Sterilising in style - Victoria Falls
Responding to a plea from hotel managers to deal with the feral cat and dog population in Victoria Falls, the ZNSPCA requested the AWARE Trust to run a sterilisation programme there. Since Vic Falls town lies within the Kavango Zambezi Trans Frontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) and is entirely surrounded by National Parks (flanked on the east by Victoria Falls NP and on the west by Zambezi NP), it fitted in perfectly with AWARE's objectives to mitigate the threats posed to wildlife from domestic animals. So on April 18 the AWARE team (Dr Lisa Marabini, Dr Keith Dutlow, Dr Vin Ramlaul, Elliot Katanda and Kenny Chitukudza) set off from Harare on what was to be a rather unique operation.
The local community at the Falls banded together and chipped in for free hotel accommodation for the team as well as 50% off some meals. Staying at Elephant Hills, Ilala Lodge, Lokuthula Lodge and The Victoria Falls Hotel resulted in the exercise feeling more like a locum at a holiday resort than the usual hardship associated with performing surgery 'in the bush'. In addition, we had the luxury of renting Dr Zishiri's Veterinary Surgery which is equipped with, amongst other things, running water, electricity, and an operating table, as well as being built on a spectacular site overlooking the most beautiful gorge in the world! Donald Choguya and Aaron Peyani, Dr Zishiri's qualified vet nurse and caretaker respectively, worked tirelessly with the AWARE team to make the operation a success. ZNSPCA inspectors Simon and Mishek, who on a previous trip had promoted the programme at local schools, were also on hand setting cat traps at the various hotels every night and bringing the unsuspecting quarry to us every morning.
On the morning of the 19th, we trekked through the industrial sites to the surgery, noticing elephant dung en route. It was a public holiday and the exercise got off to a slow start. The first night of trapping only yielded 2 cats (one spay and one cryptorchid castration), and a trap-full of 4 extremely unhappy kittens which had been caught without their mother. These were vaccinated and returned ASAP. Only 2 dogs were presented for castration and 22 for vaccination, including two ZRP police dogs – gorgeous German Shepherds. Concerned that we would not get a good response, we sent Donald and Aaron into town wearing T-shirts that advertised the campaign. Suspecting that things might get busy later in the week we took the opportunity to see the Falls in the afternoon. This was a first for our assistants, Kenny and Elliott, who were suitably gob-smacked at the spectacle, especially since the Falls are currently at their highest ever recorded level. The spray was so strong in places that 300m stretches of waterfall were completely obliterated from view. Needless to say everybody got a good drenching.
On Tuesday things started picking up as the inspectors presented 5 trapped moggies. By the end of the day 17 ops had been perfomed as well as 40 dog vaccinations. The anaesthetic protocol used for dogs was as described on previous campaigns, but because of the impossibility of intravenous injection with feral cats, an intramuscular butorphanol- medetomidine- ketamine combination was used for their sterilisation. After the op the cats were antidoted with atipamezole, and were generally fully awake within 20 minutes. Additionally, all cats were vaccinated with Felocell 3'n'1 and Rabies, given Ivomec injectable dewormer, and Frontlined for fleas and ticks. All dogs were given the Merial combination DA2PPiLR (which includes Rabies) vaccine, or Parvo for puppies under 12 weeks, and were dewormed with Mediworm and Frontlined. Operated dogs received 1kg bags of Savanna or Fetch dogfood to help with their recuperation, and their owners had strict instructions to return the animals after 72 hours for their critical post op check up, at which point they received a T-shirt. All operated animals were bled for future disease screening.
In the early evening on Tuesday we were called to help with a warthog that we had noticed with a swollen hock at Elephant Hills. Roger Parry of Wild Horizons Trust had organised PWMA permission to dart the animal for treatment. Roger has a Dangerous Drugs Licence and he and his wife, Jess, do an excellent job removing snares from wildlife in the area. The warthog was duly immobilised but we found that the hock joint was fused with major callous formation – most likely an old break at the site, with nothing we could do to help. The next evening, on our way back to Ilala Lodge from having dinner at Roger’s, we drove past a maternal herd of 9 elephants with two babies crossing the main road of Vic Falls town and heading towards the industrial sites. Although for the most part the inhabitants of Vic Falls town are quite tolerant of elephants, Roger had been called out the previous night to blast them with a ‘chilli gun’ – an exploding ping pong ball full of chilli to scare them off and try to deter them from causing any human-animal conflict. I hope the Vic Falls authorities realise how incredible it is for visitors to see humans and wildlife (including buffalo!) co-existing in relative harmony in the town.
The rest of the week proved to be hectic as the campaign gained momentum. Generally the dogs were in much better condition compared with programmes we have run in other parts of the country, due to the higher level of employment and education of the dog owners. We even received our first thank you letter from a young boy from Chinotimba township, who mistakenly thought we were the ZNSPCA, but which is so touching we have scanned it and added it to this newsletter. (Incidentally, the township is named for ‘the sound of falling water’ in the local vernacular.) Several dogs at the surgery were treated for a variety of ailments, from demodectic mange to gashes inflicted by warthogs, and severe fly damage to their ears. We also took on some commercial work from people who could afford it in order to defray some of our drug and rental expenses. This included a visit to treat an elephant and two lions used in the tourist industry. By the end of the programme we had done a total of 79 sterilisations, which included 26 bitch spays, 23 dog neuters, 20 cat spays and 10 cat neuters; we had also vaccinated a total of 300 dogs for 7’n’1 and Rabies, 22 puppies for Parvo and 36 cats with 3’n’1 and Rabies.
AWARE’s coffers are now empty. A ten day project like this costs roughly $6000 with all the vets giving their time for free. We are appealing to readers for further funding to perform a similar campaign on a bigger scale in the Great Limpopo Trans Frontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA) likely to take place in September. We are asking for donations of items that can be raffled, such as weekend packages from hotels, flights, wine etc. We also need fuel, vehicle maintenance, vaccines, dewormer, and funding for a complement of other drugs, and an anaesthetic machine.
The public really can make a difference. We are sincerely indebted to the following for making the Vic Falls campaign possible:
- Nadia Marabini - $1000
- Medi-Vet P/L – $1500 worth of vaccine and dewormer, 100 kg dog food, Shoofly, cat anaesthetic drugs and veterinary treatment drugs
- Merial South Africa - $1900 worth of Frontline
- ZNSPCA –$611 worth of drugs, 66 T-shirts, promotion of the campaign and assistance by inspectors
- The 24 Hour Veterinary Surgery – loan of anaesthetic machine, spay packs and some consumables, and the use of Dr Ramlaul’s vehicle, time and assistant for free
- Jackie Cocksedge - $400
- Emma French and co - $100
- Elephant Hills – 3 nights accommodation
- Ilala Lodge – 2 nights accommodation and Chenai and Patience for organising the accommodation
- Lokuthula Lodges – 3 nights accommodation
- The Victoria Falls Hotel – 2 nights accommodation
- ZX Fuels – 140 litres fuel
- Shearwater – 50 litres fuel
- Mapopoma – 20 litres fuel
- Rainbow Travel Group – 100 litres fuel
- Garden Island Café – complimentary lunch
- The Kingdom Hotel – complimentary dinner
- Roger and Jess Parry – help with cages and logistics
- Donald Choguya and Aaron Peyani – assistance on the operation
- Dr Zishiri – rental of surgery
- The Wildlife Veterinary Unit – loan of microscrope and microhaematocrit centrifuge
- Zoe van Zyl – monthly support