Malek is a veterinary student from Germany, who is currently visiting us as part of his internship. He is writing up some of his experiences in South Africa for his own blog (in German), but he has agreed to translate his thoughts into English to share it with us. For those German speaking friends of ours, you can find the original article on his blog at https://malekgoesafrika.wordpress.com
Because of the nationwide protests at South African Universities (including Wits University) during the first few weeks of my internship, we had to find an alternative solution for me until the student protests ended. So, I went to assist the veterinarians at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) in Pretoria. Getting there from Johannesburg seemed like it would be a little trip around the world, since I did not have a car, but the Gautrain got me there within an hour. Luckily I could stay over at a friend’s house. My German friend Whincents, who is working in Pretoria at the moment, is a heart-warming fellow. He cared for me like a mother for her son: he organized an air bed and made breakfast for me.
At NZG I was able to assist Dr. Bruns, the local zoo veterinarian. Our purpose for the next few days was to collect sperm from different species in the zoo, including tigers and several antelope species. This task required a team of experts: A sperm-researcher from Cape Town, an expert on in vitro fertilization, sperm collection and embryotransfer and the whole veterinary team of the zoo. The animals were sedated and then stimulated to ejaculation using electric prostate stimulation. Success was not always guaranteed, due to bad sperm quality, weak erections or failure to get an erection. I guess that is similar to how things work in nature…
“What do you know about wildlife sedation?” was Dr Bruns first question while she was preparing the dart for the tiger sedation. “I know the drug you normally use – it’s etorphine, isn’t it?” Dr. Bruns just continued to prepare the dart for her air gun: “For tigers? You can use it.” She turned over to me, looking into my eyes. “Once. And it will be the last time. It’s too potent for cats.” For those of you who are interested: while etorphine hydrochloride is commonly used to sedate many ungulates, cats are usually sedated with a combination of Zoletil (a mix of tiletamine and zolazepam) and medetomidine.
I have learned a lot about wildlife sedation during my time in the NZG and I had my first experience working with wildlife. Dr. Bruns was a keen teacher and allowed me to help out where I could. Those were experiences I will never forget in my whole life. How many people have heard the heartbeat of a tiger before?