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Ten-minute chat
  1. Steve Leonard

Abstract

TV vet Steve Leonard is a patron of the Painted Dog Conservation UK charity. From time to time he leads conservation safaris to the charity's centre in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

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Tell us about the charity

I have been a patron of Painted Dog Conservation (PDC-UK) for many years and I am proud of the extraordinary work it does in Zimbabwe to help the dogs and the local community. Conservation tours are an opportunity to show a group of like-minded wildlife enthusiasts what amazing animals painted dogs are and explain what is being done to ensure their survival in this beautiful habitat.

What is a conservation safari?

A conservation safari is a rare opportunity to go behind the scenes of wildlife conservation work. Teaming up with researchers in the field allows you unparalleled access to their study animals. This is why we teamed up with legendary field biologist Greg Rasmussen, who has been working with painted dogs for decades. In the pristine Mana Pools National Park we tracked radio-collared dogs and watched their fascinating social interactions. It's a privilege to be able to watch wildlife with such an expert as Greg on hand to tell you exactly what you are seeing.

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The second part of the trip brought us to PDC's centre on the edge of Hwange National Park. Here we teamed up with charity's main tracker who has been working with these dogs for most of his adult life. He is a phenomenal tracker and was able to get our visitors up close and personal with the resident packs in the area. Our guests were also able to visit the education centre and meet local children on a residential trip to PDC's wildlife camp. These kids live just outside a national park and most of them have never seen their own wildlife. It's great to see just how keen they are to learn about their environment and what amazing ambassadors for conservation they become. Many of the staff working at the centre attended the camp when they were at school.

What other charities are you patron of?

I have limited my patronage to projects that I have proper engagement with because – hand on heart – I want to be able to talk with passion about the projects that I'm associated with when someone asks me about them. Currently, I am a patron of Painted Dog Conservation UK, the Horniman Museum, Wildlife Vets International, Dog AID and Act for Wildlife. I am also an ambassador for the PDSA.

How did you get to where you are today?

I was fortunate to walk into the back door of TV. Being filmed at vet school was one of those chance opportunities that opened doors that I never knew existed. It wasn't planned, and even now it's not something I have any control over. I just answer the phone occasionally and say yes.

What's the most bizarre thing you have found yourself doing for TV?

Making television programmes is really odd. You do get used to it and only realise how strange it is when you tell someone else about it. For a few years I was zooming round the world leaping from weird experience to weird experience.

Have you had any dangerous/frightening moments?

Loads of frightening stuff, but it is the same sort of fear most vets experience a couple of times a year. Having close calls with animals is what we do. Dogs, horses, bulls – they are all unpredictable and hospital-visit-inducing at times. When it's a new species it's even more spicy because I don't know quite how they are going to react. The most trouser-troubling events included going into an enclosure with African lions and accidentally diving with a great white shark.

What do you like about your job?

Variety is what makes life interesting. I love my vet work and also love wildlife experiences. Early in my career I was all about jumping in with both feet and getting stuck in regardless of the consequences (both as a vet and working with wildlife). Now I am, I hope, more sympathetic, more considerate and more appreciative of the opportunities I'm presented with.

What don't you like?

I don't like being away from home. I never have; three weeks away is the longest I am comfortable with, even though I've done longer trips. I love home life and have a great family and social life.

What was your proudest moment?

All my proudest moments have been vetting. Fixing animals is a big deal. I mainly get a buzz out of pride in those around me. I have worked with awesome people who do their jobs incredibly well in really tough circumstances; I suppose my main goal is not to let them down. People often refer to the series I present as ‘your series’ but they don't belong to me at all. I am just the most visible piece of a big team of talented people making it all happen.

. . . and your most embarrassing?

I mixed up the words ‘kill’ and ‘hunt’ in a piece to camera once – thank goodness it wasn't live!

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