WOA: What does WVS do and what prompted you to set up the charity?
Luke: WVS helps animals in places where no one else will. We provide veterinary support to small non-profit organisations and little animal charities in really tough places where there’s no veterinary aid or help for the animals that live there. We send teams, drugs, medicines, parcels and supplies to these places, and build up a sustainable infrastructure that will continue to support the animals in these communities, as well as the people who often depend on them. We work with all species from all over the world. It’s a great charity. I set it up at the end of 2002 and it was really just a hobby! I loved being a vet and this was something I could do to apply my trade and enjoy adventure and travel. I ran it for fun for about ten years, but then we started to get serious grants and it started to grow much bigger, and so it is where it is today!
What kinds of projects do you have on the go at the moment?
Well, I just got back from a trip to Zambia and Malawi. In Zambia we are trying to help set up the first wildlife veterinary clinic, working on the edge of the Kafue National Park. We want to get it off the ground because the areas around the edge of the national parks are ‘game management zones’, where people can hunt. The idea of these buffer zones is to try to protect the animals within the national parks. But what happens is that snares are set and a lot of animals get injured. The idea of this sanctuary is to help those animals. There are currently only three wildlife vets in Zambia so there’s just no support or help. That’s why we want to get something going there.
“In Zambia we are trying to help set up the first wildlife veterinary clinic, working on the edge of the Kafue National Park”
I’m also off to Thailand on Monday. We set up international training centres in Thailand and India, where we train vets on the front line of animal welfare in humane techniques. So they can safely and kindly help animals in the areas where they live. We train around 400 vets a year in Thailand and India to use antibiotics and do surgery – it’s going really well!
We are helping donkeys that are so desperately valued in India to cart materials that their owners (often just through lack of education) will slice open the sides of their noses to get better airflow, among other things… We go there, we treat those donkeys, we educate the owners and we train up the local para-vets who can give the animals on-going support. So the donkeys have a better life and they’re also more productive.
Among other things, we are also trying to rescue lions in Armenia that inhabit the ‘World’s saddest zoo’, living in tiny little box-like cages for four years. We have got them out of those cages now but we need to work on getting them back to the UK to a lion sanctuary here. There’s a lot going on!
How do you identify the areas where your help is needed?
Often requests come in. We work with charities in much smaller places that really need our help. We never send money, we always send ourselves instead, so we go over and meet with them and work out how we can practically help. Then we build from there.
Are there any projects that really stand out for you?
When I first set the website up, I was working from my garage as an evening project. A request came through from a charity in India, where some American tourists had witnessed piles of dead dogs on the side of the road. The wife of the doctor who owned the local hospital had been attacked by wild dogs, so the reaction from the local municipality was to kill all the dogs – they were paying per tail. The American tourists found a local charity, and I received an email. I went over there and straight away I had to see a cow that was heavily pregnant and had broken both its legs. Of course, cows are sacred, so I bought the cow from the family and I shot it but cut the baby calf out, which survived. I gave the calf back to the family. Then we went to the place where they were killing the dogs and we neutered 70 dogs in two days. Local TV crews saw what we were doing and there was huge community support. They stopped killing the dogs and instead started a sterilisation campaign.
Thanks to the work of all the people there, the entire area has now been declared rabies-free. I went back and saw the family with the calf, and they’re now really happy. Another of my favourites was when we went to the refugee camp in Kenya. It just goes to show that people living in really tough places do love their animals!
“It just goes to show that people living in really tough places do love their animals!”
Tell us about tackling rabies on the front line…
We work very synergistically with our sister charity Mission Rabies, going to global rabies hotspots. It is a horrible disease. It kills a child every nine minutes around the world and it’s completely preventable by vaccinating dogs, as 99 per cent of all rabies cases are transmitted through dog bites in Africa and Asia. We do very focused campaigns; in May for example we went to Blantyre in Malawi, which has the highest rate of child rabies deaths of any city in the whole of Africa. We vaccinated 35,600 dogs in 20 days.
When we are there, our days usually start at about 4-5am. Normally if we are doing a rabies drive we will go out for a morning capture because that’s when you’ll get the dogs, at dusk and dawn. I’ll spend a few hours out and about, catching and vaccinating dogs and going door to door, marking, GPS logging and data recording.
“Normally if we are doing a rabies drive we will go out for a morning capture because that’s when you’ll get the dogs, at dusk and dawn.”
Then it’s back for breakfast! And then the rest of the day is quite varied – it might include operations and treatments, dealing with any scenarios and talking to different people, or getting the community support and going into schools to give talks about what we are about and what we’re doing. Then at about 3-4pm we will go out again until about 6-7.30pm, catching and vaccinating more dogs. When we catch them, we give them a jab and then send them right on their way. Then it’s home for a nice cold beer!
The main issue is sustainability. Anyone can go in and vaccinate dogs, but the thing that will make the difference is training the locals up. We’ve set up this whole education component for that; during the 20 days that we were in Malawi we educated 91,000 children!
How can people get involved and help out?
First things first: check out the website! There’s a lot of information there on how you can get involved. You can become a supporter of WVS, which is massive. With people’s support and donations we can help with so many amazing projects! And if anyone wants to be a vet, you just have to stick at it – I have no regrets. It’s a wonderful job. We also run volunteer trips for ready-trained vets that cater for all different types of people.
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