Third blog post

Trip blog post #03 (14th January – 26th January)

As we had to wait for our COVID-19 test results to come back, we now had a few days on our hands to spend before we could go on with our journey. Being in Africa gives one a sense of adventure and nudges you to seize every opportunity, so when we got the chance to go to the Serengeti National Park, we didn’t hesitate! Of course, this was out of our own pockets, but it was most definitely worth it. The morning of the 14th we drove to the Park, one of Africa’s best and biggest gems. The afternoon and the next morning we went on the ultimate game drive, catching the end of the Great Migration. We saw lots of different wild animals, and to watch them living untouched, undisturbed, was a pleasure to see. Highlights included lion, cheetahs, buffalo, elephants, hippos and thousands of zebras. The afternoon of the 15th we drove back to Mwanza, unable to stop talking about all that we had seen. It truly was an amazing experience. The Park values the conservation of its animals and landscapes above all, and it was rewarding to see what nature looks like when it is being protected.

The morning of the 16th started as any other morning, but the day quickly went wayward. The idea was to reach Bukoba by the end of the day, but because we (ahem, Xander and Pieter) thought a short cut might be a good idea, we ended up getting the bakkies stuck next to rice lands for a whopping six hours! At first only the one bakkie got stuck, and we thought it’s not a problem as the second bakkie is fully equipped to pull it out. But the clay soil got the best of us, and our second bakkie soon also got stuck. The villagers only studied us from afar as we got down on our hands and knees to start digging the bakkies out. We stayed positive at first, but after digging for quite a while and getting drenched in mud, we became quite anxious. It must have shown on our faces, because the villagers tentatively came closer to see what was going on. As most of them did not even understand Tanzania’s first language, Swahili (never mind English!), our communication with them was reduced to playing charades. It is quite challenging to get the message across without using a common language, but eventually they understood enough to bring us their tractor. By now we and our bakkies were surrounded by half the village, and every movement we made was followed by big eyes from the children. We were an anomaly to them! When the tractor managed to pull out both bakkies, everyone, Vet Books members and villagers alike, cheered loudly. It was a beautiful moment of people coming together from different backgrounds, ethnicities and ways of living, and rejoicing together over a shared victory. We were very relieved to get going, and from then on, the drivers were extra vigilant to prevent us from getting stuck again. We wasted a lot of valuable time that was meant to be spent on the road that day, so we made the decision to push through to still get to Bukoba. It meant that we ate dinner on the road and the drivers had to push and swop quite a few times, and eventually (at half past three the morning) we got to our next camping site. We aren’t planning on doing that again!

Since we set up camp in the pitch-black darkness, we could only appreciate the beauty of our campsite the next morning. We were on one of the beaches of Lake Victoria, and it was breath-taking! It gave the illusion of being on an island, with coconut trees, rocks and waves dancing across the shoreline. The water spanned the horizon, sometimes calm, sometimes making chopping movements. It was here that we spent the next day recuperating: the bakkies needed to get a bit of maintenance, our food supplies had to be replenished and we needed to do some serious washing of our clothes! After all the chores were done, we spent the rest of the night on the campsite’s deck, enjoying the view and getting to know the owner of the facility, Mary.

In light of the political instability going on in Uganda and after a lot of deliberation, we decided to rather forego our visit to the country. It was a difficult decision to make and we hesitated quite a bit, but when they deployed the Ugandan army into Kampala, we made the call. We hope that the next committee will be able to visit their university in two years’ time.

The morning of the 18th we hit the road very early to cover 559 kilometres all the way to Kigoma. It was a full day of driving and we only got to Jacobsen’s Beach by nightfall. The next day was used to do much needed repairs on one of the bakkies. Once again, we were very lucky to be staying at a beautiful campsite, this time at Lake Tanganyika. The lake isn’t nearly as big as Lake Victoria, but it is very deep and every bit as stunning. After getting the bakkie back good as new and finishing off admin work and upkeep of our campsite, we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the lake. We ended the day off by enjoying the sun setting over the lake, casting golden flecks that were dancing over the water. It was an awesome sight to behold. The next day, due to not going into Uganda, we had an off day to explore the town of Kigoma and buy some souvenirs. The next morning, we were very sad to be leaving and promised ourselves to one day return. The next two days were spent traveling the western side of Tanzania all the way down ta Sumbawanga

The 23rd we travelled across a border into Zambia and got to Kapishya Hot Springs through some beautiful rocky scenery along the way. Kapishya must have been one of the most idyllic spots on our trip so far. The place has hot springs which feed into the warmest, purest natural pool. We had the privilege to swim in it and bask in its warmth! It is truly amazing to see the wonders of nature at work.

The 24th to the 26th the Vet Books team got to spend time in one of the wildest, most remote places in Zambia: North Luangwa National Park. We got to see various aspects of the park management and how much energy they put into conserving and protecting the area. It was spectacular to have witnessed the sheer passion the staff of the park have towards its animals and its natural environment. These people literally give their lives to protect this wildest and most beautiful Zambian fauna and flora. It was a special treat to see, as conservation at this level is literally what the Vet Books mission strives to achieve.

The last week and few days have provided a lot of highs and lows, and every day we are aware of the fact that this is a very big adventure. We are thankful for the opportunity that has been given to us, and aim to make as big a difference on the last leg of the trip as is possible.

Second week blog post

The next three days of our journey was focused on getting to our Zambian charities located all the way in South Luangwa. The 4th we traversed 700 kilometres on the Great Eastern Road of Zambia to a small town called Mfuwe. Mfuwe is a vibrant community located a scarce rock throw away from the mighty Luangwa river, surrounded by world-renowned lodges and conservation organisations. Its people were perpetually friendly and its animals unapologetically wild. Just on our way to and from our campsite we saw hippo’s, giraffe, puku’s, elephants, impala, and a range of colourful, striking birds. Among the conservation organisations located in the area are Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust and Conservation South Luangwa. We set out on the 5th of January to visit them.

Conservation South Luangwa (CSL) was our first stop. Dr Mwamba Sichande, their resident veterinarian, was unfortunately on leave, but George, responsible for anti-poaching and logistics, welcomed us warmly. He told us all about the important work they do in the environment, for the people and the animals. They work closely with the Zambian government to ensure that conservation is a priority in South Luangwa. They actively work to decrease poaching, which is an unfortunate reality in their area. They have an impressive dog unit used to sniff out almost anything if needed. Dr Mwamba Sichande is available to be called out for any wild cases and often works to save animals from fatal snare traps. They aim to empower the people of the surrounding communities by developing strategies to prevent the freely roaming elephants from destroying their farm crops. They also donate the snare traps they collect to the locals, who have developed skilful ways to turn the cruel contraptions into beautiful jewellery that they sell to tourists to make a living. 

We were very impressed with all that we saw. Conservation South Luangwa is an impeccable example of what it looks like when humans, animals and the environment protect one another in a sustainable way that allows them to live in harmony together. We gave them the donations we had collected for them in the previous two years, and we felt thankful that we could help this organisation to continue with their good work.

Next on our agenda was Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust. The dirt roads on the way reminded us that we were well and truly in Africa. Steve Tolan and his guide drove out to guide us through the last bit, which was particularly wild. While we were following them, they stopped to track on foot whatever the vultures above were circling, as poaching was a possibility and they needed to investigate it. Luckily no poaching was discovered, but we were treated with a rare sight to behold on foot. Not even 500 metres off the road we spotted a pack of 15 wild dogs eyeing a herd of buffalo right behind them. What a find! All smiles, we climbed back into the cars and in no time, we got to their headquarters. Anna, the director of Chipembele, met us with a big smile and three baboons tailing her. A smaller one jumped into her arms as she welcomed us. As Anna and Steve showed us their rehabilitation centre, we had fun with the baboons that had no problem with interacting with us. There were also a lot of monkeys, but they were more wary of us. After a refreshing ice-cold glass of water (the African sun was particularly warm that day), Anna showed us her vibrant classroom and their showcase room, both of which were stunning to see. It was obvious that a lot of time, energy and funds went into them. She explained to us that Chipembele is focused on teaching children of the community about conservation and its importance. It is a long-term commitment and investment into South Luangwa’s children to slowly change the way the community sees wild animals and the environment. She herself gives class here at headquarters, but she also has six mobile teaching units that actively go into the community’s schools to make sure that even more children get the opportunity to learn of conservation. We resonate with Chipembele’s mission, as we also feel that long-term commitment is needed to make a sustainable difference. Anna and Steve were happy to receive the items we collected for them and we were happy that we could contribute to their great cause.

The next few days were dedicated to travel through the last bit of Zambia to get to the Tanzanian border. On the 6th we drove the exact same 700 km back to Lusaka, but it went by a bit faster than the first time. The 7th was used to drive to Mpika, and due to 660 km and very bad roads, we only arrived after dark. The 8th we finally got to the border crossing over to Tanzania, the next country on our list. The border was clean and relatively organised, but it still took us three and a half hours to cross it. Immediately after crossing it, our phones all set the time to one hour later than it was back in Zambia. Mind-boggling time zones! There was an appreciable difference between the Zambian and Tanzanian people and their ways of living. The rest of the road to our campsite in Mbeya was spent gazing out the windows to take in the first scenes and landscapes of the new country we were about to explore.

The past few days of intense driving really depleted our energy reserves, so the off day on the 9th of January could not come at a better time. We spent the day exploring Mbeya and its markets. None but a few of the locals knew any English, so it was an interesting day of communication! The markets were completely packed with people, so for safety’s sake we travelled as a unit between shops. By the end of the day everyone was pleased with the “poeie” (our own word for souvenirs) they collected. 

The 10th of January, well rested and refocused on our mission, we set out very early to get to our next destination: Morogoro. It was a full day of driving, but it must have been one of the most stunning roads we got to drive on yet. We drove on a mountain pass that went on and on for kilometres, providing us with abundant, ever-changing views of beautiful mountainous nature. We ended up descending 1000 metres at the end of the pass!

As we got there quite late in the evening, the night at Morogoro went by swiftly. Before we knew it, it was the morning of the 11th and we were headed to our next university: Sokoine University of Agriculture. The university was located at the edge of Morogoro city, with mountains spanning the horizon and creating an ethereal atmosphere. The Faculty of Veterinary Sciences was a beautiful sight. Everyone there was semi-formally dressed, students and staff alike. They were neat, presentable and relatively well versed in speaking English. We could immediately sense that they were proud to belong to the faculty, to study what they did. We visited both the final years’ and fourth years’ classes and Gerhard told them about what Vet Books for Africa did. He also told them about the International Veterinary Students Association. The students were keen to listen and had quite a few questions to ask. After the presentation, we spent some time conversing with the students and handing out Vet Books bracelets. It was interesting to hear from them how our curricula differed; their degree was only five years while ours were six. The modules they had were tailored to the needs of the animals and people of Tanzania, as ours were to South Africa’s. They were very grateful to receive the books and equipment we had for them. Our group became fast acquaintances with both the students and the doctors, and when it was time to leave, it was with lengthy and heartfelt goodbyes. We wanted to stay for longer, but we still had to drive 520 km on the same day to get to Singida by night fall. With the moon already high in the sky, we arrived at Singida. Content with the day’s events at the university, we had a restful evening.

On the 12th of January we travelled 460 km from Singida to Mwanza with the hope of doing our second Covid-19 test at 13h00. We would need the results to get into Uganda. Unfortunately, we could not get there on time and had to reschedule our testing for the next morning. We were fortunate to have a campsite directly next to Lake Victoria, which was a beautiful sight to behold. The next morning, we set out to be at the hospital the moment it opened, so that we could get the tests done and dusted. How differently the day turned out! We estimated that the tests would be done, by the latest, at noon. As we had the day off from driving, we were excited to explore Lake Victoria on a boat afterwards. What should have taken two hours, took a whopping six hours to complete. First the system was down, then it took a really long time to register our unique test codes. Then we had trouble to get to a bank to draw money, as they did not accept card payments. Finally, the tests were done, which is not a particularly pleasant experience. By the end of it we were all quite exhausted and a bit negative. At least, with the sun only setting at seven o’clock, we had quite a bit of time to still set sail. Excited and armed with strong sunscreen and quite a few cameras, we climbed on the boat and enjoyed the beauty of Lake Victoria for three glorious hours. We saw fish jump out of the water and birds dive into it. We appreciated the different islands and waved to the children on them, who excitedly waved back. Two of our team members, Zandré and Pieter, tried hard to catch fish, but unfortunately none of them wanted to bite. Nonetheless, when the boat took us back to land, we were content and satisfied.

We are thankful for the new memories that have been made in the last week and few days, and the difference we could make in Conservation South Luangwa, Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust and Sokoine University of Agriculture. We look forward to what comes next!

First week blog post

I almost can’t believe I’m typing this, but herewith starts our first blog post of the trip! Despite all the various challenges we faced in the midst of a global pandemic, we are incredibly grateful to say we are on our way to make a difference in the lives of many African veterinary students!

On the 27th of December we arrived at Xander’s house in Pretoria to start packing and working out logistics of the trip. Packing all the boxes of veterinary books, equipment and wish list items for the various universities and charities we were to visit on the trip was extremely gratifying. It was proof of two years’ worth of hard work that went into this endeavour and it was a promise of the difference we were about to make.

We felt a lot of trepidation with all the uncertainty going on in South Africa regarding COVID-19, but we trusted that somehow our trip would still be possible. With this in mind, we moved forward with our plans and went for COVID-19 testing on the 28th. This was a nerve-wracking experience, but we got through it as a team. We got our results back the next day and thankfully all were negative – we set out for the great journey ahead without further adieu. Our Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, Professor Dietmar Holm, sent us away with a bottle of champagne and words of goodwill for our trip.

After 97 km of driving, our first stop was at Rhino Pride Foundation near Bela-Bela in Limpopo. There we spoke with Dr Jana Pretorius about the importance of protecting our rhino’s while interacting with Adam, a four-month-old rhino orphan. While we were there, Rhino Connect graciously donated fuel to our cause which we are very thankful for! We spent the evening in Sondela Nature Reserve where, after doing some administrational and logistical work, we sat around a fire in the heart of the bushveld and let the realisation set in – after two years of planning and dreaming, it was finally becoming a reality.

The morning of the 30th we were up before the sun to pack up and get on the road as soon as possible. Unfortunately, due to South Africa’s current curfew of 9 am to 6 pm, we could only start driving at six in the morning. We had to cross a border between South Africa and Botswana and we only got there at about ten. Luckily, we got through the border effortlessly. It was just as well, as we had a long stretch all the way up to Nata. We arrived at our camp site just before the Botswana curfew of seven o’clock.

In the early hours we were abruptly woken up by rain – bucketloads of rain. We were evidently situated in a place where the tail of cyclone Chalane was moving through and were getting the brunt of it. We packed up camp as fast as physically possible, but we were still drenched once we finished. We travelled in rainy weather on very wet roads to Pandamatenga and got the pleasure to see quite a handful of elephants on the sides of the road, no more than 50 meters away. We arrived on a farm that belongs to family of Lienkie and immediately set up camp so that everything could dry out after the morning’s downpour. We then got to spend a wonderful New Year’s Eve with newfound friends.

The first day of 2021 started off great with a hearty breakfast and a relaxed packing up session, but we ran into trouble at the border between Botswana and Zambia. After a long afternoon of sorting out hiccups, we were through the border and on the road again. Luckily, we only had 177 km to drive for the day. We arrived at our camping site in Livingstone just before sunset and set up camp before doing team bonding in the form of enjoying the local beer and playing some UNO.

The 2nd of January started with buying a new tyre for the trailer, as one had succumbed to the many potholes on the roads (welcome to Africa!). For the rest of the day we drove 502 km up to Lusaka and arrived at our camping site quite late. After setting up camp, we sat around the fire and discussed our first visit that was set to happen the next day at the University of Zambia.

The next day came, and with a lot of excitement we arrived at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Zambia. We felt privileged to be in our uniform and looked forward to handing over the veterinary textbooks and equipment to the faculty. After adhering to COVID regulations of screening, sanitizing and upkeeping social distancing, we were very warmly received in their assembly hall. The dean and deputy dean of the faculty and the faculty’s librarian, as well as the student association and a handful of other students were there, all with warm smiles and friendly greetings. The dean welcomed us with a smile and made us feel instantly at ease. He spoke wise words of how important it is to live in the spirit of giving and be gracious, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. He commended us for still undertaking the trip despite all the obstacles presented to us and thanked us for our donation. After his welcoming, Gerhard gave a presentation about who we are and what we do and followed it with a presentation about the International Veterinary Student’s Association to promote veterinary student communication between the African countries.

After the assembly we took some photos and the student association gave us a tour of their faculty. It was amazing to realise that we had a lot of things in common with these students; we both agreed that second year Anatomy is gruelling, and third year Pathology can be quite intimidating. It was also heartening to hear that these students had big dreams for themselves; the president of the association, who came from the rural town of Monze, had plans to specialise as a surgeon someday. Another student told us about how he wanted to primarily work with horses.

They gave us a tour through their clinic, and it was interesting to see the differences and similarities between their clinic and our academic hospital back home. After the tour they surprised us with a meal and some local beverages, and after that we were on our way.

It was incredibly gratifying to see what the visit meant to these students. We knew we wanted to make a difference, but we had no idea that the difference we made could be so meaningful and tangible.

Only one week has passed, but we have been so enriched by the people that we have met along the way and the landscapes we have seen. We cannot wait to see what the next week holds!

While preparing for our trip ahead, we look back on the previous committee’s trip

The Vet Books Team is like a whorl wind at the moment, getting everything ready for our trip ahead. Even though circumstances are a bit shaky, we remain positive and are doing everything in our power to make sure that our trip will still make the difference it was meant to! Please read below what a previous committee member wrote about their trip two years ago. Reading it gave us fresh vigor, hope and determination to achieve all the goals we set out to achieve!

Vet Books for Africa began long before the physical trip. Most of us can remember being introduced to the project and immediately becoming enamoured by the purpose and scale of the undertaking. I distinctly remember thinking, that while the chances of getting selected were remarkably small, it would be completely silly not to apply for such an opportunity. Being chosen for the 2016 committee was an honour and a great privilege.

The 2 years leading up to the trip were exciting, yet tough. Finding time to plan, fundraise and have meetings was quite a challenge, especially given the time constraints of the veterinary curriculum and the differing schedules of students across two different academic years. What provided much of the drive to move progressively ahead were the responses we got from the faculties prior to the trip. In order to try and deliver resources that would actually be of use to the different faculties, we asked them to fill in wish lists so that we could try and acquire materials that they desperately needed. The responses we got were often surprising, and extremely humbling. We had to try our absolute best to get these faculties what they had requested.

Fast forward to the day of our departure. Most of us were already pretty knackered. Last minute sorting out of books and wrapping boxes upon boxes in black plastic bags were to blame. It absolutely bucketed down with rain the night before the departure and the canopies on the bakkies appeared to have leaked a tad. We didn’t want to travel all of that way with ruined materials, so we waterproofed as best we could, African style.

This didn’t dampen our spirit; we were suitably excited for the adventure that lay ahead. We had gotten off to a late start by default. A supplementary examination had delayed our trip, but we had prepared for this, and we were confident we would make our first stop in Bulawayo on time. Beitbridge border post on the Zim border had other ideas. We thought that the site of our travel and itinerary expert, Travis, a Zimbo himself and looking like a young Kingsley Holgate, would have made even the strictest of border officials give us an easy time. We were, however, mistaken. The trip had hardly begun and we were already brainstorming ideas of an option B in terms of where to overnighting on the very first evening, still on the South African side of the border. Eventually, and I mean, eeeeventually, we got through the border post and were on our way again. We finally reached our first destination in the pitch dark. What a start. The University of Zimbabwe was the first faculty we visited. No sooner had we unpacked our donated items, one of the faculty’s surgeons was already sorting through some of the surgical instruments in order to make up some much needed surgical sets. Crikey. Seeing that was reassuring, and we felt that we were actually were having a bit of an influence. During the tour of the faculty’s small library we found a book donated by a previous Vet Books committee. This was a nice find as it showed that material that was donated over 16 years ago was still being used by learners at the faculty. The students were so welcoming and we loved every second with them. Unfortunately time wasn’t on our side and we had to continue onwards into Zambia and towards our first charity. On the way out we passed through the anatomy hall. Seeing the students hard at graft in front of the various skeletons took us back to late nights during 2nd year, a time that none of us particularly missed.

We crossed the mighty Kariba dam wall on route to Zambia. Unfortunately we were yet again met with border trouble. But nothing that hours of Ukulele and hacky sack couldn’t take your mind off. When travelling in Zambia, and most of Africa for that matter, it really does help having somebody with you that knows practically the half of the continent. Ayla’s family helped us out with some accommodation, in a rather beautiful setting, a fish farm in Kafue. Some of us spent a good portion of the evening frogging in some of the flooded flat areas. We saw some really interesting species and were having a great time before we realised that the area was being irrigated with pig shit. Worth it though. Some of us took advantage of the wonderful weather and slept outside that evening. All kinds of trickery were employed to adequately deploy our mosquito nets in a satisfactory fashion. We were greeted in the morning by a courting display by two African Fish Eagles.

We experienced our first bout of rainfall while travelling to our next overnight location. Some of the locals had told us that we had brought the rains with us and this made us rather cheery. We had a well-deserved rest but woke up to some disgruntled camp staff. When we went to investigate what all the fuss was about we saw the culprit; a large vine snake. We helped the staff usher it off into the bush and into safety. It was also just outside this camp where we managed to first get our hands on local vetkoek and the smallest, yet most delicious mangoes you could ever imagine. 

We visited our first charity in Zambia, the Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust. They do some amazing work with the local communities in terms of conservation education. We were shown the little education centre they have built which was full of different seeds from different species of tree, bones from different animals and all types of excellent educational tools. One quote that was written largely on one of the display bored that has stuck with me, and hopefully too with the many kids that walk through the centre; “We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.” Barbara Ward. The trust is also involved with pupil sponsorship programmes and wildlife rehabilitation. Most of the committee were befriended by a little rescue baboon who excitedly jumped from person to person. His friendliness to some of us seemed rather over the top, and I reckon he at times mistook a few of us for an available female member of his own species. Nonetheless, his energy had us in stitches. We also met the resident hippo. Never before have we been so close to a hippo on foot. Even though it was pretty tame, we still had to be careful. As we continued on our trip towards Malawi, we caught the site of a beautiful South Luangwa leopard, while stopping for a lunch and pee break. How’s that for luck?

We arrived at our second charity, the Thuma forest reserve. Just outside of the main office were pillars of hundreds of wire snares, collected on the reserve over the years. “More sweat, less poaching!” is the reserve’s motto. The next morning we were greeted by the anti-poaching rangers standing at attention. We were able to accompany them on a walk through the reserve and chatting to them about a variety of issues was an eye opener. We were able to top up our water bottles and quench our thirst at a natural spring in the reserve; what a treat. We unfortunately didn’t get a glimpse of the elephants that roam the reserve. This is one of the few areas in Malawi where elephants still roam free. However, the views of the mountains and forested areas and the quaint little mud huts that served as our overnight retreats were highlights enough. Our next stop was the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR).As this faculty was established in 2013 and only started their first academic programme in 2014, we were the first committee to visit the school.

It would be worth pointing out that before embarking on the trip, the staff at LUANAR were very sceptical about our project and were very hesitant to acknowledge our legitimacy. After numerous attempts to reassure the faculty, they still believed that we would be yet another group to only deliver false promises. The day before we were due to arrive at the faculty, we happened to bump into a vet at the local grocery store. The only reason he decided to approach us and chat was because some of the committee were wearing Hills branded shirts. He laughed and told us that the faculty still did not believe we were coming but he assured us that he would chat to some of the staff that he knew and make them aware of our presence in the capital.

I cannot recall the reason, but we arrived at LUANAR late, probably about 45 minutes to an hour late. Of all the faculties we kept waiting, it had to be the one that doubted we would ever show face. Murphy. To add insult to injury, we got hopelessly lost on the campus and it soon became apparent that some of the folk on campus weren’t even aware of a veterinary school. After following some directions from passers-by, we eventually found where we were supposed to be; a small hall full of tables and chairs and waiting staff and students. We felt terrible for making them wait, but I think they were overjoyed and relieved to finally see us. We actually did exist and we did infect arrive. The hand over was a great one. We chatted to many excited and thankful students and staff. They were really appreciative of what we had brought. We left the hall and made way to a separate location where a feast was prepared. Some of the local dishes they had prepared were brilliant. After a full belly and a successful handover, we were off and continued our journey to Nkhotakota, on the banks of Lake Malawi.

We met the Malawi Missions crew there; another charity group made up primarily of Onderstepoort students. We slept on the beach and woke up to sunrise over the lake. We had heard stories of the Lake’s size and beauty, but many of us were not prepared for its grandeur. Not long after we were up and about we were playing football and Frisbee with all the local kids. The joy on the kids’ faces was just priceless.

As we continued north, local vetkoek with banana and peanut butter made up our staple for luncheon. I’ve never really been a fan of banana on anything, but man those little meals hit the spot like few things could. At the northern end of the Lake, we managed to navigate up some pretty hairy stretches of road to our next destination, up on the side of a mountain; Mushroom Farm. The place has such a chilled-out hippy vibe about it, and the crapper was just about the most picturesque long drop we’d had ever seen! We set up our tents with a lovely view heading out towards the lake. It was really nice to catch a bit of a break and relax for a little bit. Some of use managed to take a hike and witness some surreal views of Lake Malawi at sunrise. We made most of our down time before we had to be back on the road again, making our exit from Malawi.

We crossed the border into Tanzania and drove for lengthy stretches at a time. We eventually got to the veterinary faculty in Morogoro. Morogoro lies at the base of the Uluguru Mountains which makes the backdrop of the campus absolutely beautiful. We were privileged enough to sit in on an infectious diseases lecture. This was a chance occurrence but one which left a huge impression on us. The first thing that we noticed was the dress code that students adhered to. All students looked smart and extremely professional. None of the plakkies and baggy shorts we see on campus back home. Also, each and every student was paying full attention to the lecturer, not a single cell-phone or laptop serving as a distraction, not because the students didn’t have them, but because they were interested and respectful enough to keep them pocketed or in their bags. Again, something we have never seen back home. Their attention to the lecturer was affirmed by the intelligent and thoughtful questions posed by the students after the lecturer had finished his presentation. These guys were whole-heartedly yearning to be veterinarians. Two of the students were nice enough to take us to a hotel for some refreshing drinks. It was such a brilliant day.

Bush surgery was performed on the small of Travis’ rather hairy back that evening. He had somehow developed an abscess that needed attention. I was pretty gutted we didn’t have the time or budget to visit the Ngorongoro Crater, but at least I got to see a crater of sorts, even if in the bottom of a human’s back. Quite chuffed that some of us had practiced some surgical skills, we up and left for Arusha; albeit with Travis still whining in pain. Jokes aside, that thing looked hideous, I probably would have been sobbing in the foetal position in the back seat pleading for morphine, so don’t feel bad Travis. After passing several Sisal plantations along the side of the road on our way to Moshi, Travis’ spirits (along with the rest of our’s) soon improved upon the sight of Mt Kilimanjaro.

It was here in Moshi that Chris and I decided to chance our hand at negotiating a Jack Fruit. For those who have never heard of a Jackfruit, they are massive watermelon shaped fruit. The skin is green in colour and is covered with multiple pimple-like tubercles. The flesh is yellow and contains multiple large seeds. They can grow to sizes about twice the size of an average watermelon. We had absolutely zero idea what to do with it. After Chris managed to carve up some of it with a knife we gave the flesh a try. This was done with some hesitance, as multitudes of white sticky latex presented itself while cutting it up; a common sign to us vets in training as a trait of toxicity. Alas, it had to be safe, as they were being sold everywhere to be eaten, in markets and on the sides of the roads. Research on the net will tell you that the fruit is sweet and has subtle pineapple and banana like flavouring. It has also been compared to the taste of pulled pork, especially when cooked. This was not our experience. Far from it. We figured we may have tried our luck on a specimen that was not yet ripe.

Sadly, we had to lose sight of the mountain and carry on across the border into Kenya. As soon as we got through the border we began to see the Maasai people, donning their patterned (usually checkered) Shukas. We arrived in the capitol. Travis thought that “Nairobi” meant “sleep in your tent with the door open during rainfall” in Swahili. Let’s just say that he woke up floating and had to retire to the nearby gazeebo for some shut eye. We made our way to the faculty in Nairobi and we had a very successful hand over. We are spoiled back at OP with fancy equipment and gadgets in the skills lab and it was very humbling to see what some of these other African faculties use to gain practical skills. At OP we are lucky to have state of the art equipment to facilitate learning such as the “Breeding Betsy” to practice Pregnancy diagnoses for cattle. Despite their simple means of instruction and practice, I am sure that they still get a lot of learning out of it. The students really impressed us with their knowledge and keen sense of enthusiasm. Some of the students took us around town and to some markets in the city. We cruised around in the buses that transport the locals around town. The best way to describe these buses would be to call them “party busses”. The interiors were decorated with all types of flashy and colourful materials and images with different colour lighting and loud music pounding away. Fold down tv screens playing music videos were also all over the place. Some of the Vet Books team remarked at how cool this must be to use this form of travel regularly. The Kenyan students were quick to suggest the opposite. After a long day of graft on campus, the last thing you feel like doing is getting into one of these things. After they mentioned this, I could imagine the busses to be a recipe for a massive headache and a bad mood. But I guess under the right circumstances they’d elevate spirits. We were on our way again and passed numerous massive tea plantations as we headed towards the Ugandan border.

We arrived in Kisumu (still in Kenya) and caught our first glimpse of Lake Victoria. We had the opportunity to relax for the evening with some live music, Kenyan grub, and more than a few Tusker and White Cap Lagers. Chris was on form as he danced away in front of the stage. Chris isn’t really usually the party type but man was he having a time. What a spectacle. We will always remember the joy of that chap’s face that night. Safe to say we all had a brilliant evening and we even made some conversation with some female Dutch teachers. The boys in the group were either in relationships or had next to no Casanova skills. So it remained just casual conversation.

The next morning was a bit slow from what I recall. The beers had accomplished their goal. We took a quick trip out on the lake and met many a curious hippo after which we had to make tracks. We crossed the equator which was a notable milestone of the trip. We eventually got through the Ugandan border and made our way, still rather “Jinjarly”, to a beautiful place called Jinja. Some argue that the river here, leading from Lake Victoria, is the source of the Nile. Whether it is or not is a technicality. We still thought it was pretty cool that the water here eventually lands up feeding the longest river in Africa, and possibly the world (again, scientists argue), so we took a plunge in it. It is also in this town that decided to buy some Rolexs.

You are probably thinking, why the hell would a bunch of broke students be even thinking about buying expensive watches? Well yes, I would agree, but these weren’t watches, and were actually rather affordable. They were a Ugandan dish that one might refer to as a type of wrap. Basically, vegetables like onion, tomato and peppers (all sliced paper thin with a bloody panga) are fried up with eggs to form a flat omelette type of story. This is then surrounded by a Chapati (which is flat bread made from flour water and oil) to give you the magic that is the Rolex. We were apprehensive at first. But we soon realised they trumped anything Mugg n Bean could offer. Interestingly, the idea of the Rolex initially started in the Busoga region of Uganda but quickly spread to the areas surrounding Makerere University (the University we would be going to), where the students who needed a quick, cheap meal due to time constraints. The name Rolex comes from “rolled eggs”.

At the most northern location of the trip, and with bellies pretty chuffed, we headed south east through to veterinary faculty. Unfortunately, due to staff strikes, there were no students on campus and very little staff. However, we had the great privilege of visiting the “Gorilla doctor” centre, part of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. Just being there was inspiring and allowed us to dream as to what differences can be made to the world as a veterinarian.

After manoeuvring through some pretty hairy Kampala traffic (where it’s every car and bike for themselves), we headed towards the border to enter Tanzania for the second time. We crossed the equator again as we made our way southwards. During this section of the trip we began to see large numbers of Ankole-watusi cattle; a breed with massive horns. This was the first time many of us had seen them. Ayla’s continental contacts again helped out us out with some accommodation on a sugar cane farm. Funnily enough, we had sundowners on the banks of Kagera River, which is disputed by some to be the actual source of the Nile. Unfortunately this river was the also the source ofsome pretty grim sightings during the Rawandan genocide. Numerous bodies had been thrown into the river and were sighted large distances down the river. We drove around one of the farms with large herds of Ankole cattle and man where they impressive. This was when we had the only vehicle trouble of the whole trip; just one flat tire. Once this was changed we were on the way back to our accommodation for the night. We spent the evening catching and attempting to identify knightjar species. For those that are unfamiliar with this genus of bird, they are extremely hard to tell apart without hearing their call. We were soon on the road again and were keeping snug to Lake Victoria for a number of kilometres. It was along this stretch of road that we decided to celebrate a milestone of sorts, albeit that it was a bit belated from what I recall. We had passed the halfway mark of the trip; at least in terms of planned number of days. We had been lugging a bottle of champagne around, if forget where on Earth we got that from, but we had it. We shared this amongst ourselves on a rocky outcrop overlooking the great lake in celebration of what had already been an unforgettable trip. After finishing the bottle and reminiscing of what had already been, we had to hit the road again. The drivers consumed only the smallest of sips and were fit to carry on their duties. We had to make a few unplanned and completely random stopovers as time and direction did not always play ball.

One of nearly all of our most vivid memories of the entire trip was the supper that Chris so kindly prepared for us. Somebody had bought some prized beef cold meat slices to be enjoyed after a few days of some pretty bland quickly prepared starch rich food. Chris quickly identified this to be a key ingredient for what he was going to prepare. The man eats mouldy bread (with the mouldiest sections on the inside of the saamie so he doesn’t see it), but for some reason, we had high hopes. Indeed, we should have known better. Two minute noodles, baked beans, and just about anything else that was taking up space, was added to the meal. Look, it probably wasn’t the most well-constructed dish, but it filled the belly and the look on a pleased Chris’ face was enough to keep anybody content.

We had a long drive ahead of us the next day but the hours passed by in quick fashion as the views were exquisite. We drove through and area known as Baobab valley. As the name suggests, hundreds of Baobab trees littered the landscape contributing to some breath-taking views. Other sections were dominated by stretches of beautiful Miombo woodlands. This drive was definitely a treat. We overnighted at a coffee farm and were kept company by several calling Ground Hornbills.

We entered North eastern Zambia and made our way down to Kapishya Hot springs. The tiredness from several days travel seemed to ease away as we lazed around in the warm blue water. We were then lucky enough to visit Kasanka national park and were privileged to lay eyes on the population of bats that are responsible for the largest land mammal migration on earth. Every year, from October to December, up to ten million Straw-coloured fruit bats migrate from the Congo basin in search for fruit, which usually start developing after the first rains in the area. They congregate in a small area of Mushitu forest in the park. They darken the skies as they leave at dusk every evening to feed and return at dawn to roost in the trees. Scientists estimate that they collectively consume about 5000 tons of fruit every night. The sight of these bats was quite incredible and is one of the few times in my life where I was left with a lump in my throat. Everything for those few minutes just seem to escape from the mind and my eyes filled up with tears. What an amazing place this big ball we live on is.

We proceeded down to Mkushi to yet again utilise Ayla’s popularity with the continent. Here, our bellies were spoilt with divine cuisine and we had all just about forgot about what they had experienced just a few nights back at the hand of Christopher. We headed off to the Zambian Faculty in Lusaka. Unfortunately the students were on holiday, but some had made the effort to come through for the handover and showed us around. One thing that I will always remember about this faculty was the excitement of the librarian who had now just received his new stock for the shelves.  The buildings themselves also reminded us of our faculty back home; same brick design.

We crossed the border back into Zim at the mighty Victoria falls. Even though the Zambezi was not particularly full, the falls were still a sight to behold. Who did we stay with? You guessed it, Ayla’s mates. As we headed south we stopped over at Hwange National Park and visited Painted Dog Conservation. This group does some amazing work in helping to protect this endangered species. Working with the local communities forms the cornerstone of their efforts.

Our last evening was spent in Bulawayo before we made our way back to OP. Beitbridge was luckily far kinder to us this time. Perhaps Travis was more Kingsley like. Forty two days and 13 000 kms later we arrived back where we started. We were all full of mixed emotions; sad that this amazing journey had come to an end, yet extremely grateful that we had arrived back safely. I think we were super chuffed that we actually managed to achieve what we had set out to do.

Thinking back the trip almost four years on, other priceless moments include:

  • Chris drying his underwear on the dashboard between destinations and attempting to get away with a faculty handover in a smart official Vet Books for Africa khaki shirt and boardshorts. Luckily, a few of us intervened and helped him out with some semi clean trousers that he could wear instead of the lumo surfer wear
  • Pieter’s long argument with a traffic officer in Zambia after a dodgy whatsapp video of him “crossing a solid white line”, and Travis’ response to their refusal to reason logically. I genuinely thought I would be spending my first night in prison in Zambia of all places.
  • Chris’ underwhelming dinner. I think I have already spoken about this. But worth another mention.
  • Jess’ face when seeing Chris’ dinner containing the prized beef slices.
  • Wian grilling Gareth over the Walkie-talkie about his absolute failure with his love life
  • One night where Travis, Pieter, Wian and myself stayed up until all hours of the night ridiculing one another and talking about all types of nonsense. Pretty much all of us were crying with laughter at multiple stages. Really a memorable one.
Vet Books for Africa 2018 committee

If you are able to make a donation to aid our trip and enhance the difference we are making, please feel free to contact our Chairman, Gerhard Gregory, at 071 051 9626 to make a contribution.

The EXPEDITION project interview #02

Vet Books for Africa has another wonderful opportunity to talk with the cool people of the EXPEDITION project tomorrow, on the 24th of August, at 1 pm EDT/5 pm GMT/ 7 pm CAT! Our awesome leader, Gerhard Gregory will be informing you what we have been up to behind the scenes in preparation for our trip.

To refresh your memory, the EXPEDITION project is an amazing organisation that was started back in 2011. They work to connect projects, communities, ideas and individuals with each other, to share their successes and even help them further with contacts, expertise and funding.

They are an amazing group that connects inspiring, sustainable projects with each other and with the resources they need, and it shares their stories with the world. Go and have a look at their website:

If you want to watch our interview tomorrow and have amazing access to other wildlife specialists and project videos, join their Facebook group: 

To ask live questions during the interview, follow this link:

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World Veterinary Day 2020

According to the World Veterinary Association environmental, human and animal health are inextricably linked. Every veterinarian will know the truth of this and how important the concept of “one health” is.

Today is World Veterinary Day 2020, and the theme is so relevant: Environmental protection for improving animal and human health.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is spot on when they say that veterinarians play an integral role in human and environmental health, in addition to caring for animals.

Environmental protection is to protect the natural environment, to conserve natural resources and the existing natural habitats we have. It is also to reverse harmful trends and repair damage already done.

Environmental protection is something that needs to mean something to every one of us, as we all live on this beautiful planet and are well aware that we only have one such like it. Environmental protection is taking the responsibility of protecting our planet and all that is on it today to make sure that it is still there tomorrow.

Environmental protection invariably links with conservation if we think of the animals that inhabit our beautiful earth!

Vet Books for Africa is empowering veterinarians in Africa so they can be even better ambassadors of One Health. We want veterinarians up in Africa to look after wildlife, production and domestic animals to the best of their abilities. At the end of the day this is meaningful work, as it also improves the health of people!

On our trip we will be visiting conservation sanctuaries along the way and helping them in any way we can. We aim to make people aware about the work they are doing and encourage them to support them in their fight to conserve animals and the environment they live in.

We will also be visiting schools along the way where we plan to teach children about the benefits of looking after animals, of being aware of the importance of animals and how important it is to look after the habitat they live in. We will convey to them how we need to live as one with our animals, especially in times like these where wildlife trade and encroaching on the environment are realities in our world.

Environmental protection is a very broad field with many diverse aspects to it that affects the whole world, but we will make sure to do our part in promoting and advancing conservation in Africa to protect their animals. As it is directly linked to human and environmental health, we know that it is worth the fight and ends up making a very big difference in the world.

Happy World Veterinary Day 2020!

The EXPEDITION project live stream

The EXPEDITION project is a very cool organisation that was started back in 2011. They strive to connect projects, communities, ideas and individuals with each other, to share their successes and even help them further with contacts, expertise and funding.

They have collectively traveled 32054 km, visited 353 towns and 152 projects – with the help of 405 hospitality partners, they try to meet and understand the challenges communities face.

They are an amazing group that connects inspiring, sustainable projects with each other and with the resources they need, and it shares their stories with the world. Go and have a look at their website:

VBFA has the great opportunity to be a guest on one of the EXPEDITION project’s Live streams on the 18th of April! Our chairperson, Gerhard Gregory, will be doing live video and Q&A session.

If you want to watch us tonight and have amazing access to other wildlife specialists and project videos, join their facebook group: 

Win a HESC Wildlife Experience

Win a wildlife conservation experience! The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), a partner of Vet Books for Africa (VBFA), focuses on wildlife conservation through the breeding of vulnerable and threatened species (in particular the cheetah), the rehabilitation of rhinos that have become victims of poaching, releasing animals back into the wild and creating an awareness of wildlife conservation. Cheetahs and rhinos are only some of the different species you’ll encounter at HESC! 

Read more about what HESC does on this link – 

Stand a chance to WIN a 5-day wildlife conservation experience at HESC, valued at R10 400. This includes accommodation, food, assisting in caring for the HESC animals and observing veterinary procedures that may occur during your stay.

This is a great opportunity for any veterinary student to gain valuable wildlife experience and to learn about the animals’ diet, behaviour and veterinary interventions.

* To win this Wildlife Conservation Experience we ask that each participant raises USD 500 (around R7 500) for the Vet Books for Africa initiative. 

* This can be done in any way, from cash to EFT (for EFT use your name as reference) 

* It does not have to be one single amount, but can be multiple smaller amounts adding up to USD 500. 

* The competition will run throughout the year and every student has the opportunity to use the entire year to raise the money. 

* There can be more than one winner. Every single student who reaches the USD 500 goal will have the opportunity to join in this incredible experience. 

* Global Giving is our online crowd funding platform where you can easily donate from the comfort of your home by scanning a barcode. We encourage all participants to use this as a fundraising tool for easier and faster transaction. (Once again, make sure the person donating puts YOUR NAME as a note so that we know the money came from your fundraising efforts). 

For any questions contact Xander van Eeden on either: or 072 820 1834

Wildlife trafficking and its role in the spread of COVID-19

As the world faces a horrible pandemic in the form of COVID-19, times are uncertain in this global crisis. Governments across the world call for lockdown of their countries. Businesses, schools, institutions everywhere are closed down for the time being. Cities and towns are silenced as everyone is called to stay at home.

Yet, conservation doesn’t go on lockdown even when the world is upside down. We honor the field rangers, veterinarians, technicians, anti-poaching staff and everyone else that are involved in the noble act of conserving our earth’s beautiful animals.

During this pandemic focus is put even more on wildlife trafficking, which many authorities say play a role in the spread of the corona virus across countries. Wildlife trafficking is a deadly, criminal business which involves the unlawful harvest of and trade in live animals and plants, or products that come from them. Wildlife is traded as skins, leather goods or souvenirs; as food or traditional medicine; as pets and various other miscellaneous forms. Wildlife trafficking causes a serious threat to wild animals and biodiversity; and what makes it seriously unacceptable is the fact that it is wholly unsustainable. It irrevocably harms wildlife populations and pushes endangered species toward extinction. We are currently going through the fastest rate of species lost ever in history!
Wild animal trades can lead to outbreak of diseases across countries via wet markets. Wet markets are markets that sell live poultry, fish, reptiles and mammals of every kind. There has been reports of the corona virus breaking out at a wet market in Wuhan and this has raised some concerns regarding the consumption of wild meat possibly transmitting the virus. For this reason, China has recently banned the consumption of wildlife animals and thus closed down wet markets all over the country.

But wet markets also sell all kinds of other fresh produce like fruits and vegetables. Across the world, wet markets are an important part of the local economy and an important source of food for people. There is also no proof that the virus is transmitted through eating any meat. It can, however, be transmitted in unhygienic conditions by someone that is COVID-19 positive and handling the produce. Current evidence shows that although corona viruses look to be stable at low and freezing temperatures for a certain time, food hygiene and good food safety practices can prevent their transmission. Thus the outbreak at Wuhan has only highlighted the common unhygienic conditions of wet markets that should be addressed.

China has now decided to reopen its wet markets again, much to the relieve of the people, and rightly so. Wet markets is not the real problem; unhygienic conditions together with the trade of wildlife is. Problems arise when the legal market is used by criminals to sell trafficked animals, and where wildlife is kept, sold and butchered in unhygienic conditions.

While China has banned wildlife’s consumption, it has not prohibited its use in medicine, and that is still a huge problem. Bear bile and rhino horn are now recommended to treat COVID-19. Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid that can help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease and can even be anti-inflammatory, but there is no evidence that it can treat COVID-19. According to the World Health Organisation, there exists no cure against the virus at this stage. Rhino horn is made of keratin, the same protein found in human nails or hair. It has not been proven to have medicinal value in curing viruses.

As the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, this is an opportune time to put the spotlight on illegal wildlife trafficking; highlighting how it plays a role in spreading diseases worldwide and demanding of authorities and governments to take action against the awful crime of the cruel trade of animals.

As of now, we aren’t sure what will happen to our trip that is scheduled to take place at the end of the year. We will take all factors into consideration when deciding what the way forward should be. For now, we will continue to plan and raise funds for our trip with the most positive outlook we can muster.

If we are able to continue with our trip, we will make sure to educate the communities we come across on the repercussions of poaching, and how in the grand scheme of things, detriment of animals actually leads to the detriment of man – something that COVID-19 has made painfully obvious.

Vet Books for Africa will stay committed to its mission during these trying times. And with COVID-19 putting a spotlight on the illegal trade of wildlife, we hope that some good will come out of these tragic times and that conservationist’s voices across the world will be heard with new attention and received with more seriousness.

University Post: Sokoine University of Agriculture

Our most recent University that has confirmed to receive us is the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania!

Est. 1984

Motto: “Ardhi ni Hazina” (Land is treasure)

Chancellor: Hon. Joseph Sinde Warioba

Vice chancellor: Prof. Raphael Tihelwa Chibunda

Students: 7228

Vision: To be a leading University in the provision of quality knowledge and skills in agriculture and allied sciences.

Mission: To promote development in agriculture, natural resources and allied sectors through training, research and delivery of services.

Core values:
– Pursuit of excellence in service delivery
– Entrepreneurial and innovative spirit
– Competitive orientation
– Integrity, transparency and accountability
– Results/Achievement oriented
– Diligence on duty
– Adaptive and responsive
– Freedom of thought and expression
– Gender sensitive
– Continuous learning

The university has a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine, which has the main aim of producing qualified and practically competent veterinarians who can contribute to the development of the animal industry, public health sector, biomedical research and improvement of living standards.

We are so excited to help them out and contribute towards their aim of producing quality veterinarians!