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Developing an interest in wildlife
  1. Liz Mullineaux

Abstract

Liz Mullineaux developed an interest in British wildlife through working with local rehabilitators in Somerset. In 2004, she travelled to New Zealand on a Frank Beattie Travel Scholarship to investigate wildlife rehabilitation projects there. On her return, she developed her interest further by registering for a part-time doctorate at the University of Edinburgh, which she completed earlier this year

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DURING my childhood, my parents thought a fun holiday was driving up the west coast of Scotland armed with a pair of binoculars. They are keen bird watchers, and I'm sure that as result of this I'm more interested in mammals than birds!

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At vet school I always wanted to work overseas in what was then called ‘development work’. After graduation, I worked for a year in the Gambia with a group of friends from the Dick, during which time I developed an interest in sheep and goats. On my return, I completed the RCVS certificate in sheep health and production, but even then I was much more interested in what the ecologists and entomologists were doing than the livestock vets!

Having been abroad, my main priority was earning a living. I enjoyed working in a great mixed practice in Norfolk, and realised how enjoyable being a first-opinion vet in the UK was. I moved to Somerset, to the Quantock Veterinary Hospital, in 1995. This was initially a mixed practice, but it became a small animal only veterinary hospital in 2004; I became a partner in 1999.

One of the practice's clients is a wildlife rescue centre, Secret World Wildlife Rescue, and my involvement with this charity has allowed me to develop my interest in British wildlife. Secret World Wildlife Rescue was established by Pauline Kidner and she remains the driving force behind the charity. The centre has excellent facilities and a team of experienced and dedicated staff and volunteers.

Although all British wild animals are cared for, our location in south west England means that we care for a lot of badgers, and Secret World is the main badger cub rearing and release centre in the UK. The charity also works closely with scientists involved in bovine TB research.

New Zealand wildlife

I was keen to see wildlife work overseas, somewhere with good rehabilitation provision. I saw the Frank Beattie Travel Scholarship advertised and thought I'd apply. My past experience (a BVA travel award) had been positive so I didn't think I had anything to lose by applying.

Many of New Zealand's indigenous species are unique, but have become endangered as a result of introduced species. Consequently, the care of indigenous wildlife is carefully regulated.When you are dealing with one of less than 100 of a species, your care has to be good.

My other interest arose from my interest in bovine TB. I was keen to see how possum control methods worked, and the public perception of such eradication programmes.

I visited a variety of wildlife projects, including Auckland Zoo, where there is a series of breeding programmes for indigenous birds and reptiles, many of which are then successfully released on offshore islands or into fenced wildlife reserves. I travelled to the vet school at Palmerston North, where its wildlife unit treats, rehabilitates and eventually releases casualty animals. I also spent time at a nature reserve and a wildlife centre with a local vet who was in a similar role to my own.

Wildlife work in New Zealand is very different from the UK, where our focus is always on early triage to prevent unnecessary time in captivity and all our cases have to be suitable for release. The animals in New Zealand are often so rare that the priority is keeping them alive. Standards of care are high and I learned a lot.

The time casualties spent in captivity was, however, often protracted and caused secondary problems. Legislation was also much stricter than the UK as regards who could keep animals in captivity and under what conditions.

Unfortunately, on that trip I had little time to observe possum control, but I revisited New Zealand in 2009 when I was invited to speak at an International Mycobacterium bovis conference in Wellington.

There is little published information on the treatment of British wildlife, although the RCVS requires all vets to provide emergency first aid. In New Zealand, the knowledge of individual species from a veterinary and ecological point of view was inspiring. I had co-edited the BSAVA's ‘Manual of Wildlife Casualties’, but wanted to do something that was more research-based. I registered for a DVM&S with the University of Edinburgh to complete a project, ‘Factors affecting the rehabilitation and release of adult badger (Meles meles) casualties’. This involved detailed analysis of the adult badgers that came in to Secret World over a three-year period.

I quickly realised, once I started it, that a ‘part-time’ doctorate meant that part of your time actually needed to be given to working on it, so I reduced my hours at work by one-third. It was certainly a time-consuming project alongside a day job in a busy veterinary hospital. I finished writing up in 2010, had my viva early in 2011 and graduated a few weeks ago. I now have to publish more of my work to satisfy my initial aim of making more evidence-based British wildlife information available.

Frank Beattie Travel Scholarship

The Frank Beattie Travel Scholarship fund was established in 1988 to help a BSAVA member undertake a trip abroad to study a particular aspect of veterinary practice. The award is open to BSAVA members engaged in clinical practice (including clinicians in university centres). It is awarded annually from a gift provided by Frank's widow, Annie.

The scholarship, normally worth £2000, is £4000 this year, as a result of there having been no suitable applications in 2010. Applications should be made to the BSAVA and should describe, in no more than 500 words, how the applicant would use the award; applicants are free to choose their study topic. The deadline is November 11, and the successful applicant will be notified by the end of February 2012; the award will be presented at BSAVA Congress in April 2012.

Liz Mullineaux successfully applied for a scholarship to visit New Zealand

Maintaining a balance

I really enjoy the mixture of clinical veterinary work (including my work with British wildlife) and academic research, as well as writing and teaching/CPD.

I hope to be able to maintain this ‘balance’ of interests – though it often feels anything but balanced. Obviously I'm keen to make full use of my doctorate and to remain involved with several badger-related projects.

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