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By AMANDA BOWES

Taking a blood sample from a lion was not something Jeanine Calder ever imagined she would do, but last week she was in the thick of it in Zimbabwe.

The Hawarden dairy farmer is just home from a two week course with Zim Vets, at Antelope Park near Gweru, four hours from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

“It was amazing, here I was working with all theses wild animals being hands on and part of the crew. Taking a blood sample from a fully grown lion was incredible,” says Jeanine.

Working at Amberley Vet Clinic on a Saturday, Jeanine says she was looking at vet nursing courses online when she saw the Worldwide Vet, Zim Vets programme offered.

“I immediately wanted to go on the two week course and booked in. I had been to South Africa last year to the Greenfire Game Lodge which borders Kruger National Park.

“I loved Africa and when I saw the Zim Vets ad I had to go.”

The two week courses are held during the Northern summer and each group consists of no more than 14 people. In Jeanine’s group there were four Australians, one American and the rest from the UK.

Her group consisted of two vets, a third year veterinarian student and potential veterinary students.

The first part of the course involved four days of theory, or class time. The group learned about working with wildlife and the concept of conservation, managing a game reserve, drugs used by vets to immobilise and treat wildlife, methods of darting and capturing wild animals and common procedures and veterinary treatment for captive and free roaming wildlife.

The volunteers stayed at a “volunteer village” within Antelope Park.

After the theory was dealt with, the group moved into the field. Antelope Park has a breeding programme to try to save the African Lion which is threatened and so they have 114 captive lions, some of which are being rehabilitated and some which are in the breeding programme.

They are also trying to create prides so part of the work involves integrating the lions so that they can be released back to the wild as a pride, or sold to other conservation parks.

The practical side of the course involved monitoring animals that were anesthetised in the field, treating wounds and managing them in wildlife, taking blood samples for health and disease screening and monitoring animals in transportation. The group also learned how to track animals by spoor, scent and tracks.

Antelope Park also had four elephants one of which was orphaned from its mother and hand reared.

There was a lion cub being fed, which Jeanine says she would quite happily have taken home with her.

A trip was made to Bulawayo to stay at a small place which rehabilitates primates.

Along with the primates were an impala which was tame, mongooses and other species which were in need of tender care before being released where possible.

Back in North Canterbury, Zimbabwe, the open plains and the wildlife seem another world away during Friday’s deluge when in the midst of calving the floods threatened the calf pens.

“It was such an amazing experience to have, I definitely want to go back to Zim again.”