Anne Killick spends most of her year in practice at Meadowbank Veterinary Surgery, Selston, Nottinghamshire, but whenever she can she escapes to the mountainous Hunza Nagar region of Pakistan, close to the Chinese border, where she helps local farmers.
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What initially took you to Pakistan?
In 2007, I joined a mountain biking trip that started in Kazakhstan, and culminated in cycling down the Karakorum highway from Kashgar (China) to Gilgit (Pakistan). I fell in love with the country. My feelings recorded at the time were: the Karakorums are real mountains; the scenery is so grand that words just are not big enough or impressive enough to describe it; the people are lovely and our guide is a star. I have always maintained that there are too many exciting places to visit and insufficient time to visit even half of them. Consequently, much as I loved an area, I had not retraced any of my steps. That was until I arrived in Pakistan, and now I do not want to go anywhere else.
How did you get involved with the local farmers?
The following year I spent 10 days trekking on my own with the same guide. I learned much about the local culture and farming. Tourism used to be the main source of revenue in Gilgit-Baltistan, but since 9/11 this has all but dried up. Subsistence farming is the mainstay and people have to be self-sufficient. The few rural vets are in government employment and charge for the medicines they use rather than their time, but usually people with a sick animal ask the local dispenser. They are trained and can supply basic medicines, but have great difficulty getting hold of them. This is the level at which I am trying to help.
What is planned for your next trip?
I am returning to Pakistan in January. As well as sightseeing, I hope to make some veterinary contacts in Lahore and will spend a few days at the Brooke Hospital in Peshawar. In the summer I will be back again in Gilgit-Baltistan (Inshallah).
Aren't your trips a bit of a busman's holiday?
Not at all. Every year I have a wonderful time, and am learning so much about life there. I feel incredibly privileged to enjoy the amazing hospitality offered by these warmhearted but desperately poor (by our standards) people. It is the least that I can do to try to help them in some way.
You may be used to treating sheep and goats, but what about yaks?
Although I come from a dairy farming background, I work mainly with small animals. In Pakistan I try to support the existing, but limited and overstretched, animal healthcare framework. I have spent some time with the government vet serving the area, and have consulted the dispensers from several different valleys to learn how I can help. Sheep and goats are the predominant animals, but those who can afford it keep cows and yaks. Donkeys, mules and ponies are used for transport or carrying loads. Every animal, inch of land and tree possessed contributes to a family's livelihood.
What supplies do farmers need?
Foot-and-mouth disease is endemic, and is a very real problem. Symptomatic relief is given where possible – the blisters are cleaned and necrotic tissue debrided. Occasionally antibiotic cover is used to control secondary infection, but anti-inflammatory or pain relief is never available. Parasite control is limited and respiratory disease is rife. These are the biggest issues, and the problems I am always asked about.
Is there anything you don't enjoy on your trips?
Seeing the way chickens are transported – cages crammed full with birds and piled on top of each other on the back of vans, with no protection from the elements. People frequently do not travel in better conditions, though you could argue that they have the choice of whether to travel.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar trip?
Don't be put off by other people giving negative advice. Expect the unexpected, since nothing ever goes according to plan, but you will meet some wonderful people and have an unforgettable time.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Perseverance reaps rewards eventually. This was something I had drummed into me as a child – if at first you don't succeed, then try again. Nothing happens in a hurry in Pakistan and one has to remember this, but patience, persistence and humility are certainly rewarded in the end.
What was your proudest moment?
Pakistan is still a huge learning curve for me. I am proud of the fact that I have continued to visit the country despite most people and our Foreign Office advising against all but essential travel there. I realise that much of the time my insurance is therefore null and void, but the benefits of my visits, as a tourist, and for taking much-needed donations of veterinary supplies, far outweigh the risks involved.
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