In March, our VIEW team has been conducting workshops in Rwanda, which is home to multiple unique protected ecosystems such as Akagera and Volcanoes National Park. Our aim is to promote conservation efforts and animal health by encouraging community involvement, building knowledge and capacity for environmental stewardship with local partners and stakeholders, teaching veterinary students about conservation health, and preparing for the launch of our digital wildlife surveillance system.
The VIEW veterinary team has been working with Akagera National Park, teaching full-day workshops to community park guides on the importance of community engagement in preserving the health of Akagera’s critical species. A unique ecosystem within Rwanda, Akagera is home to some of the world’s most iconic species, including lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros, and elephant populations—the “Big Five”. Therefore, it is important to keep the animals in the park healthy and thriving, and community engagement must be included for an effective and sustainable conservation program. Our VIEW veterinarians discussed the importance of conservation health with local Park guides (most of them have grown up around the park). The vets expressed how important a guide's role is in communicating conservation to the communities around the park and the international tourists who visit. Training included identifying clinical signs of sick animals through keen visual observation, systematic reporting on their findings, and how domestic animals (including livestock), people, and wildlife can share disease. An unexpected bonus was that our field vets were invited to join the guides in April on their outreach to community schools and villages, which will reach 4,000 children and community members spread out over 6 schools.
Just outside the north gate of Akagera National Park is the University of Rwanda’s veterinary school, where we are teaching veterinary students about their role in conservation health. This March, we were excited to engage 40 veterinary students from the university’s Wildlife Club, including ten female students, who attended a full-day wildlife health seminar. As veterinarians and guardians of the health of Rwanda’s animal population, they are on the frontline to prevent and treat disease, and they arrived ready to learn! We taught this bright, passionate, and motivated group of students about conservation health and their key role as veterinarians in improving the health of domestic and agricultural animals, people, and wildlife. Our workshop included lectures and problem-solving break-outs, and Western University’s zoological medicine professor, Dr. Curtis Eng, Zoomed in to begin a liaison between the two University Wildlife Clubs. We were not only pleased with the opportunity to work and learn with these vet students but also to form valuable connections with potential for further engagement, such as leading research projects in and around the park.
We have also spent the past six months involved in efforts to train Akagera National Park’s K9 unit on canine health. Earlier this month, VIEW veterinarians Dr. Ellis and Rwandan national Dr. Murenzi worked with the park’s K9 Unit, teaching a multi-day workshop for a new team of park rangers on the basics of canine care, spotting deadly diseases, essential vaccinations, emergency procedures, and precautions against disease transmission.
As the second group we’ve trained, these highly engaged rangers show immense dedication to their canine companions. In addition, as part of this group, we were delighted to train the first two female K9 Unit rangers. We are excited to continue working with this new team to help keep the K9 Unit healthy and ready to protect threatened wildlife.
In addition to the training workshops, two of us took an excursion for two days at Volcanoes National Park (VNP) in northwestern Rwanda to visit the majestic mountain gorillas with VIEW volunteer and former CEO of MediSpend, Michaeline Daboul. Michaeline has been sharing her expertise in launching our digital wildlife surveillance system (WHIS) and joined us at VNP to visit the mountain gorillas that call the national park home. We hiked for two hours in the beautiful volcanic rainforest to spend an hour observing the magnificent mountain gorillas in their element. We walked with them as they moved into an open clearing, witnessing a newborn gorilla nursing, juveniles somersaulting and tumbling through the grass, and even a stately silverback reprimanding a female gorilla for stealing his precious food. The similarities between their behavior and that of humans were startling yet profound - further highlighting our connection to nature. Just another reason to preserve the health and safety of these awe-inspiring creatures and others we share this world with.
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