A visit to the American College of Veterinary Pathologists meeting, Nov 2004
Listening and talking to over 500 eminent and dedicated pathologists from all over the world was inspiring in terms of the possibilities for expanding diagnostic and research capabilities for wildlife in South Africa. There were two excellent sessions on exotic pet, wildlife and zoo animal pathology, which included topics for which little literature exists, as well as up to date diagnostics for avian pathology.
Topics that were of particular interest to the non-domestic field include
· Disease diagnosis in reptiles, avians and exotic small animal pets
· Species differences in the evolution, structure and function of the immune system
· Marine mammal pathology
· Skin tumours in captive zebras
· Basic arachnid and insect pathology
· Health issues in mixed-species outdoor exhibits
Informative general sessions were held on a wide range of veterinary and human pathology topics including identification of lymphoid system tumours, prognosis evaluation of other skin tumours, cancer therapies, a possible link between cat lung disease and the use of disposable cat litter, tuberculosis vaccines in cattle, insect-borne diseases that are common in South Africa.
I was able to meet many of the key American veterinary wildlife pathologists, relationships with which I expect will be fruitful in providing access to diagnostic capabilities and research funding that is not yet available in South Africa. We were taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. What is possible with unlimited funds is quite amazing. Many of the hoofstock animals are clicker trained to return daily to their night rooms via handling facilities which make it easy to administer health check ups and species-tailored foodstuffs to supplement their grazing in the day paddocks. What they spend on water purification and horticulture would probably exceed South Africa’s defence budget. I spent one day in the veterinary facility watching two vets operating on a tortoise who took turns to explain the procedure to the park visitors who could view the whole process through a glass viewing wall. I was very impressed by the nutrition unit, with 2 full-time nutritionists tinkering with custom-made diets for healthy and sick individuals of each species. I was very happy to return to Africa by the end: sleep-deprived, overloaded with information and excited about the future.