We believe in the power of hands-on education and meaningful conservation work. On 9 May 2024, we welcomed a group of eager veterinary students as part of the Vet Books for Africa initiative, for a three-day immersive experience. This visit promised not only to enhance their understanding of animal care and conservation but also to contribute significantly to our ongoing efforts. Over the next few days, these students would engage in a variety of activities, from cleaning stables and maintaining water troughs to participating in a vital community outreach programme. Their journey with us was filled with hard work, learning and unforgettable moments.

Vet Books for Africa is a student-run venture based at the University of Pretoria’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Campus. Established in 1993, this initiative aims to empower and strengthen bonds between veterinary universities across Africa. Every year, eight students are selected to serve as the new committee, making two trips annually across the continent. This biannual effort supports conservation through the powerful tool of education, making a greater impact with each journey.

9th May 2024 – Arrival and Introduction

On the 9th of May 2024, the veterinary students arrived with great excitement as we embarked on a journey to blend hands-on learning with meaningful conservation efforts.

10th May 2024 – The Day Begins with Stables and Water Troughs

The day began early with the students assisting in the cleaning of the stables and the removal of the previous night’s leftovers, including branches and dung. This is an essential task at HERD, ensuring that the stables are clean and tidy before the elephants return in the evening. The cleaning process involves using rakes and garden forks to gather dung into manageable piles, which are then loaded onto a tractor-trailer and used in larger erosion sections.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh dung in the morning to wake up the senses! Once the stables were spotless, we moved on to the water troughs. Elephants are highly dependent on water, making it crucial to keep their troughs clean. The students enthusiastically emptied, scrubbed and refilled the troughs, ensuring they were pristine and ready for the elephants’ return. This process involved climbing into the troughs, scrubbing the walls and floor to remove algae and meticulously refilling them with clean water.

After removing all the dung and vegetation, we applied chlorine to the slabs and scrubbed them thoroughly with water. This ensures maximum cleanliness and a healthy environment for the elephants.

11th May 2024 – Partnering with HALO for Community Outreach

On the 11th of May, HERD collaborated with HALO (Hoedspruit Animal Outreach), a volunteer-based programme dedicated to vaccinating dogs and cats within local communities. HALO, established in 2016, works in eight impoverished communities surrounding Hoedspruit: Manoutsa, Tswenyane, The Willows, The Oaks, Mulalani, Sekororo, Moraba, and LeBoeng. These communities often lack adequate veterinary services, and HALO’s outreach programme provides free medical care and education to pet owners.

By vaccinating domestic animals, HALO helps preserve local wildlife populations, including lions, wild dogs, hyenas and leopards, which coexist with these rural communities. Our team, consisting of Greg Behrens, Anri van Heerden, and the VETBOOKS crew, joined forces with HALO on one of their monthly visits.

During this visit, a total of 56 dogs were vaccinated. VETBOOKS also donated dog food, which was distributed to many pet owners, with the remaining supplies given to HALO. The number of vaccinations was lower than usual due to two weddings and a funeral in the community, reducing attendance. Typically, HALO vaccinates around 200 dogs per visit. Despite this, HERD and VETBOOKS look forward to continuing this partnership with HALO annually.

After returning from the outreach, the students dedicated the rest of the day to studying for their upcoming exams, ensuring they balanced their practical experience with academic responsibilities.

12th May 2024 – Elephant Moments and Farewell

On the final morning, the students had the unique opportunity to meet the bulls Sebakwe, Somopane, and Jabulani through the Elephant Moments programme. This was a truly unforgettable experience, allowing them to get up close to the elephants and appreciate their presence. For many, this was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.

After purchasing small mementos from the curio shop, it was time for the group to head home, enriched with new knowledge, memories and a deeper understanding of conservation and animal care.

Reflecting on a Week of Growth and Learning

The three days spent with the veterinary students were not only productive but also deeply fulfilling. The combination of practical tasks, community outreach, and unique experiences with elephants provided a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to care for and conserve these magnificent creatures. We at HERD are grateful for the students’ enthusiasm and hard work, and we look forward to future collaborations that continue to foster education and conservation efforts in our community.

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  1. These lucky students will use all they have learned in their professional practice, and perhaps, inspirations will come to fruition! But, the most rewarding takeaway of all, which cannot be taught, only felt, will be the emotional memories imprinted on their hearts forever. Well done HERD!

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