A conservation adventure through Africa

Some of Cecil's Pride having a rest in the sun. Photo Michele Cotton

Either Drs Helen Jones or Ian Fairnie has led an annual wildlife conservation safari to Zimbabwe and a neighbouring country such as Botswana or Zambia, for the past 7 years, through the auspices of the SAVE African Rhino Foundation. The participants have always included veterinarians, and sometimes their spouses, staff from veterinary hospitals or their long-suffering friends.

This year, a group of six of us, including five vets, set out in August to visit selected conservation programs and the tourist camps that sponsor them in Zambia and Zimbabwe. First stop was a camp in Kafunta, a nature reserve at the edge of a national park in Zambia.

Here we saw numerous bird species, elephants and cape buffalo (including babies), antelopes, including water bucks, impalas, pukus and bushbucks, and carnivores such as miniature mongoose, civets, hyaenas, lions and leopards. There were elephants aplenty, as well as several small groups of giraffes and numerous hippopotami and crocodiles lurking in the waters.

Still in Zambia, we moved on to a painted dog reserve. This was more hands on, going out into the reserve to locate and remove any snares and dog traps, and helping any animals unfortunate enough to be caught in these traps. Painted dogs are traditionally poached by locals protecting their herds, and certain parts of the painted dog are considered to have medicinal properties. However, perhaps the most significant threat to their existence are the snares used for the illegal bush-meat trade.1

On a more positive note, there are numerous local community education programs focussing on conservation and locals have developed alternative, innovative methods of repelling native animals from herds and crops, rather than injuring or killing them. For example, it’s well known in local African communities that elephants don’t like chilli. So, in order to keep elephants away from agricultural crops, locals make bricks embedded with chilli and put them around their crops. They also shoot ping-pong balls filled with chilli at any elephants approaching the crop.

On our final day in Zambia we were shown around the impressively well-resourced Veterinary Faculty of the University in Lusaka before flying to Livingstone. Crossing the Limpopo River, with the massive Victoria Falls roaring below into Zimbabwe, we stayed one night at the famous old Victoria Falls Hotel.

The next day we drove to the well-known safari camp, ’The Hide’, where we were lucky enough to see cheetahs, honey badgers and the remains of ‘Cecil the Lion’s pride’. Visits and talks by dedicated conservation workers in the region gave excellent insights into the challenges and successes, as well as ongoing tragedies and the sheer under-resourced dedication of so many local and international institutions.

The final leg of the trip was spent in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. There was a special and unique visit to the Twala rehabilitation centre where numerous native wildlife species were being nursed back to health or were permanent residents because they could not be released back to the wild. We handed over several helpful items of equipment, uniforms and big hardy plastic balls, to the delight of everyone, including the lions.

On the final day we visited the 24-hour vet clinic in Harare, where a remarkably innovative and apparently efficient method of preventing infection was being practiced to great effect. The clinic was using copper-surfaced tables and copper-painted cages as a preventative measure for infections.

Thus ended another annual vet visit to some wonderfully inspirational areas and the honour of meeting some dedicated people.

Last year we raised awareness of these safaris through social media for the first time, and we received a lot of feedback, which indicated our program and its cost (over $12,000 all up) was out of the range of younger graduates.

Now we have introduced an all-inclusive Overland Vet Safari 2018. With opportunities to visit local veterinary practices and an emphasis on wildlife conservation and emergency medicine, this includes two-weeks travelling through Zimbabwe and Botswana in a self-contained camping vehicle for a total cost of $7,000 including international airfares, all accommodation and most meals. And a monthly payment plan!

The aim is to encourage the new generation of veterinarians to partake in some unique experiences, engage with passionate individuals at a grass-roots level and offer their services to a worthy cause.

Further information is available on the Overland Safari Facebook page or from the website and via email overlandsafari@savefoundation.org.au.

Michele Cotton Point Piper, NSW
and Ian Fairnie Bull Creek, WA

This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal


  1. Serata R. Primitive and ruthless, snares threaten Africa’s endangered Wild Dogs. 2012. http://www.africanwildlifeconservationfund.org/primitive- and-ruthless-snares-threaten-africas-endangered-wild-dogs/. Accessed November 2017


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