Written by Dr Karin Lourens
Left to right: Penny Morkel, Karin Lourens, Nicci Wright
Photo credit: Alon Skuy
Their patients include anything from the smallest sparrow to bats and owls, and even more unusual species like honey badgers and pangolins, and they receive calls from as far away as Ghana and Central African Republic for advice.
Welcome to the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital, a special facility caring for small and medium wildlife, and working to treat, rehabilitate and release their patients back into the wild, where they belong.
A wildlife dream
Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation has been a passion for us for a very long time. I met Nicci Wright and Penelope Morkel (both wildlife rehabilitation specialists) five years ago at a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
At the time, almost all the cases that needed veterinary care had to be transported from where they were found to the nearest veterinary practice. This “extra step” caused additional stress to the patients, which are unused to human contact, and delayed emergency medical care.
We started dreaming about one day opening a facility where we could have the best of both worlds: a veterinary hospital and a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Doing it all
This is why Nicci Wright, Penny Morkel and I opened the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital in Midrand, Johannesburg, in March 2017. This is the only facility of its kind in Gauteng, and is both a registered veterinary practice and a fully permitted wildlife rehabilitation centre. Here, we can perform all emergency and routine veterinary procedures as well as specialist wildlife rehabilitation.
Nicci and Penny have a combined 25 years’ experience in caring for wild animals, while I’ve been in veterinary practice for 14 years and have been doing small and medium wildlife veterinary medicine and surgery for the last five years. We’re the only permanent employees but are privileged to have a few highly qualified rehabilitation assistants who help out on a voluntary basis.
We often call on other specialists to assist us. Fourways Veterinary Hospital has been one of our biggest supporters and they take in patients for us after hours and allow us access to their x-ray facilities when needed – this all at no charge. We recently had a teeny-tiny hatchling Spotted Eagle Owl who’d fallen out of his nest; by allowing us to use their dental x-ray machine (he was too small for a normal x-ray machine), we were able to diagnose a broken tibia and could splint his leg so it could heal correctly.
The Johannesburg Animal Eye Hospital also helps on an ongoing basis. Animal eyes are so wonderfully diverse and it’s amazing to have veterinary eye specialists on our doorstep to assist us – again at no charge. In September, we took in a Marsh Owl with an injury to his left eye which rendered him unable to blink; this would have led to corneal ulceration and blindness. The folks at the Eye Hospital assessed him and performed surgery to narrow the eyelid, protecting the eye from further damage.
Other specialists include The Exotic Animal Hospital at Onderstepoort, Bryanston Avian, Exotic and Small Animal Clinic and Jonathan Haw, raptor specialist and owner of Ecosolutions Urban Ecology.
A dream come true
We offer all our services at no charge. Our patients are all small and medium indigenous wildlife. None of them have owners as our goal is to treat, rehabilitate and release our patients. We don’t treat privately owned wildlife – these need to be taken by their owners to a private veterinary practice for consultation and treatment.
This facility has been a dream come true and our vision is to one day be able to open a teaching hospital for veterinary and veterinary nursing students.
How you can help
One of our ongoing concerns is funding. We rely on donations to run the facility and having a veterinary hospital and rehabilitation centre can be quite expensive. We have a fully equipped operating theatre and our pharmacy is almost as comprehensive as your local private veterinary practice.
One of the biggest monthly expenses is animal food. Insects, fruit and vegetables for all the myriad of different species can add up. We try and feed a diet as close to natural as possible – this even includes foraging for natural browse food like dandelion and karee tree foliage!
For us this is a calling and soul work on a daily basis, and we could not have done this without the support of the community and donors. Thank you for this.
To make a donation, our banking details are:
Johannesburg Wildlife NPC
FNB Cheque account
Branch code: 255355
Account number: 62658400264
Wild animals should never be kept as pets. If you love wild animals, love them where they belong – in the wild. The ultimate goal of places like the JWVH is to rehabilitate and release these animals back into the wild. If you find an injured animal, contact your local vet or animal welfare for help – don’t just pick it up and keep it.
If you know of someone selling wild animals or see people hawking animals alongside the road, please do not buy them as this encourages the illegal and cruel wildlife trade. Instead, contact your local SPCA immediately.