gerhard maritz

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.

Fascinating Pig Facts

  • Pigs are mammals in the Suidae family (genus Sus) of even-toed ungulates.
  • The Suidae family includes eight genera and 16 species of pigs.
  • Among these species are wild boars, warthogs, pygmy hogs and domestic pigs.
  • Pigs, like all Suids, are native to the Old World.
  • Some historians theorize that pigs were domesticated about 6000 years ago – one of the first animals to be domesticated!
  • Pigs exist on every continent except for Antarctica, northern Africa, and far northern Eurasia, according to the Encyclopaedia of Life.
  • Wild pigs typically live in grasslands, wetlands, rain forests, savannas, scrublands and temperate forests.

  • Pigs are very intelligent animals according to studies, and it is even said that they are the smartest animals on the farm.
  • They rank third, in studied intelligence, behind apes and dolphins.
  • They are curious and insightful animals.
  • Today there are tiny pigs, fluffy pigs, wild boars, and, the most common, big, pink-skinned domestic pig.
  • A female pig is called a sow, while the male  is called a boar. A number of pigs together is called a herd.
  • All pigs have small eyes and poor eyesight.
  • Pigs can see things along the sides of their head, which is useful for spotting food, other pigs and potential predators, but they’re not great at seeing what’s right in front of them.
  • They make up for this lack of frontal vision with an excellent sense of smell.
  • They can use their snouts to detect food and, thanks to a little extra muscle that gives it flexibility and strength, the snout can also root out food in the ground.
  • Compared to humans, a pig has 15,000 taste buds while humans only have 9,000.
  • Pigs can drink up to 52 litres of water every day.
  • According to studies, a pig’s squeal can range from 10 to 115 decibels whereas a Concorde jet emits less than 112 decibels.
  • In comparison to their body size, pigs have small lungs.
  • Pigs are not really a dirty animals. Pigs do not have functional sweat glands, that’s why they roll in mud to keep cool, and it helps them to regulate their body temperature.
  • Mud also provides the pigs’ protection against flies and parasites, apart from being used as a form of sunscreen, which protects their skin from sunburn.
  • Pigs usually weigh between 140 and 300 kilograms, but domestic pigs are often bred to be heavier.
  • Pigs have 4 toes on each foot, but they only walk on 2.
  • Pigs have excellent memories. They can remember things for years and can recognize and remember objects
  • A mature pig has 44 teeth.
  • These canine teeth, called tusks, grow continuously, and are sharpened by the lowers and uppers rubbing against each other.
  • In their natural surroundings, pigs spend hours playing, sunbathing, and exploring.
  • Pigs appear to have a good sense of direction and are known to have found their way home over great distances.
  • Pigs communicate constantly with one another using a variety of grunts and squeaks.
  • Pigs are very peaceful animals, rarely showing aggression. The exception, as with many animals, is when a mother (sow) with her young offspring is provoked or threatened.
  • Pigs snuggle very close to each other and prefer to sleep nose to nose.
  • To keep warm, pigs may cuddle up with one another.
  • Like humans, they also dream, according to some studies.
  • Pigs can run at speeds of almost 20 km/h.
  • On average, pigs live for between 15 and 20 years (Wild pigs live 5 to 20 years).
  • Pigs, boars, and hogs are omnivores and will eat just about anything.
  • Domestic pigs and hogs are fed feed that is made from corn, wheat, soy or barley.
  • Sow’s pregnancy lasts 114 days.
  • Female pigs, called cows or sows, give birth twice a year to litters of around 6 to 12 young.
  • The baby of a pig is called a piglet.
  • At birth, piglets weigh around 1.1 kg to 1.5kg, and within a week, most piglets will double their weight.
  • When they are two to four weeks old, the piglets are weaned.
  • Baby pigs are very aggressive when competing for milk from their mothers.
  • Newborn piglets learn to respond to their mothers’ voices, and mother pigs communicate with their babies through grunts while nursing.

  • In Denmark, there are twice as many pigs as people.
  • Wild pigs play an important role in managing ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity. By rooting, and thus disturbing the soil, they create areas for new plant colonization. They also spread fruit plants by dispersing their seeds.
  • The pig is the last of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and is seen to represent fortune, honesty, happiness, and virility.
  • People with allergies sometimes have pigs as pets, because they have hair, not fur, and they do not shed.
  • Pigs are incredibly social. They form close bonds with each other and other animals.
  • Pigs are easily trained to walk on a leash, use a litter box and even do tricks.
  • Soldier pigs have gone to war, using their snouts as mine sniffers.

Fascinating Eagle Facts

  • The eagle has long been considered “The King of Birds”, on account of its great strength and rapidity, its elevation of flight and natural ferocity.
  • Eagles are birds of prey in the Accipitridae family and, generally, larger than any other birds of prey.
  • There are approximately 60 different species of eagle, most of them from Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
  • The majority of eagles are found in Eurasia and Africa.
  • Eagles are informally divided into four groups: Sea eagles or fish eagles (a large part of their diets consist mainly of fish), Booted eagles (feathers grow down the legs and cover the toes), Snake or serpent eagles (adapted to hunt reptiles) and Harpy eagles (inhabit tropical forests).
  • Eagles are generally found in pairs, but it’s been documented that they live in groups during extreme weather or areas with very abundant food.
  • Eagles (like all birds of prey) have very large, hooked beaks for ripping flesh from their prey, strong muscular legs, and powerful talons.
  • Like all raptors, eagles kill their prey with their talons.
  • An eagle’s beak contains keratin, which means that it grows continuously, just like human hair and fingernails.
  • An eagle eye is among the strongest in the animal kingdom, and sight is the strongest of all the eagle’s senses.
  • Eagles’ eyes have a million light-sensitive cells per square mm of the retina (a layer at the back of the eyeball), 4– 6 times stronger than that of the average human, and it is said to be able to spot a rabbit 3.2 kilometers away.
  • Eagles can see five basic colours compared to our three and can detect UV light.
  • Eagle eyes are angled 30 degrees away from the center of the face, which gives 24 eagles a greater field of view.
  • An eagle can rotate its head about 270
    degrees, just like an owl can, to look around.
  • Eagles also have a clear eyelid that protects their precious eyes from dust and dirt.
  • Although some eagles may only weigh around 4.5 kg, their eyes are roughly the same size as those of a human and can take up almost 50% of the head.
  • In most eagle species, females are larger and
    stronger than males.
  • A typical adult male eagle only weighs around 4.1 kg, despite its strength and large size.
  • Eagles have up to 7,000 feathers that
    account for about 5% of their body mass.
  • Eagles vary in sizes, with the little eagle (native to Australia) measuring 45–55 cm in length and weighing 815 g.

  • Philippine eagle (also one of the rarest birds, as it is critically endangered) is considered the largest and strongest species of eagles in the world in terms of length and wing surface, measuring up to 102 cm in length. It may weigh up to 8kg.
  • Eagles are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day and sleep at night.
  • Some eagles, such as the martial eagle, use thermals (columns of hot rising air) to soar for long hours without a single wing beat.
  • Eagles have a specialized mechanism in their feet that allows them to lock in position, so they can sleep while sitting on a branch – similar to horses, who can sleep while standing up.
  • The golden eagle is the fastest eagle in the world with a maximum airspeed of 320 km/h (and second fastest in the world behind the peregrine falcon, which can fly as fast as 389 km/h).
  • Some eagles are built with short wings and long tails, enabling them to hunt in the tight confines of a forest, while others have short tails and broad long wings allowing them to soar high above open plains and water.
  • Eagles have a lifespan of between 14 and 35 years in the wild, depending on species.
  • Although eagles can get older than 35 years, they normally become weaker towards the end of their lives, unable to hunt as they used to.
  • Eagles are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain.
  • What eagles eat depends upon the species and the food that is available to them, but the vast majority of eagles are carnivorous and live on a diet of meat and/or fish.
  • They mostly hunt their prey.
  • Prey includes fish, rabbits, marmots, hares, ground squirrels, mice, and, sometimes, slow-flying birds, reptiles, foxes and even deer.
  • Some species of eagles are scavengers, and primarily eat fish and animals that are already dead.
  • Some eagles can fly hundreds of kilometers while foraging for their food.
  • Eagles do not need to eat every day, instead, they have a special digestive organ known as the cr which stores food, until there is room for it in the stomach.
  • Their digestive system allows them to store a large meal until it is later needed, and prevents the eagle from growing weak if food is scarce for several days or weeks.
  • Eagles are monogamous, so the generally mate for life.
  • They have a strong site a mating pair tend to reuse the same nest year after year or build a nest in the same spot.
  • Nests, composed of sticks, vegetation, and downy feathers, are built by both males and females. This activity is part of their pair bonding.
  • The nests, called eyries, are normally built in tall trees or on high cliffs.
  • The location of the nest varies with species. Bald eagles, for example, most likely nest in tall trees, whereas golden eagles prefer cliff faces or more open areas.
  • The number of eggs laid will depend upon species, but many eagles lay between one and three eggs.
  • The female eagle will spend most of the days keeping her eggs warm, while the male ensures food is brought to the nest.
  • Both males and females share incubation responsibilities, but the female typically spends more time on the nest than the male.
  • It takes around 35 days for eagle eggs to hatch, depending on the eagle species.
  • A young eagle is called an eaglet.
  • It takes a number of years for a baby eagle to grow its talons fully.
  • Eagles are an exceptionally common symbol in heraldry, and being in contrast to the lion (“King of Beasts”).
  • When a bald eagle loses a feather on one wing, it will lose a feather on the other, in order to keep its balance.
  • Relative to their size, eagles’ wings actually contain more power and strength than the wings of an airplane.
  • Eagles have been used in the police and the army several times.
  • In the Netherlands, eagles were trained to help control drones.
  • Eagles are admired all over the world as living symbols of power, freedom and transcendence.

Fascinating Rabbit Facts

  • Rabbits and hares are “lagomorphs”, an order that also includes the pika, a small burrowing mammal that looks like a large mouse and lives in colder climates.
  • There are currently more than 45 known breeds of rabbits.
  • Rabbits and bunnies are the same animals.
  • There’s no difference in breed or species, just the word we prefer.
  • Rabbits are social creatures that live in groups and prefer the company of their own species.
  • They live in a series of tunnels and rooms that they dig underground, which is called warrens.
  • A baby rabbit is called a kit, while a female is called a doe, and a male is a buck.
  • A group of rabbits is called a herd.
  • While originally from Europe and Africa, rabbits are now found all over the world.
  • Rabbits are ground dwellers that live in environments ranging from desert to tropical forest and wetland.
  • Rabbits can range in size from 34–50 cm in length and weigh between 1.1 kg to 2.5 kg.
  • Rabbits have long ears which can grow as long as 10 cm.
  • It has been discovered that a rabbit’s ears allow them to stay cool in hot climates when extra body heat is released through blood vessels in the ear.
  • Rabbits easily suffer heatstroke and therefore prefer to live in cool places.
  • A rabbit sweats only from the pads on their feet.
  • Rabbits can turn their ears by 180 degrees,
  • keeping a careful listen out for predators.
  • A Rabbits’ eyes are on the sides of their heads, meaning they can see almost all the way around them.
  • The teeth of a rabbit are very strong.
  • Rabbits have approximately 28 teeth.
  • A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing! Instead, they’re gradually worn down as the rabbit chews on grasses, wildflowers and vegetables.
  • Like cats, rabbits are remarkably hygienic.
  • They keep themselves clean throughout the day by licking their fur and paws.
  • Rabbits often sleep with their eyes open, so that sudden movements will awaken the rabbit to respond to potential danger.
  • A rabbit can jump as high as 90cm in one leap.
  • When they are happy, they would perform a twist and kick in mid-air, also known as a “binky”.
  • Rabbits can be very crafty and quick and difficult to catch.
  • According to National Geographic, a cottontail rabbit will run in a zigzag pattern and reach speeds of up to 29 km/h – to get away from a predator.
  • A rabbit’s life span is about 8 to 10 years,
  • though sterilised rabbits (those who are spayed/ neutered) can live as long as 10-12 years.
  • Rabbits are herbivores (plant eaters), eating a diet entirely of grasses and other plants.
  • Bunnies need to digest some of their food twice, so
  • sometimes they will eat their droppings (nutrient-packed droppings).
  • Bunnies cannot vomit, so it is super important to feed them only healthy, fresh, appropriate food.
  • The average size of a rabbit litter is usually between 4 and 12 babies but may vary in some cases.
  • Rabbits are “crepuscular” meaning they’re the most active at dusk and dawn.
  • Rabbits are born blind and naked and remain in a fur-lined nest for the first few days of their lives.
  • A mother rabbit feeds her young for just about 5 minutes a day.
  • Rabbits dig complex tunnel systems (called warrens) that connect special rooms reserved for things like nesting and sleeping.
  • The tunnel system will have multiple entrances that allow the animals to escape when needing to get away from a predator.
  • Rabbits (Lagomorphs) were originally classified as rodents, but in 1912 the distinction was made between them and rodents.
  • Rabbits are meticulously clean animals and are easy to housebreak and train. Much like a dog, a pet rabbit can be taught to come to his/her name, sit in sit in your lap, and do simple tricks.
  • Rabbits need special veterinarians. These veterinarians, who are rabbit experts, can be more expensive than cat and dog vets as well as harder to find.
  • Like cats, happy rabbits can purr when they’re content and relaxed.
  • Just like humans, rabbits get bored and will need socialization, space to exercise, and plenty of toys to keep themselves entertained.
  • They’re all about territory. They need lots of space and will quickly decide where they like to eat, sleep and use the bathroom.
  • Predators, which include owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, wild dogs, feral cats and ground squirrels — are a constant threat.
  • A rabbit’s foot may be carried as an amulet, believed to bring protection and good luck. This belief is found in many parts of the world, with the earliest use being recorded in Europe c. 600 BC.
  • One of the world’s best-known rabbits is the Warner Bros cartoon character, called Bugs Bunny. While Bugs Bunny
    is often seen as eating a carrot, carrots aren’t a natural part of a rabbit’s diet and can give bunnies an upset stomach (carrots are high in sugar) if they eat too many
  • To assist indigestion, they need hay which helps to prevent formation of fur balls in their stomach.
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