Life of a Wildlife Vet – Rita Piso

Rita is an incredible wildlife veterinarian and plays a vital role in conservation with the amazing work she does at Tshukudu Game Lodge.

We asked this fearless woman a couple of questions to understand what it is REALLY like to be a wildlife veterinarian.

Q: What made you decide to become a wildlife vet?

A: As young children we visited the Timbavati and that awakened something inside me – a love for nature, animals and conservation. During my younger years, I had my sights set on becoming a game warden. Much to my chagrin, I found out that game wardens are more focussed on nature conservation as a whole and not as actively or closely involved with the animals as I wanted to be. I did my research and stumbled upon something called a “wildlife veterinarian”… At that time, I didn’t actually comprehend what it would entail but I knew I wanted to work in the bush and with or as close to wild animals as possible. It does not disappoint… 😊

Q: How long have you been a veterinarian?

A: My dream became a reality in 2012 when I graduated. So, I have been living my dream for 9 years and loving every minute of it.

Q: What is your favourite animal and why?

A: It’s very difficult to choose, but if I have to say I would choose Rhinos. They are just COOL. And then a strange one is Nyala – they remind me so much of Bambi. However, Rhino calves takes the prize, for obvious reasons.

Q: What wild animals are you most cautious for when in the field?

A: Definitely Buffalo. I had two very close encounters with charging Buffalo and had a narrow escape both times. These animals are extremely unpredictable and deadly if you don’t know what you are doing. My heart almost literally climbed out of my body because of the fear and shock.

Q: What is the hardest part of being a wildlife vet?

A: Good question. I haven’t thought of this till now, actually… I think it’s when animals are sedated and kind of helpless. If they aren’t, they either want to charge, bite or kick you. So, it is a love-hate relationship.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment in the field?

A: The first time I darted a Rhino cow with a gunshot wound. When the dart kicked in, she started to go under, she got dazed and “drunk”. I approached her and the tears started welling up when I looked her in the eyes. You don’t realize how large these animals are when they are standing up right and you are that close. I expressed my surprise and my colleagues (who have done this before) were humbled by reaction. It was an amazing feeling.

Another thing that I can think of is when animals under sedation are struggling with their breathing or stop breathing and you have to resucitate them. There are few things in life that can compare with the gift of bringing an animal back to life – that feeling of relief and gratitude is priceless.

Q: What has been your scariest moment in the field?

A: Do you want me to circle back to the Buffalo story?

Q: What would you tell aspiring wildlife vets?

A: In the words of NIKE – JUST DO IT! It’s “lekker” and you won’t regret it.

Q: What do you do in your spare time to unwind?

A: My honest answer is visiting friends of mine in Phalaborwa – they have 3 children and I just love children. It is very special spending time with them and the children. Their youngest once accompanied me to a de-horning at Tshukudu and that inspired him to follow in my footsteps when he grows up – that is pretty amazing in itself, inspiring a young mind to do great in this world.

Q: What do you enjoy most, working with wild animals at Tshukudu?

A: I don’t just enjoy one thing; I enjoy the whole experience. The bushveld there is inspiring and the people are beyond gracious. Everyone always has this calmness about them and the love of nature between all of us are unequalled. We always just love working together because we enjoy it so much contributing to conservation. It is truly a special experience working with the Tshukudu team.

For updates and stories on Rita (Mangata Vets), follow her on her Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/mangatavets/

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