After 31 hours of travel- most of the time on planes, with the last two hours in a Toyata Land Cruiser--I arrived at Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe. I dropped my bags at the visitor housing building and immediately got back into the Land Cruiser, but this time held a directional antenna out the window. We were tracking African wild dogs (or Painted Dogs as they are called in Zimbabwe)! The thrill I felt when we finally found the pack of 4 females was electric.
I have been traveling to Africa for 40 years, making 6 trips to various countries during that time period. Yet I had never seen my favorite animal, the African wild dog. They are one of the most endangered mammals in the world and one of, if not the most, efficient predators on the planet (excluding humans, of course). To me, they are just amazing. They remind me of an adorable, lithe, German Shepherd dog with huge rounded ears. (Although I would not recommend not petting them!)
The similarities between domestic dogs and African wild dogs are more than just physical for me. They represent species that I have dedicated my life to saving. Saving in very different ways. For domestic animals, my work as a veterinary oncologist focuses on saving the individual dog or cat. Working with pet parents to employ the latest in medical technology to treat often advanced and aggressive cancers to ensure that their pet has the best chance to live the longest and highest quality of life possible. With wild species, such as African wild dogs, my work as a conservation biologist focuses on the species, NOT the individual. We still use the latest in technology, such as the tracking equipment I used to help track the packs of Painted dogs we saw in Zimbabwe, to help save species.
Both conservation and veterinary oncology share other similarities. Both disciplines try to save an animal or animals from dire circumstances--cancer in one case and hunting, habitat degradation, and invasive species in the other. The need to effectively communicate both the benefits and risks of interventions is also common to both disciplines.
My work as a veterinary oncologist for the past 30 years has given me untold enjoyment and fulfillment. My more recent endeavor into conservation, starting in 2010, has also profoundly gratified me both intellectually and emotionally. I love what I do--whether it is in a veterinary hospital or out in the field. Walking into an exam room and kneeling down to kiss my patient on the head is one of the great joys of being a veterinarian, as is seeing a pet with cancer respond to therapy. Similarly, finding and witnessing the actions of an endangered species in the wild and helping to save that species is equally exhilarating, but in very different ways.
If you can join me in helping save African wild dogs, please donate here: https://www.painteddog.org/donate