A semester in South Africa

COLLEGE STATION – In the fall of 2016, two animal science students participated in an internship opportunity unlike any other. Leah Fancher, of Katy, Texas, and Sydney Herring, of Franklin, Texas, both seniors, participated in a semester long internship throughout South Africa, with the primary focus being on veterinary science, a field both girls want to pursue.

The first part of their trip was spent on the Onderstepoort veterinary campus, which is part of Pretoria University. During the first two weeks they attended lectures on pathology, infectious diseases, anatomy lecture/lab, embryology, and toxicology, with third year vet students.

“Our third night at Onderstepoort, Sydney and I were fortunate enough to help with a “foal-watch” of a three-day, premature foal. Our responsibilities were to catch urine and record the hydration status and kidney function with a specialized monitor, but most importantly make sure the foal nursed every thirty minutes to ensure proper nutrition. It was insightful to see how some of the material in pathology built off material I had learned in my BIOL 112 course at A&M,” said Fancher.

After the two weeks of classes, Fancher and Herring spent time shadowing in three departments of Onderstepoort’s Veterinary Hospital. They divided their time between small animal medicine, small animal surgery and production animal medicine. Part of their week in production animal medicine was spent going with the outreach team into a poverty stricken surrounding township and providing veterinary care to the animals there. The girls performed any basic needs services they could, including vaccinations, deworming and blood smears.

“Outreach was unlike anything I had ever done, and getting to see a different side of the community and getting to interact with people and their animals was extremely eye-opening,” said Herring.

The second portion of their internship was spent at the Hatfield Animal Science center. Fancher and Herring attended classes with final year animal science students, splitting their time between the dairy and sheep/goat centers. They worked cattle, vaccinated, tagged ears, and ear notched new calves. They also assisted with similar tasks in the sheep and goat facility. Some of this was done to help graduate students with their research projects.

The girls had a break after this rotation, before starting the last portion of their internship and use the opportunity to tour the countryside, including Cape Town.

“The thing I found most interesting about South Africa was that everywhere you went the landscape and vegetation was different. You could travel one hour and you would think you were in a different part of the world just based on how different the surroundings were,” said Fancher.

They were able to tour two different feedlot operations. According to Herring, Karan Beef and B Hurwitz Farming are polar opposites in both size and operation background. Karan Beef is one of the largest feedlots in the world while B Hurwitz Farming is based on the Boran Breed Association and operates on a smaller scale. This provided a unique learning opportunity as the girls were able to compare the similarities and differences of these two South African operations to the U.S. feedlots they were more accustomed to seeing.

According to Fancher, the most beneficial aspect of the internship was the rotation spent at the Hluvukani clinic in the Mpumalanga province, located near Kruger National Park. Here, the girls were able to work alongside five final year vet students from around the world, and the head veterinarian.

The animals primarily seen at the clinic are cattle, sheep and goats. Even though Fancher and Herring were there during our fall, it was spring in South Africa, so there were lots of calves, lambs and kids to look after. Fancher also noted that it was a bit of a culture shock, due to the drought South Africa is experiencing. She said due to poverty, there is not money to purchase feed for livestock, so they must eat whatever grass is available. This meant the body condition scores of animals there was nothing like what is commonly seen in Texas.

“So many aspects of the clinic were foreign, and forced me work outside of my normal comfort zone. The benefit to working outside of your comfort zone is that the longer you do it the more your parameters of normal adapt,” said Herring.

The girls were able to learn through hands on experiences as opposed to just watching. In addition to learning general veterinary practices, they also had the unique opportunity to learn about some of the native African diseases such as, heartwater, babesia, sleeping sickness, and lumpy jaw disease.

“It’s difficult to put into words my experiences in South Africa because some of them still seem unreal to me. Not everyone can say they worked on a rabies dog in a remote village of South Africa, but fortunately I can and I do not take that for granted,” said Fancher.

Aside from wonderful hands on learning experiences, this rotation was the favorite because the campsite where Fancher and Herring stayed was located within Kruger National Park. Every morning on their drive to the clinic they passed the same two rhinos, a pack of hyenas, a few giraffes, zebras, and one leopard. Fancher said, “Some mornings we would just park the car and sit and watch them and those are the moments when it really hit me that I was actually in South Africa and this trip wasn’t a dream. Those are memories I will have with me for the rest of my life.”


For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Maggie Tucker at maggie.tucker@tamu.edu or (979) 845-1542.

Comments are closed.