Wildlife Veterinarian, Veterinary Assistant and Nurse

Some veterinarians specialise in wildlife diseases and treatments. They work in the game farm industry and in nature conservation areas such as national parks, provincial nature reserves and game reserves.

With the expansion of farming in South Africa into game or wildlife it is important that these farmers have access to trained veterinary surgeons. This career has become increasingly in demand in recent years and will continue to do so.

Wildlife veterinarians need to carry out clinical procedures on the animals, do research, and are often also involved in the management of breeding projects. Their work includes having to rehabilitate injured animals. They also play a vital role in the prevention and treatment of serious diseases that affect game, such as foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax.

South Africa’s game and wildlife industry is a multi-million rands business and animals are frequently bought, sold and transported from one part of the country to another, and sometimes to other countries as well. Wildlife veterinarians are indispensable members of the teams involved in game capturing and transportation, usually being responsible for darting the animals, often from a moving vehicle or helicopter. The capture may also require specialized procedures such as airlifting.

For example, some species of large game such as elephants may need to be moved from the herd to other suitable areas before their numbers grow too large. The wildlife vet must ensure that the animals are captured and moved with the minimum stress, so that they arrive at their destination alive and well enough to settle into their new surroundings. They then need to be introduced into their new habitat.

Most of the work is carried out by wildlife vets outdoors, working with the animals on game farms or in national or privately owned game parks. Some time may be spent in a laboratory, performing tests or doing research, in their surgery or in giving lectures at educational institutions.

Veterinary assistants may need to be on hand to prepare the darts, or to help to keep the animal cool when it is sedated. A veterinary assistant is a vital member of any veterinary team. Interacting with animals forms only part of a veterinary assistant’s work, however. Veterinary assistants support licensed veterinarians in their daily tasks. As veterinary assistants gain experience they may take on more complicated tasks, such as administering medication under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, but essentially they perform the following duties to ensure a comfortable, safe and sanitary environment:

• cleaning and maintaining holding areas
• clerical and administrative work
• feeding, exercising and grooming
• preparing and sanitizing surgery suites
• restraining and holding patients

Veterinary scientists conduct research into wildlife management and disease control.

Veterinary nurses are currently in high demand. Veterinary nurses work under the supervision of veterinarians in private practices, animal hospitals, animal shelters and at institutions where research on animals is conducted. They attend to animals, give them medicine according to prescription, assist with operations and take laboratory samples. Veterinary nurses must be able to identify, take care of and handle animals.

The veterinary nurse is usually required to combine general nursing duties with reception and basic administration work, which means making all the necessary enquiries regarding the animal’s illness and completing the required documentation. This will usually be done on a computer. This information enables veterinary surgeons to diagnose the problem and prescribe the right medicine for each animal.
They are employed by private vets as well as reps in the pet food and pharmaceutical arena.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

• National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
• National Senior Certificate meeting diploma  requirements for a diploma course (veterinary assistant)

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: BVSc - UP, at Onderstepoort, near Pretoria, This is a 6-year degree course. (Medunsa staff have been relocated to Onderstepoort).

Students of veterinary science are required to register with the SA Veterinary Council before the 1st of June of the year in which they first enrol. There is a selection process for the final year of qualifying studies.

Veterinary Assistant:
Diploma: NDip Veterinary Technology TUT
A veterinary assistant course can also be taken through UNISA. Courses covered include Veterinary Management, Anatomy and Physiology, Medical Office Management.

Many veterinary assistant programmes can be completed in less than a year.

A National Diploma in Veterinary Technology is offered by the South African Veterinary Council.
A diploma to qualify as a veterinary surgery assistant is available from Oxford Academy,

Veterinary Nurse: (see separate career)
Diploma: Veterinary Nursing - DipVetNurs. - UP, is taken over 2 years full-time, at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort, where students are expected to do clinical work, and at approved private practices.

Possible Career Paths

It is preferable for new veterinarians to work in general practice for a couple of years before moving into the wildlife field.

So far as a wildlife veterinary assistant is concerned, there is a good chance that their special skills will enable them to work their way through the ranks more quickly than their clinic counterparts, though the starting pay is traditionally lower than that of an assistant working out of a clinic. With further study later, a career as a veterinary technician can be pursued, then their job experience can be used to fulfill future internship requirements.


Veterinarians may work for SANParks and other conservation authorities, or veterinary research institutions, but more often than not they are in private practice, and make their services available as part of running their own business.

Veterinary assistants and nurses are employed by private vets as well as reps in the pet food and pharmaceutical arena.

Further Information

Faculty of Veterinary Science
University of Pretoria
Onderstepoort, 0110
Tel: (012) 529-8000 Fax: (012) 529-8300

South African Veterinary Association
47 Gemsbok Ave
Monument Park, 0181
P O Box 25033
Monument Park, 0105
Tel: (012) 346-1150 Fax: (012) 346-2929

South African Veterinary Council
P O Box 40510
Arcadia, 0007
874 Church St
Lisdogan Park
Tel: (012) 342-1612 Fax: (012) 342-4354

Veterinary Nurses Association of SA
P O Box 40333
Moreleta Park, 0044
c/o Vethouse
P O Box 25033
Monument Park, 0105
Fax: 086 576 4064

South African Wildlife and Environmental Society
1 Karkloof Road,
P O Box 394
Howick, 3290
Tel (033) 330-3931 Fax (033) 330-4576

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