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.

Personal Requirements

  • good practical skills
  • excellent technical knowledge
  • compassion for animals
  • a steady and patient nature
  • work well in a team
  • aptitude and interest in the biological sciences
  • good powers of observation
  • have respect and love for animals and the ability to work with them
  • good coordination to handle instruments
  • good vision, hearing, stamina and health
  • able to think and act quickly and calmly in response to the animal


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.

Getting Started

Speak to your local Vet or volunteer to work at an anumal hospital in the holidays.


Boston City Campus and Business College does not offer a programme that leads directly to this occupation. Please take a look at the related occupations below to see whether any of these appeal to you. Alternately, please send an email to taryn@boston.co.za and a Student Advisor will call you back.

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