Volunteering across the world as a veterinary nurse

Sally Bartlett is a veterinary nurse, based in the UK, who has travelled with Worldwide Experience twice; once to Vets Go Wild and once on a volunteering trip to Conserving Orphaned Rhinos. She continues to fundraise annually for a local underprivileged community in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

We caught up with her recently as she wrote the following on her experiences as a veterinary nurse travelling the world and working with wildlife on different continents. Read about her experiences below.

June 2017- Vets Go Wild, SA
“I qualified as a registered veterinary nurse in 2012 so I took this trip 5 years later in 2017. My best friend Sam originally sent me the course details for VGW and from the minute I read it I was filled with an overwhelming urge to go! From a young age, I’d always wanted to go to Africa and see animals in the wild, so the thought of combining this with the opportunity to work hands-on with them just seemed perfect. The only thing that had stopped me going before was fear… But I knew I would have Sam there by my side and I knew I couldn’t turn it down. We worked with a variety of species including rhino, giraffe, lion, antelope and buffalo. My most memorable experience was having my birthday there- I was chosen to be the person in charge of giving the intravenous reversal drugs to the giraffe under the watchful eye of Dr William Fowlds and it was the most terrifying and yet proudest moment of my life. I then spent my birthday evening around the firepit being sung to by the South African dancers on our last evening at Amakhala and it was truly magical.

May 2018 – Conserving Orphaned Rhinos at the Care for Wild Rhino Orphanage, South Africa
“After experiencing the magic of Vets Go Wild, I knew I wanted to return to Africa ASAP! Sadly, my best friend Sam couldn’t make it so I decided to go it alone! After many conversations and research with Claire at Worldwide Experience, I chose to go to Care for wild, 6 years post-qualifying. I chose them simply because I’d had such a positive experience with Worldwide Experience before, that I felt I would be supported and looked after whilst travelling solo. Plus, seeing rhinos previously in the wild had ignited my desire to help save the species as much as I could. Whilst I only work with domestic small animals in practice at home, I think Vets Go Wild and Conserving Orphaned Rhinos have definitely helped me to gain more confidence as a nurse and allowed me to successfully transfer my skills to multiple species. During my time at Conserving Orphaned Rhinos, I mainly cared for the rhino orphans, however, they did also have multiple other species on site (including small exotic cats, hippos, lions, horses and birds)

My most memorable moment was definitely assisting in the anaesthesia monitoring on an 8-week-old baby rhino called Arthur who had a machete wound injury on his back and foot, inflicted by the poachers who sadly killed his mother.”

November 2018 - Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
“Six years post-qualifying, I chose to visit Elephant Nature Park, simply because I had found a love for travelling and wanted to experience a new continent and the opportunity to work hands-on with a new species. After visiting Elephant Nature Park (and COR), I witnessed the true horrors of abuse that these animals are subject to and hence although it was a very different experience to my day-to-day job, it did mean that I was far more knowledgeable and aware of the torture animals face abroad, so I was then able to help spread the word in the veterinary community here and make sure we all help to stop it by getting the word out. If I can stop anyone from riding an elephant, then I have played a very small part in helping elephants have happier lives. My most memorable experience was seeing the physical and mental distress in person that these beautiful animals have suffered, and spending time nursing one elephant in particular called Bua Loi. It broke my heart to hear how she could be so horrifically mistreated but yet still have the forgiveness to allow me to try and help her medically.”

July 2019- Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (Primarily working with pangolins, binturongs and small wild cats, e.g., civets and leopard cats)
“7 years post qualifying, I went to visit Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. We chose this experience after researching how vulnerable Pangolins were and how acutely unaware the general population were of their existence- 99% of people I spoke to about the trip had never heard of a pangolin before. The main thing I learnt here was how negatively they respond in captivity- they are highly sensitive to stress and human contact and often die from it, so handling was kept to a bare minimum and only when strictly necessary. My most memorable experience was attempting to hand-rear a baby pangolin whose mum had sadly passed away following regular wound treatments. It was the most beautiful baby and we tried so hard to save him but sadly he died a few days later.”

January 2020- Wildlife Friends Foundation Trust (working with elephants, primates, bears, reptiles, birds and fishing cats)
“8 years post-qualifying, we visited Wildlife Friends Foundation Trust. We chose this project as it sounded very hands-on with a large variety of species to work with. Whilst there, they ran a daily walk-in clinic for local people to have free veterinary care for their domestic cats and dogs. I quickly learnt how prevalent some of the preventable diseases were in Thailand due to a lack of routine vaccination, whereas we rarely see these illnesses here in the UK as we have a standard protocol in place to avoid this.

My most memorable experience here was placing an intravenous catheter and monitoring anaesthesia on a sun bear whilst it had surgery to remove a mass in its eye. The size of its claws and teeth were pretty terrifying but thankfully we kept it asleep and the bear (and the vets/nurses) recovered safely afterwards”

Any words of wisdom for future volunteers that you would like to share?

“My only words of wisdom would be to push yourself past any pre-travelling nerves because it will all be worth it when you get there! You will grow as a person, in confidence, knowledge, strength and passion. The only thing that doesn’t grow will be your bank balance!! But in my opinion, every penny has been absolutely worth it for the incredible experiences I have been lucky to have. Roll on the next one.”

Vet Times has also posted multiple articles on Sally’s experiences, you can read them here.

If you’re a vet/vet nurse or vet tech student or graduate and would like to join Dr William Fowlds and his team on a hands-on African wildlife veterinary course: www.vetsgowild.com

or sign up for our virtual Vets Go Wild Online component – we’re currently offering 50% off. Coupon code: launchspecial50

If you would like to join Conserving Orphaned Rhinos, click here.


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