Introducing Tales of a Wildlife Vet – Wildlife ACT’s six-part blog series where we will share some stories and anecdotes from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Vet, Dr Rowan Leeming. Rowan has been working closely with Wildlife ACT since 2016. At that time, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife approached Wildlife ACT and WWF to form a partnership to secure funds for a full-time wildlife veterinarian position within the provincial conservation authority. With escalating rhino poaching placing an immense burden onto the game capture and veterinary resources, additional vet support was required to support and carry out other conservation initiatives and operations throughout the Ezemvelo protected areas in Northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Over the past four years Rowan has learnt invaluable lessons from his mentors (African conservation legends), including head vet Dr Dave Cooper, Head of Game Capture Jeff Cook, and Dumi Zwane, the officer in charge of Game Capture. He has also had guidance from Chris Kelly, Zama Zwane, Dennis Kelly, Jed Bird, Dave Druce and Eduard Goosen (to name just a few).
“In my early years, I grew up in a small one-horse town called Vredenburg, in the Western Cape”, says Rowan. “Later on in my teens, we moved up to Durban, KZN. Somewhat of a city-boy, I knew from an early age that I loved animals, and loved being outside and getting dirty even more. However, it wasn’t until my first trip to the Kruger National Park on a family holiday when I was 13, that I was exposed to wild, vast open African bush. I was completely blown away, and dreamed of a life somehow involving being in this environment.
So I started thinking of career paths in the wild. Naturally, my love for animals played a big role in the decision making progress, and soon I set my sights on becoming a wildlife vet, uncertain at that stage, how it was going to tie in with conservation, wild animals and the bush. It was a long road of 7 years, but the time flew by, and before I knew it, I was donning the salmon pink veterinary science sash (strange color I know) at graduation, not knowing if I knew up from down on an animal yet… All I knew was that I was the fortunate one to land the most-wanted community service post with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and I was ready to get dirty and be thrown into the bush. Five years later, I’m still around, fighting to stick around.”
Over the past couple of years Rowan has seen a lot and been through many highs and lows. From Buffalo TB tests, relocation operations, rhino poaching postmortems, carnivore management and much more. In his position, he has been vital in the conservation activities conducted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
We would like to give you a glimpse into some of Rowan’s thrilling and captivating stories as an African wildlife vet. In 2019 alone, Rowan was involved in darting a total of 58 White Rhino and 45 critically endangered Black Rhino, with 41 of these individuals darted for dehorning. A total of 102 endangered African Wild Dog were also darted in the same year, as well as 16 Lion, 2 Cheetah and 211 Elephant.