Day: February 1, 2021

Environmental Enrichment in captive animals

A fish’s behaviour is influenced by its experiences during early life, such as its ability to navigate and respond to predators, as well as adaptation to its environment. However, in the case of captive environments, their experience is relatively uniform and non-demanding, which reduces their learned and adaptive behaviour. Captive-bred animals, in general, have less diverse and flexible behaviours, with some areas of the brain being reduced and less active in comparison to their wild counterparts. This presents a challenge when captive bred animals are intended to be released into the wild as part of conservation. Fish may be reared in captivity for stock enhancement, stocking for angling, research, food production, conservation, and for ornamental fish keeping.

Studies on captive rodents indicate that captivity negatively affects neural development and neural plasticity (the ability of the nervous system to change and reorganize itself), whilst environmental enrichment (EE) has the opposite effect. Environmental enrichment refers to the increase in complexity of the rearing environment to reduce unwanted and abnormal traits in animals raised in environments with limited stimulation. It promotes flexible behavioural responses and improves cognition in animals intended for release, which improves their survival rate on release. Some areas of behaviours affected include: social learning, energy expenditure, foraging abilities, navigation, aggression, shoaling response and recovery from stressors.  

Environmental enrichment should be suitable to the species and life stages of animals. There are different types of enrichment such as physical, sensory, dietary, social and occupational enrichment. Physical enrichment involves additions to the environment to make it more structurally complex. Structural complexity is a key feature of EE, considering that in the wild most fish species have some association with physical structures for foraging, sheltering or spawning. Sensory enrichment involves stimulation of the sensory organs and brain. Different food types and feeding methods provide dietary enrichment. Providing contact and interactions with members of the same species provides social enrichment.  Introducing variation to the environment and providing opportunities to exercise provides occupational enrichment.

There are different goals to EE in display aquaria, animal welfare, food production and research and fisheries management. For the purpose of this article the use of EE in welfare and display aquaria will be explored further.

There are differences amongst human cultures on what is appropriate or not concerning welfare. Welfare can be viewed in terms of function, feelings and being nature based. Looking at function, a fish should be able to adapt physiologically to its captive environment so that its biological systems can function. The feelings based view on welfare looks at the emotional experiences in its environment, where the aim is to reduce negative stimuli and increase positive stimuli. Studies have shown that fish experience pain, fear, frustration and anxiety, which are usually evaluated indirectly from behaviour rather than physiological factors, because it is unclear how changes in these factors are linked to subjective feelings. The nature based view encourages an environment that allows fish to show natural behaviour which includes disturbances such as the presence of predators as well as aggression from other tank mates. Making the environment more complex, structurally, introducing variation and live food encourages the nature based approach. The nature based view is more useful for conditioning fish prior to release into the wild.

Display aquaria are usually used for conservational, scientific, recreational or educational purposes, and the goal of EE is usually to promote welfare, natural behaviour, provide aesthetic appeal to human spectators and to attract fish to areas of the tank to increase their visibility.

Examples of different types of enrichment: in ponds, natural variability, live prey, predation, and the use of various structures may be used.  The use of tank covers in some species and settings can promote welfare by blocking out environmental stressors and provides preferred lighting. However, in other species and environments it can be viewed as a form of EE since it provides varying light intensity and a choice of sheltering from the outside environment. Physical structures like artificial objects, stones, roots, logs, plants, algae, sand, sessile animals, ice, etc. can be used, which provide shelter, allows the evasion of predators or for predators to ambush prey; and protects fish from strong currents. Physical structures can be used in combination with other types of EE: variable water current and depth, various submerged structures, underwater feeders, natural food and simulation of predation. Pipes, tiles and non-buoyant plastic strips may provide hiding spaces, whilst entangled plastic strips or nets may be used to avoid cannibalism and aggression.

The relevance of toys in fish environments is unclear even though play behaviour has been observed. Incubation substrates may be used to mimic the natural environment for hatchlings. Tank floor substrates are beneficial for bottom dwellers, since they reduce injuries for those species that rest at the tank bottom. Tank substrates also provide the opportunity to learn burying behaviours, interact with the benthos and provide a hiding place from cannibalistic tank mates. It is also important to note that bottom substrates may lead to poor environmental conditions and the increase in pathogens due to poor hygiene, related to cleaning challenges with such substrates.

Introducing environmental variability stimulates learning, cognition and the development of resource defence by providing a healthy psychological challenge and simulating the wild. This can be done by changing the position of structures over time and as well as food availability. Note that this may stimulate adaptive behaviour which is desirable or may cause neophobia, so close observation is important.

Potential problems that may arise with the application of EE may include:  neophobic reactions highlighted above; the accumulation of food debris and faeces which requires increased manual labour or the use of bottom filters; some structures serving as vectors for pathogens; and leakage of hazardous chemicals, for example phthalates from PVC can lead to toxicity.  Unsuitable types of enrichment may injure or stress fish, for example loops, holes and crevices may cause body entrapment and suffocation.  Territorial behaviour and aggression may result if too few EE structures are present. Species in artificial environments become accustomed to living closely with structures and their presence or absence influences growth, behaviour, physiology and welfare. The effect of a shelter varies with the species it is used for, some may reduce growth rates and time spent foraging and detecting food. 

There are numerous considerations to consider when using EE, but an important take-away message is that it is important and necessary in artificial environments and captive animals.

A Beautiful Love Affair with Sierra

To understand the origin of A Beautiful Love Affair with Sierra, I would need to start from the beginning of my journey as a Pitbull mom and volunteer. This wasn’t something that I planned for or thought would ever happen if you asked me about it five years ago. But as all great stories go, everything happens for a reason.

I moved from JHB in 2015 with both my staffies, Diezel and Jeanie brother and sister. When I arrived in Cape Town I lived with my mom for a while, until I could find a pet-friendly place that was within my financial capabilities. In that period a lot of anxiety washed over me. I’d been in Cape Town for four months and had not found anything.

The situation looked dire, but an option finally came along. My grandparents’ friends and their two daughters had just lost their staffie and were looking to fill that void. I had come to an impasse and couldn’t postpone the obvious any longer. My two 7-year-old staffies, whom I had the privilege of being there when they were born, had to be rehomed. I convince myself that they were going to be rehomed together, into a loving family, with someone who was always at home – which I couldn’t give them, and they would be better off.

I met with the family, took my 4-legged kids with me and they were completely oblivious to the reasoning for this visit. The guilt I felt with that visit, having to resort to doing this to my precious kids. I felt like I failed them. I failed myself. After the meet and greet, it took me two weeks of hell fighting my conscience and the cards I was dealt with to make the final decision. I drove from Strand to Durbanville with Diezel and Jeanie in the car next to me, explaining and apologising to them both, crying to the point where I couldn’t even see the road in front of me. Not knowing if they understood or if they were sad or if they were ok with my decision. Ultimately, I had no choice, this was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I had their destiny in my hands, I was making decisions for them and not knowing if it was the right one. It wasn’t like they could say to me “Hey, wait a minute, we’re not okay with this”. Their new home was the right choice and I received a lot of photos showing how happy they are.

Fast forward two month to where I found a flat (no pets allowed). Not having any responsibility felt good for a while, but that feeling faded very quickly. I didn’t want to go home anymore, there was nothing for me there. No tails wagging, no excitement, and no purpose! I felt empty and longed for that company again. Coming across a post on Facebook, I decided to volunteer at an organisation called Pitpals. What a wonderful feeling it was to be part of this organisation!

Almost a year passed of volunteering, saving animals from the roadside and fostering only over the weekends as I still lived in my flat. This was until one specific day in July 2016 when I came across a Facebook post from a guy in Athlone, trying to sell a female Pitbull puppy aged 4 months for R800. Now this is very common these days and at first wasn’t something alarming, but reading the comments of possible buyers and of how the owner was proclaiming what a great job he had done with cutting her ears at 8 weeks – left me speechless! Her face just stood out from all the rest and I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing.

I arranged to buy her and kept all the communication as evidence. We agreed to meet at Tygervalley shopping centre parking lot that evening at 18h00. I made numerous phone calls for assistance to Law enforcement, SAPS and SPCA and finally obtained the backing of the SPCA. The inspector sat in his car that evening and watched the events unfold. With pepper spray stuffed into my jeans, I went in headstrong, trying to get a recording of this man verbally confessing to the crime he had committed by cutting her ears. Success struck before the transaction concluded. When he handed me this girl, she was skin and bones with her head so big it looked like she was the spitting image of a ‘bobble head’ doll.

After the man left and I had purchased Princess(the puppy in the add), I got into my car and drove to a secluded area with the inspector right behind me. The official process between us started with me giving an affidavit and providing all the evidence of my dealings with the seller. He then asked me a question I didn’t expect at all “Are you her owner now?”. So many emotions went through my head. I mean hello, just short of a year ago I failed my own 2 dogs, there is no way I was putting myself or another animal through this again.

You see, the reason he asked me this question is if an animal is taken in and becomes evidence in a case like this, (seeing that her ears are proof) but she didn’t belong to someone, the animal would stay in the custody of the SPCA, until the case comes forward. Now this could take not only months but years! So, I signed on the dotted line as her owner, knowing full well from my side it was only a temporary scenario until I could find her a suitable home. That first night she went off with the inspector to SPCA for a routine inspection the following morning and later that afternoon I was able to pick her up.

Doing research on powerful and meaningful names, I named her Sierra (Spanish for Mountain Range)

This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement but my attachment to this dog was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I put a plea out on Facebook for pet-friendly accommodation and because of my volunteering, my network on Facebook had tripled and before I knew it another rescuer came forward with a solution. I met with them and hey presto – it was meant to be! I got a pet-friendly home.  

Through our journey, Sierra and I have made headlines on Facebook and Instagram. Everywhere she goes with me, she draws people in. Our footprint of making people aware of the breed and what their potential is and the love they have for humans, their loyalty and protectiveness has been a remarkable turning point for the breed.

I scaled down my volunteering in the time I got Sierra because I was working five days a week and she was alone a lot. However, I still felt the need to do more to make a difference, so we started fostering permanently and since January 2018 to date Sierra has fostered 26 pups. She is this perfect natural big sister, almost like she’s been doing this for many years.

Sierra’s 1-year birthday was approaching fast and I wanted to do something special. I decided to have a fundraising party on the 10th March 2018 in her honour. 


For the past three years we have held Birthday fundraisers for Change for the Better Foundation and Pitpals in Sierra’s name. You can find us on Facebook under the name “A Beautiful Love Affair with Sierra”. To date, we have been able to raise the following:

First year: R16 000 (R7 000 donated to each Org)

Second year: R33 000 (R13 500 donated to each Org)

Third year: R61 038 (R22 500 donated to each Org) hosted on 14 March 2020

As you can see by our figures, we have gone from strength to strength each year surpassing the next. We have grown in leaps and bounds and are confident that we will reach our 4th years goal of R130 000.

Top Tips for Staying Cool this summer

Shorts, tanks, flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreen can only mean one thing: SUMMERTIME! The winter woollies have officially been packed away, hot beverages have been replaced with ice-cold drinks, and your need to spend time outdoors in the glorious sunshine is overwhelming. We, as South Africans, are incredibly lucky to enjoy hot, sunny weather for almost half of the year, but with it comes the heatwaves, where temperatures often soar to above 35 degrees Celsius.

To beat the heat, we often find ourselves getting creative, but what about our pets? Dogs and cats have sweat glands that are located on their paw pads, but due to the small surface area, sweating alone is not enough to lower their temperature. Dogs will also start panting as a means to cool themselves down, but if one isn’t careful, our pets can easily become overheated, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors.

Since our furry friends have limited options, read on to see how you can help your pets to stay canine cool this summer.


  • Cooling mats

On hot days you will often find your pet sprawled on the floor, making the most of the cool tiles on their hot bodies. If you don’t have tiles, or if your pet finds the floor too hard and uncomfortable, then a cooling mat is a great investment. Cooling mats are simple to use; place it in the fridge overnight and when needed, put it on the floor for all to enjoy (I am not ashamed to admit that I have shared the cooling mat with my dogs). I have found that placing a towel over the cooling mat encourages them to lie on it.

  • Frozen treats

Creating delicious homemade frozen treats is a great way to cool your pooches down. A simple Google search yields thousands of easy recipes for you to try, using basic ingredients like yoghurt, fruit and peanut butter. You can also check out Bake and Bark from Darg Days for more ideas.

Another fun idea is to fill a Kong or other suitable toy with peanut butter or wet food, and freeze. Not only will your dog be entertained for a while, but the frozen treat will keep them cool.

If your dogs are like mine, then they absolutely love ice cream! And while it might be tempting to share your cone, dairy is not ideal for your pooch’s digestive system. A safe alternative is Cool Dogs or Murphy’s pet friendly ice cream.

  • Exercise sparingly

If temperatures are excessively high, you might want to rethink your daily walk. Pavements and tar roads absorb the sun’s rays and, if the ground is too hot, can damage your dog’s sensitive paw pads. A quick way to check if the ground is too hot is to place your hand on it for 3-5 seconds. If you can’t leave your hand there comfortably, then it is too hot for your dog.

In our household, skipping our walks is not really an option. To ensure everyone remains safe we avoid the hottest times of the day and walk in the early morning or after the sun has set, and keep the distance to a minimum. Also make sure to carry plenty of water for both you and your pet and take frequent breaks.

  • Pool party

If your dog loves water, then allowing them to take a dip will cool them off instantly! And you don’t have to have a pool to partake in this fun, a clam shell, inflatable paddle pool or even a large bucket filled with water is all your dog needs to wade in.

  • Make sure they have plenty of shade and water

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s imperative that all pets, big and small, have access to plenty of fresh, clean water and shade. If your pet’s water bowl is located outside, make sure that it is in a covered/shaded area and that it is topped up daily. Large containers might hold more water, but they also have a greater surface area for evaporation to take place. Self-filling water bowls are a good solution, but they must be cleaned regularly to avoid a build-up of algae.

  • To shave or not to shave

Many people reach for the shaver or take their dogs and cats to the groomers just before summer temperatures peak. Unfortunately, you may be doing more harm than good depending on the type of coat your pet has. A single coated dog can be shaved down repeatedly, as the hair will continue to grow back unchanged, and shaving in summer can benefit them. Double coated dogs on the other hand have two coats – the outer coat, which is known as guard hairs, are long and the undercoat is shorter and thicker. In winter, the thick undercoat provides insulation and keeps your dog warm, while in summer, the undercoat is shed leaving the longer guard hairs which allows air to circulate and in turn cools the skin. Therefore, if you shave a double coated dog, you are achieving the exact opposite of what you want, as the undercoat grows back first and keeps your dog warm, as opposed to cooling them down.

If you are not sure what type of coat your dog has, consult your vet first.

  • Know the signs of heat stroke

Any hot environment can cause heat stroke and it’s important to know the signs, as, if left untreated, it can be fatal. Certain dog breeds are also more prone to heat stroke than others, especially brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs. Think pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers. Owing to their short muzzles, these dogs cannot effectively cool themselves down by panting, making them twice as likely to get heat stroke.

Signs to look out for are excessive panting, rapid heartbeat, high fever, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and uncoordinated movements.

If you suspect your dog has heat stroke, remove them from the hot environment, offer water without forcing them to drink, place a soaked towel on their backs and take them to the vet immediately.

Joseph Part 2

By Imogen Tarita

An awful lot has happened in Joseph’s world since you read the first part of his story.

We decided to chronicle each step of this part of his journey, because this is an important story. One that we hope helps to draw attention to the plight of many animals in our country. 

To get the prosthetic, we had to go to Johannesburg.  So, on 11th October 2020, Dr Katherine Barker loaded Joseph into her car, and they set off for the big city.

The day of Joseph’s appointment dawned. Everyone was super excited, but, to be honest, there was anxiety too, as we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. As soon as Dr Katherine met the orthopaedic specialists, Antois Ferreira and Casper Steenkamp from the Animal Care Division at Northcliff Orthopaedic Centre, she knew Joseph was in good hands.  Only once he was comfortable and relaxed did the actual process start. He was wrapped in plastic, and then plaster of Paris was applied to make a cast of his body.

This cast would be what was used to make the actual prosthetic and the harness/support that he needed.  This entire process took about 5 minutes. Joseph is actually a very chilled dog, but the team made sure they were quick, and that he wasn’t stressed at all.

Antois really took a shine to Joseph and asked if he would be up for adoption…in actual fact many people have asked us about adopting him.  (Due to the severity of his injuries we decided that adoption was off the table and he was adopted by Dr Katherine, her family and the Cluny team, so he has a very happy home with a vet on hand.)

After a quick lunch, it was over to the other side of town to a physio appointment at the Animal Health and Hydro (AHAH) to meet with Dr Tanya Grantham for a hydrotherapy session. The aim of the appointment was to show Dr Katherine how it is done, because Joseph was going to need ongoing hydrotherapy to first help to build and then to keep his muscles as strong as possible. 

It was a wonderful session. Joseph was a tad freaked out in the water at first, but, to be fair, that was to be expected as he had never been swimming before…we are very grateful to Tanya for her patience, and by the end of the session Joseph seemed much more comfortable and was a doggy paddling champ…granted with Tanya’s steady and loving support.  We would also like to thank Dr Tanya for her very kind donation of a doggie lifejacket for Joseph.

Because we are based in Fouriesburg, Free State, hydrotherapy pools are very hard to come by. We have had to improvise, and we are using the reservoir in Dr Katherine’s garden. About 3 times a week (weather permitting) Joseph has his hydrotherapy session, “Free-State style” with Dr Katherine’s husband, Malcolm.

Building the Prosthetic

Once they had the cast, the team from the Animal Care Division started the process by building up the cast everywhere to determine where there may be too much pressure.  Antois says that this process typically looks like an arts and craft class.

Using that information, they were able to use a soft, closed cell material to pad the chest piece. This is to make the prosthetic comfortable for Joseph.  What you can see in the picture is Casper working out the striking angles of the leg. This is done with a laser to determine where the best placement of the components will be.

All of this is very interesting and educational. Even as a veterinary welfare we had no idea about the engineering that goes into a prosthetic. It is fascinating to see the entire process unfold and to be able to witness this first-hand. 

Perfection takes time, and you can’t do this quickly.  But we promised you that this story had a happy ending. On the 2nd November 2020, Dr Katherine drove back up to Johannesburg with Joseph for the fitting, and to see if any adjustments would need to be made. 

As we arrived for the appointment, you could feel that everyone was a little on edge…there was a lot riding on this.  Joseph’s new prosthetic is the very first of its kind in SA! We are very privileged that he was selected as the recipient of this amazing technology.

It was actually like a Cinderella moment, but instead of a glass slipper it was a beautiful, shiny prosthetic leg. We collectively held our breaths as Antois gently moved Joseph into position and, just like the fairy tale, it fitted perfectly. 

Of course, his prosthetic was something new for Joseph, something strange, and he did need time to get used to it.  He was walking backwards to try and get out of the brace, but the team assured us that this was very normal.  We need to take this slowly, just a couple of minutes every day and Joseph would get used to the feeling and the movement of the leg. In Dr Katherine Barker’s words: “It is a beautiful leg, it is sturdy and strong, but as light as a feather and as soon as he learns to trust it, it will all be fine’.

We are happy to report and to close this story by telling you that Joseph is adapting well, he is wearing his prosthesis every day and each day he is gaining more confidence. 

Joseph has taught us all so much. He is very affectionate and gentle, and although not your typical tripod (dog with 3 legs) he is just like any other dog. He can be boisterous and playful, and he can drive us nuts with his fishwife warbling, he is very vocal sometimes. He has taught us, as a team, to forgive, and to believe in hope because we have been stunned at the outpouring of love and help we have received.  Most of all he has taught us to be courageous, to never give up, because the world of animal veterinary welfare can sometimes be a very tough place and we all need reminding from time-to-time of why we do what we do. Thank you, Joseph, we love you and we are here for you, always!

To find out more about the Cluny Animal Trust and how you can help, please visit their website  

Image by: Glen Green – African Image

Horsing around – Life After Racing

Life after Racing

Did you know that the average racehorse’s career is usually no more than 3 years? In 2018, over 20,000 South African thoroughbred foals were registered with the Jockey Club as potential racehorses. Many of those horses will never become successful racehorses and those that do will be retired soon after their careers begin.

A racehorse’s career is often short-lived and, after retirement, their lives can go in different directions, depending on their success. Retired racehorses either become sires for future generations, have new careers or have their lives ended by euthanasia.

Life after retirement for racehorses is not all sunshine and rainbows, nor is it completely bleak. While some will suffer a dire fate, many retired racehorses will go on to have fulfilling lives. Knowing the truth about horseracing retirement will help you formulate your own ideas and opinions on the sport and the foundations that exist to help these amazing animals.

Reasons for retirement:

There are many different reasons for a racehorse to enter retirement. All fertile racehorses, regardless of their rate of success, will be retired at a young age. Age at retirement is not an indicator of their success.

A Proven Winner

Unaltered racehorses that win enough races will be retired quickly, usually before 3 years of age. This helps to avoid injury and allows the owners to begin collecting their money for breeding fees.

Male horses that have been altered, geldings, are usually allowed to race longer because they cannot sire offspring. A racehorse stallion that is successful is said to be more valuable to their owners after retirement than while they are racing.

Failure to Succeed

Horses that do not perform as expected will be retired early from the racing world, if they ever make it to a track at all. If a horse continues to not place in their racing competitions and are not improving, they are retired quickly to keep their owners from losing more money training them.

Many potential racehorses never even make it onto the racetrack. Although they may have the proper breeding, some horses just are not racehorses. These horses will be retired very early on.

Fatal or Debilitating Injury

Racing is a sport and there is always a risk of injury as with any sport, especially at the speeds that racehorses compete. From the annual EID (Equine Injury Database) statistics, the compilation of reported fatal racehorse injuries in official Thoroughbred events, the average rate of fatal injury in 2017 was 1.46 in 1000 race starts.

Possible fatal injuries include limb fractures, joint fractures, and laminitis. Debilitating injuries that will more than likely lead straight to retirement, include severe inflammation from strained tendons, lameness, chronic knee problems, joint effusion, joint fluid accumulation and ligament issues.

At what age do racehorses retire?

Usually, racehorses are retired before they reach the age of 3, whether they are successful or not. The average lifespan of Thoroughbred horses is between 25 and 28 years old.

This means that most racehorses retire from racing soon into the first quarter of their lives. Geldings do tend to race longer than fertile horses, since they hold no value for breeding.


Racehorses can end up on various paths following retirement. While some options are bleak, not all paths after retirement lead to death. Many Thoroughbred former racehorses go on to live full happy and healthy lives.

Breeding Shed

Successful racehorses that are retired are most often sent to the breeding shed. This is an area on stallion farms that are made specifically for the breeding of brood mares to successful stallion thoroughbreds.

It is a safe environment to prevent injury and ensure that breeding has occurred. Broodmares are brought to the stallion’s farm for breeding.

For new broodmares who have never been bred, a teaser horse is brought in to gauge her response. This is a preventative measure to keep her and the stallion safe.

2nd Careers

Many racehorses, successful and unsuccessful, retire from racing and move on to a second career. These careers could be other sports or they may simply become great horses for avid equestrians. Such sports include show jumping, dressage, eventing, barrel racing, showing and so much more.


Racehorses that suffer debilitating or catastrophic injuries while racing or training often end up being humanely euthanized.

Many equestrians, and even non-equestrians, have heard of Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who sustained a broken leg during a race. While the break was repairable, the laminitis he developed during that time led to him being euthanized.

Many people may view this as inhumane, but laminitis is an extremely painful, debilitating hoof disease and is 4th on the list of top causes of death in horses.

Laminitis often develops in one leg while horses are recovering from injuries in other legs. Limb fractures are responsible for 87% of fatal injuries in racehorses.

Sometimes, accidents on the racetrack are unavoidable while others are due to over racing. Most limb fractures in horses are not repairable due to their weight and need to stand. Most owners will opt for humane euthanasia over putting the animal through additional pain.

Programs and projects

Luckily, there are a lot of organizations that exist to help retired racehorses find loving and safe homes. For instance, Highveld Horse Care Unit is a big organization that helps in this regard. There are also a lot of private owners that take on ex racehorses and train them up in hope of them finding the best home possible.

Final thoughts

Horse racing is a popular and lucrative sport for racehorse owners. The problem exists in the short-lived career span of an average racehorse along with the high number of potential racehorses born each year. Thousands of racehorses will be retired each year and typically only the successful ones will be kept for breeding. There are simply not enough homes for all of these misplaced former racehorses, but thankfully there are a lot of organizations working to re-home them and allow them to live fulfilling lives.

Get to know Dr Jan Jacobus Scheepers

Most people know me as Dr K or just as Kobus. I recently married my gorgeous wife, Suzette, after having to postpone our wedding due to lockdown. We share a mutual love for animals and the outdoors. My hobbies include riding motorcycles, playing guitar and just spending time with my friends and family (both 2-legged and 4-legged).

I have three dogs, a Labrador (Oliver), a Border Collie x Jack Russell (Dot), both rescues from my practice, and a Bulldog (Layla). I also rescued a cat, who at the time of his rescue, had a badly fractured and dislocated leg and thus I had to amputate the leg. He is now appropriately named TriPod. I treated a few sick orphan lambs for a client and when they recovered, he said I could keep them. They now stay in a camp in my (luckily, quite large) garden and come running when called; although I don’t know if I could call myself a sheep farmer just yet. I also have a few tropical fish as well as a fish pond with some koi.

I grew up in Skeerpoort, a small town near Hartbeespoortdam. I then moved to Pretoria, where I qualified in 2014 and started working at Ceres Veterinary Hospital, in the Western Cape, at my first job in 2015. Ceres is a beautiful small town and I have the privilege to work in a well equipped mixed animal practice with great supporting staff and amazing colleagues, each with his or her own special interest.  We treat a large range of animals, from the smallest little hamster, all the way through to a large rhinoceros or giraffes, with dogs, cats, horses (even though I am allergic to them), sheep, cattle and other exotic animals all in the mix.

We work closely with CHAIN Boland (Community Helping Animals In Need), our local companion animal welfare organization. I also do large animal welfare work in Saron; giving back to the community is close to my (and my colleagues’) heart. Being able to help those less fortunate, while also educating people, brings exceptional satisfaction and joy to me…but so does seeing a little puppy for his vaccinations , seeing how a very sick cat starts to respond to treatment or helping a cow give birth to a healthy calf.

I believe with all my heart that being a vet, even though it is physically and emotionally challenging at times, is one of the most rewarding and satisfying jobs there is. My passion for animals started at a very young age, always bringing home way too many animals (luckily my parents also have big hearts for animals, and allowed this). I believe that this helped to create the love and passion that I have for animals to this day.

Working with animals and getting to know their interesting owners each and every day, is such a pleasure and privilege. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I hope that I can continue in this profession until the day that I am old and grey… and, hopefully, even a few years longer still. 

Rescuing Maple

In a farm, situated somewhere between Delareyville and Stella, in the North West province, a border collie alerted the farmers to a little Aardwolf (Proteles cristata) cub. The farmers were concerned for the little cub’s well being and contacted the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital for assistance. With guidance from our wildlife rehabilitation specialist, Nicci Wright, the farmers tried to reunite the cub with her family. Try as they might, they could not find the den and the two days of trying to reunite the cub with her mother were, thus, unsuccessful.

The farmers took care of the little cub for a few days until we were able to drive through to collect her.

Our vets examined her and found that she was quite underweight and that she had mange. Thankfully, it was Demodex mange, which is easily treated by regular bathing with a veterinary shampoo.

Raising a baby Aardwolf is an experience all of its own and one which is hard to describe, unless you have raised one yourself and have had the experience. Contrary to how we perceive the adults to be – shy and elusive – their cubs are extremely playful. Feeding times were filled with trying to get an ADHD animal to focus and drink her milk, while all she wanted to do was to play and run riot. She was only a couple of weeks old when we collected her and she was started on a special carnivore milk formula. Once we found a suitable teat (that she was happy with), Maple took well to her milk from the very beginning, and currently guzzles about 500ml of formula per day. She has quadrupled in size and has a very healthy appetite. Aardwolves are insectivorous and Maple was at the right age to introduce her to insects. Over the past weekend, she was offered some crickets which she devoured overnight.  I had thought that it may take a while for her to get used to her new food item, but she has proved me wrong!  The following day, I offered her a larger quantity of crickets, which she immediately ate right in front of me. This was a new behaviour for me, as the previous Aardwolf I had raised would not eat her insects in front of me. I would only find the empty bowls the next day. Maple is extremely entertaining. She tears around her enclosure while I feed her, she stops at my feet and bites my toes, and then rushes off at full speed again, all the while, purring non stop. Even at this very young age, she has an intimidating Aardwolf voice. When frightened, or even in play, she emits scary growls which belie her age. Although Maple is consuming crickets, she does still enjoy having her milk. She will slowly be introduced to other insects, and once she is eating a variety of them, her milk intake will be gradually reduced, but not completely. When she enters the next phase in her rehabilitation process, a bond will need to be formed with her new “mother”.  This will be done through feeding her formula and as she settles in, she will gradually be weaned completely.

Maple’s next step in her rehabilitation process will mean a trip to the Kalahari, to an affiliated and permitted rehabilitation centre. This habitat is ideal for Aardwolf as it offers adequate food items and burrows, and holds a healthy aardwolf population.  In this environment, she will go into a pre-release enclosure in situ, which will allow her to habituate to her new surroundings – all the new sights, scents and sounds.  As she integrates this, she will be fed natural food items by her new carer. When the time is right and when she is ready, she will be walked out every night. This is so that she can learn to forage for her own food. She will also learn what she can and cannot eat. The young aardwolf will be able to explore and fulfil her instincts by investigating her new environment while under the watchful eye of her carer. As she matures and develops physically, Maple will be allowed out for longer and longer periods, often on her own. It is important that she knows that she can return for support feeding whenever she needs to. This way, her progress and development can be observed as she slowly but surely wilds up. The goal is for her to develop her own territory and ultimately have cubs of her own.

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