A letter from Zimbabwe


IMG_1419Veterinarian James Thompson recounts his recent African adventure


I am not sure what was more distressing on arrival in Zimbabwe – the broken reversing alarm on the luxury bus squawking every 3 seconds the entire way from Victoria Falls to Hwange, or the two hours of Christian soft rock. Still, the prayer for our safe travel as we departed was a nice touch, and must have worked, as we arrived at Hwange National Park safe and well and right on time.

It was great to be back in Zimbabwe – warts and all. The aftermath of the shambolic eviction of commercial farmers in the early 2000s saw the economy go into free fall, bringing empty supermarkets, a fuel drought, and Cuban style rationing. Zimbabwe plunged into nonsensical Alice in Wonderland hyperinflation, resulting in notes as high as 100 Trillion Dollars. Zim unhappily claimed the unwanted title of the fastest deteriorating non war economy in the world. Eventually forced to give up completely, in 2009 the laughing stock Zimbabwean dollar was abolished, replaced by the US dollar. In one stroke, inflation was beaten, and amazingly, things were now actually looking up. The discovery of a massive diamond deposit in the Eastern Highlands, immediately grabbed by the dictatorial Mugabe regime as a personal cash box, together with a stuttering recovery in tourism and massive investment from China, had finally seen Zimbabwe’s economy turn the corner.

Out in the bush, it is another story, far from the worries of politics. Even in Victoria Falls, a cold beer by the palm clad banks of the majestic Zambezi River, with waterbirds circling and diving, and the burble of hippos in the background is enough to relax and reinvigorate a tired traveller. Continue reading A letter from Zimbabwe

Family planning in Africa

In my 2011 series of Bondi Vet, I had the great fortune to travel to Africa for filming, and experience amazing African wildlife up close and make a difference to some of their lives.

The series took me to The Kingdom of the White Lion, an animal sanctuary established by Kevin Richardson – the lion whisperer – located 50-60km North of Johannesburg. My Bondi Vet team were involved in a number of cases at the Kingdom, including assisting with reproductive control in lions and the surgical removal of facial sarcoids. Continue reading Family planning in Africa

Tails on the Trail – a vet’s stories from the road

Travelling opens the door to synchrony and serendipity. Instant rapport and intense connections can blossom with strangers newly met, regardless of the perceived barriers of race, gender, culture, religion – or species.

On the last day of a two month South American trip, Dorian was looking for a leafy hollow where he could finally lay to rest his leather hiking boots. For a decade they had served him well on extensive treks around the world but the last few weeks hiking in Argentina had finally proved too much.

It was a sunny yet crisp spring day as he left the outskirts of San Martin de los Andes. Two dogs bounded into view, following him as he stepped onto a dirt track. He eyed them warily. Street dogs in South America have a reputation of bailing up lone hikers and these two were large enough to pose a potential threat. But they seemed more intent on play, wrestling and chasing each other around the trees and across the field. Dorian watched them for a while then resumed his search. A little way off the track he found a grassy hollow beneath a boulder at the edge of a forest. It was the perfect resting place and a fitting tribute to a faithful old pair of hiking boots. Carefully positioning them side by side he placed a yellow wildflower in each boot and reflected on the wild and beautiful landscapes they had trod. Continue reading Tails on the Trail – a vet’s stories from the road

Veterinary care in Papua New Guinea

If you’re wanting to volunteer your veterinary or vet nursing skills abroad, but don’t want to travel too far from Australia, then consider Papua New Guinea in the south west Pacific region.

Papua New Guinea is Australia’s closest international neighbour, yet many Australians may never have considered travelling there. In the Torres Strait between the two countries, the closest of Australia’s islands sits a mere four kilometres off the Papua New Guinea coastline and there are close traditional ties between the people living in the area. Australia has had significant involvement in the development of Papua New Guinea as we know it today, as Papua New Guinea used to be administered by Australia since the time of the first World War through until independence in 1975. The military history of war in Papua New Guinea is well known, including the famous battles along the Kokoda Track between Australian forces and the invading Japanese army during World War II.

Australia still contributes a significant amount of international aid to Papua New Guinea, and there are still strong ties between the two countries. Many Australian’s travel to Papua New Guinea in order to hike the Kokoda Track to learn about the historic military campaign which occurred there, along with experiencing the culture and landscape of the Owen Stanley Mountain range through which the Kokoda Track passes. However there is more to Papua New Guinea that just the Kokoda Track.

Papua New Guinea tourism uses the slogan, ‘the land of the unexpected’, and it definitely lives up to this description. There are over 800 language groups in Papua New Guinea, and it is a culturally and topographically diverse country home to an incredible array of plant and animal biodiversity. Being close to the equator, the climate in Papua New Guinea is tropical and hot with the wet season between December and March, however it can rain at any time. Dense tropical rainforest blankets a large proportion of the country. Divided into twenty provinces including various islands, each has its own cultural and natural attractions. English is spoken by many Papua New Guineans, however there is widespread use of pidgin or Tok Pisin which can be an amusing language to learn. Continue reading Veterinary care in Papua New Guinea