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Avoiding Cat-astrophy: A Vet Tours in Africaby David Pretorius

Although taking lions and tigers to Gabon from South Africa is not on everyone’s holiday to do list, someone had to do it and that someone was me. Bright eyed and bushy tailed I arrived at the client, ready to start darting at 23:00. I needed to finish at 00:30 with 6 animals loaded and on the road to O.R Tambo International, leaving on a charter for Gabon at the crack of dawn. Everything was going according to plan. The last to be loaded was a big Bengal tiger with a fierce attitude in his night quarters.

Bengal Tiger

Photo by Sias van Schalkwyk

Lift-off was at 06:00 the next morning. The exhausting flight of 10.5 hours in one of the smaller Antonov 32b went fairly well. Anyone who tours in Africa will know, it gets super hot in most parts. The cats behaved themselves but seemed to be overheating in their crates so we turned the air temperature way down. With the final touch-down in Libreville, we were met by some friendly Gabonese folks. After examining the holding enclosures available, I decided I wasn't happy with them, and we would have to construct new ones from scratch. Seeing that the cats overheated in the crates, 30 degrees with 70% humidity that day in Gabon was far from ideal. They needed to get out ASAP. I had four days, which eventually turned into seven, to construct holding pens we were happy with for one of Africa’s top predator and an angry Bengal. Their crates are not suitable for staying in more than 24 to 48 hours but we simply could not let them loose while we built the new holding pens. I decided that we needed three big containers to put these cats in to give us time to build bigger and more permanent pens. Construction started and the Gabonese seemed to be very resourceful with the little they had. By midnight three containers arrived and were being reconstructed into what was called “short term holding facilities”. A plan was drawn up and a civil engineer did the final calculations, making sure all material was sourceable.



Photo by Zdaffern

In the next few days the permanent structure was being built by the local people working in two 12 hour shifts and completed on day six. The local vet and I darted and moved the cats to their permanent enclosures. They were all happy and calm except big old Bengal that wanted to kill anyone just peaking from a distance. This was a dead giveaway that the poor soul had some serious stage fright. I decided to take the first available flight back to SA. There was another flight two days later which was only four hours long, but no, I needed to get back as I missed my wife terribly. So 18 hours (Ethiopia, then Kenya and finally SA) with two stops for me.

In total I “visited” five counties outside SA (Namibia and Congo for refuelling on the way). I was exhausted but very pleased to be back. In hindsight this was a wonderful learning experience and I am looking forward to going back. The people are very friendly and helpful. The city is old, and yes, the airport is smaller than Lanseria, but this is a very beautiful country with many untouched areas and so much is being set aside for conservation. Gabon is definitely something to explore when looking into tours in Africa.

Update: My local client has gone to Gabon and expanded the enclosure considerably. More training has been done. And via correspondence I have helped the local vet sort some minor issues. *Aliases

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