times; since the surgery is internal, you aren’t able to tell if the females reproductive organs are present unless you look inside.
Males however are a little more obvious to tell……
After befriending the unsterilized animals, the real fun begins. We scoop them up in our arms, hop in a tuk tuk, hand the driver 5Q and ask him to take us to Selaines place. At her house, the dogs spend the night and will be sterilized the following day.
Think I’m exaggerating? Here:
After we collect about 5 or 6 dogs, Selaine phones the local veterinarian Dr. Isael and sets up a time for us to drive the dogs over to his clinic for surgery. Laura and I were fortunate enough to work with Dr. Isael several times throughout our visit, helping him with spay and neuter clinics in San Macro, San Tiago, and So Lo La.
How is all of this funded? It just barely is, and AYUDA relies on donations and volunteers in order to maintain the program and continue to provide the animals with sterilization and wellness care. Locals who bring their pets in for sterilization are asked for a donation of 200Q (=29 dollars) and includes vaccines, sterilization, deworming and flea treatment. This shows the intense pressure on donations and volunteered time in order to keep such a low cost program functioning.
Lots of info about the program and information on how to donate (and what your donation will provide an animal), if you are interested.
Since Panajchel has an excellent existing animal health program, we forced ourselves to think of additional ways we can help AYUDA during our stay in the country. We thought it would be a good use of our time if we were to construct posters outlining the benefits of sterilization, as well as parasite control and deworming. These posters will be taken from village to village with AYUDA and other community organizations in order to educate those interested and to promote awareness of animal health. My hope is this will allow Global Vets to help the human and animal population long after our visit to the country.
I have a plane to catch so I’ll end this post thanking Selaine and Dr. Isael for being so welcoming and allowing us the opportunity to learn about the animal populations in your country. We leave for Mexico City tonight, then immediately transfer to our connecting flight to Quito Ecuador getting in at 5:30am.
Our last few days in Uganda were spent at the Entebbe Zoo with Dr. Hameed Kateregga, the zoo’s veterinarian. This placement gave us great exposure to zoo medicine and we were happy that we could help with their cases and that the supplies we brought were useful as their resources are tighter than those of the zoos here in Canada.
The first task we received was to help the veterinarian with a necropsy on a Grey Crowned Crane, a beautiful bird that is Uganda’s national animal. The one that the zoo received had been hit by a car and both its legs were broken but we performed a necropsy to see if there were any underlying issues. We won’t post any photos of the necropsy as they are quite graphic but below is a photo of the cranes in the wild.
There were several orphaned animals being taken care of at the zoo and we got to help with their feedings, exercise and play to ensure their optimal physical, mental and emotional health as well as improving their socialization and getting them more accustomed to human presence.
A 9-month old chimpanzee named Sunny particularly captured our hearts. She had been brought in a few months ago and she was very small and malnourished upon arrival. Her outlook did not look good but after some intensive care, she slowly regained her strength and is now a rambunctious and friendly little chimp!
There was a 3 year old orphaned elephant named Charles that we gladly took for walks in order to ensure he got his exercise!
We were also able to help examine and dress wounds on a Marabou Stork that had its wing amputated and a Duiker (a small antelope species) that had one of its front legs amputated. The DermaGel that we brought was particularly useful here!
We also got to witness the release of a Kestrel that had an injured wing that healed after treatment and rehabilitation!
We had a great experience at the Entebbe Zoo and they do their best to ensure that the animals receive the care that they need.
Hello all, apologies for the delay between posts! A good internet connection proved very difficult to come by unfortunately!
Our second week at Queens Elizabeth National Park was spent focusing more on OneHealth and how we can use those principles in improving the region. For those of you that aren’t too familiar, OneHealth is a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. As the days went by, we realized exactly how intertwined and complex the relationships between animals, people and the environment were. Our placement here in Uganda was ideal in showing us OneHealth principles at work in a rural setting.
The large predator population (lions, leopards) has been declining in the area for the last few decades and a few months ago, several lions were poisoned by a local farmer as they had been attacking his livestock. There are small communities and settlements both in and alongside the park boundaries, many of which grow crops or raise livestock as their livelihood. However, their cattle and goats, which number into the hundreds and possibly thousands, are overgrazing the land and crossing into park territory where they are technically not allowed to go to. The farmers claim they need more space and food for their animals. This grazing changes the vegetation of these areas and native herbivores face extra competition from the livestock. It is also only natural for large carnivores to predate these cows and goats as they are easy prey and attacks have also been increasing, which corresponds to the increase in roaming area of livestock. However, this is the farmers’ livelihood and they cannot afford to lose their animals as they have families to feed and support. Thus, they become upset when these attacks occur. Sometimes, they are driven to act in a manner they think is appropriate, such as poisoning the lions. Enforcement and reprimanding those who take inappropriate action is inconsistent at best due to the lack of resources in the area.
Additionally, the park does not have the resources to patrol and enforce all the park boundaries to prevent livestock from entering. As you can see, this entire situation is very complex and there are a variety of factors at play. The veterinarian here, Dr. Siefert, is doing his best to improve the situation by educating the farmers, providing and installing electric fences, advising them how to more efficiently use their grazing and crop space, providing free veterinary care and medication to their livestock in an effort to minimize their costs and maximize their profits as healthy animals will provide the farmers with greater income, and various other efforts. While a “perfect” solution to these issues has not been devised yet, steps are being taken in the right direction to get to the root of the problem and to rectify what is going wrong.
I can honestly say I have successfully delved into the Belizean culture whole-heartedly.
Let me paint you a picture.
Paste the following link in a new window as you read along: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VqhsFpbCo4. Sitting in an outdoor dining room on the sand at Hamanasi in Hopkins Belize, steps from the Caribbean Sea I sit down to write the first blog post of our 2.5 month journey around Central America.
We landed in Belize City a little over 2 weeks ago, and hopped on a 14 passenger plane for a 30 minute flight along the barrier reef to a town called Dangriga. Here we drove about an hour south to Hopkins – our home for the first leg of our Global Vets trip. The doors of Hamanasi resort were wide open upon arrival into Hopkins and we immediately felt the appreciation Belizeans had towards us for volunteering our time to help the local animal population.
After unloading our luggage into our room we immediately set out to find the Hopkins Belize Humane Society, our workplace for the next 2.5 weeks, to introduce ourselves to the clinic staff and start working. I asked Kirsty one of the managers of Hamanasi for directions to the shelter and she laughed at me! She told me to walk to the end of the driveway and look to the left. We soon realized our commute to work every day was much shorter than anticipated.
We first met Dr. Orlando Baptist, a local vet here in Belize who spends a great deal of his time working with various humane organizations across the country. The first two days at the Hopkins Belize Humane Society were spent helping Dr. Baptist and the three staff members at HBHS spay and neuter animals from the community – some feral, but the large majority of animals were owned. The night before surgery days, clinic employees head into the village and knock on doors to educate citizens on the benefits of sterilization (local terminology for the surgery is “cut”) and offering to provide free transportation and service to anyone in the community who wishes to have their dog spayed or neutered.
While surgeries are going on inside the walls of the purple building shown above, many local pet owners show up throughout the day with their animals, each requiring a unique form of treatment such as vaccination and deworming (locals call it “worm-out”), treatments of bacterial skin infections and several mosquito and tick borne diseases which are very common in this part of the world.
Next we met Dr. Mia Canton, our mentor for the next two weeks and the remainder of our stay in Belize. On Wednesdays at HBHS, members of the community are welcome to bring their animal to Dr. Mia for treatment. Here we helped countless animals, ranging from treatments for fleas, mange and parasites on the tiniest of patients, all the way up to surgical removal of infected teeth and mammary tumor removals on the largest of our patients. Not a single animal is refused, and all free of charge. The clinic operates purely on donations, and are very appreciative of any donation that can be made to the clinic for their services.
WARNING – skip the next few lines if you have eaten recently.
I would like to introduce you to the “Beefworm” – gross name and and ever nastier description. Beefworm infestation is very common in Belize. This little bugger enters the body as an egg, and slowly eats its way from the inside of the body towards the skin, where it emerges as a larvae. This larvae matures into an adult fly where it will lay eggs and continue the life cycle. After a very successful and long day last Wednesday, I stood on the porch of the clinic and staring back at me was a white and brown female hound mix in the middle of the dirt road. I called to her and walked towards her. This game went on for about 10 minutes, slowly making progress towards her and slowly gaining her trust, until finally she gave in, rolled over and asked kindly for a belly rub 🙂 . The poor girl was covered head to toe (literally) with dark red wounds, a distribution that was completely foreign to me. Dr. Mia walked over and instantly diagnosed her with Beefworm infection. She leaned down to the dog and squeezed on the the lesions, and out popped a worm! I have an iron gut, but instantly questioned my ability to hold down lunch. Thank the lord it was several hours before the local staple – stew chicken, beans and rice – hit my stomach or it might have been on the grass beside Mia. The vets role in beefworm infection is to remove the worm before it makes too big of a hole to reduce the amount of tissue destruction that occurs, lessening the risk of subsequent infection. Laura and I sat on the grass for about half an hour popping our worm after worm from the flesh of our new friend. We gave her some meds to kill any worms we missed and off she ran… so we thought…
We walked about halfway home and I turned around to check how far she had run away from us. I was shocked to see her at our ankles, following us step for step. She followed us to our resort and sat by our feet the rest of the night, as if to say thanks for getting the worms out from my under my skin, thanks for finally ridding me of the itch beneath my skin as the worms burrow, thanks for the nice meal, thanks for caring.
The next morning as we fueled up on breakfast for the day, I was surprised to see our friend right there in front of the restaurant, as if she had been waiting for us. I made her patience worth her while and snuck her a few sausages when no one was looking. We set off to work and took her back to where we found her, then off she went down the dirt road.
okay……if you chose the “I have eaten recently, and choose not to read” you can pick up reading right here…
Something else I learned very quickly was how to make lots and lots of friends VERY quickly. How? Carry a puppy around with you everywhere you go. Early in the week we helped spay a mother dog who had recently weaned five 8 week old puppies. The owner wanted the mother back but asked us if we could find homes for the pups. 4 were taken in the first day to people in the community and one, a little female, was left scared and alone (Sarah McLachlan plays in the background). I took her back to the resort that night, and every night after that, casually walking her by each guest as they ooooed and ahhhhed at how cute she was. Pretty soon each person at the resort took turns holding her and asking me about the procedures to get her on a plane and back to their home – my plan to find her a home was working.
Much to my surprise however, my efforts failed and she stayed with us another 2 weeks. It was amazing to see her grow and become more and more independent by the day. From once following me everywhere around the resort as guests gawked at how cute she was, to soon having to chase her as she ran away to track down things she shouldn’t be eating, like a baby bird that fell out of the nest (I have the scars to prove it – three punctures from where she bit me when I pried the slimy, stinky creature from her death-grip jaw hold).
As we pack our bags to set out for Guatemala, our second leg of our 3-leg Global Vets trip, I can’t say enough about the people of Belize and how friendly and welcoming everyone was to have us visit their country. Please, if you get the chance, you have to visit Hamanasi resort – we can’t thank the staff and management enough for all they have done for us here, allowing us a place to call home for a few weeks, and letting us explore the barrier reef on mornings where we didn’t have to be at the clinic until later in the day. This resort is incredible.
To Clara Lee Arnold, director of the Hopkins Belize Humane Society, you are an incredible inspiration and a perfect role model of selflessness and generosity. Thank you for everything you have done for us and we wish you the best as you continue to help the country of Belize in ways I’m sureyou didn’t anticipate. I’ll try to make it back next June 🙂
To Dr. Baptist, Roberto, Cliff, Carol Ann, Jason, Joseph and especially Mia, thanks for making our experience an incredible one.
We leave Belize with not only amazing experience but also a sense of pride from being able to make a contribution to the Hopkins Belize Humane Society. From helping Manky the hairless lab – robbed of her coat from mange mites, to providing treatments to various other animals, and seeing and feeling the appreciation in the community for bringing health to the animals that would not be otherwise treated without HBHS.
Here’s a link to the HBHS website, please donate if you can, they do amazing work: http://www.hopkinsbelizehumanesociety.com
To those wondering what ever happened to the little puppy. Well, yesterday, I was assisting in surgery with Mia and I heard the clinic vehicle fire up and drive away. I asked where it was going and was told they had found a home for the little puppy and were taking her to a gentleman to the south of the country to live out her life. I didn’t flinch, but inside I was a bit heartbroken because I never had the chance say goodbye to that little girl and wish her a good life. Ah well, she’ll be alright.
Next stop – Panajachel, Guatemala.
We arrived safely at Queen Elizabeth National Park and soon began working with the wildlife veterinarian there. It was such a great experience! Within a few days we learned about how to track lions and various other species of animals including elephants, hippos, hyenas and leopards!
Our most exciting experience was one where we went searching for a male lion that was located across the channel whose radio collar was becoming too small and needed to be removed. We traveled by boat for over an hour using radio signals to try and get as close to him as possible and then tried to attract him with bait and recordings of baby animals. It took quite some time but finally we caught a glimpse of him and the doctor was able to shoot a dart from the boat into the bushes! After he was completely sedated we worked quickly to monitor respiratory rate, remove the collar, check for parasites and take blood samples and oral swabs. After moving him to a shady area we waited for 2 hours to make sure he was fully awake before leaving him.
We’ve learned so much in such a short period of time and can’t wait for what’s next!
Team Africa ❤
P.S. Since internet is quite difficult to come by we will try our best to post as frequently as possible however it may take a few days for updates 🙂
Hi and welcome to our first global vets blog post!
Our teams are officially DONEPhase 2 of the DVM program and are in the final stages of preparing and planning for their adventures this summer. Please check back frequently for blog updates including photos, videos, diary entries, links and much much more from our participants.
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