ambience: Congo rain forest
When you think of a veterinarian, you probably picture the local variety who vaccinates a dog, or bandages up a cat after it’s been in a fight. But the vet you’re about to meet is more likely to be found examining a crocodile in South America, or checking the heartbeat of an African elephant. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
William Karesh didn’t always have such exotic animals as his patients.
“I grew up on a salt marsh down in South Carolina in Charleston. And there were always animals in the neighborhood. And I think I got very attached to these orphan babies that fall out of trees. And I had blue jays and squirrels and raccoons – and I think that brought a lot of joy to my life at the time.”
Well nowadays, William Karesh is a field veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society – one of a rare but growing breed of vets who travel to remote corners of the globe to monitor the health of local wildlife.
“We’ve worked with anacondas in Venezuela. We have projects with penguins in Patagonia. We’re working with elephants in Central Africa and Sumatra. We’re doing sea turtle work in Nicaragua. So, there’s this image that all wild animals are healthy. But, if you listen to their hearts, you look at their teeth, you take a blood sample – you find out that they’ve had all these infections that they’ve survived through. So, it gives us a more realistic view of what’s really going on with wildlife.”
The goal is to use this information to help protect wildlife from human and domestic animal diseases, and from encroachment into their habitat. The job isn’t without its occupational hazards.
“Being trapped behind a tree with an elephant trying to kill me. I mean that’s sort of a memorable occasion.”
But danger often lurks in unexpected places.
“My worst animal injury to date has been – got bit on the lip from a penguin – quite painful.”
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.