Warrnambool volunteer vet’s a leopard lifesaver

HANNAH Holmes has had the rare privilege of  helping save an endangered Javan leopard, of which there are only about 150 left in the world.

The Warrnambool veterinary surgeon spent a month doing voluntary work with the Tasikoki Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre at Sulawesi in Indonesia, where she also worked with orangutans, macaques, sun bears and gibbons.

She even got to shoot tranquillisers into the animals using blow-darts.

Since her visit the leopard has been transported back to Java to enter a breeding program.

Dr Holmes will return in July with a work companion at The Vet Group clinic, nurse Holly Hunter.

The Indonesian centre   cares for wildlife  confiscated from illegal enclosures and  destined for the black market trade. 

When rehabilitated the animals are sent to either sanctuaries or released into programs to prepare them for the wild.

“It is the third biggest black market trade in the world behind guns and drugs,” Dr Holmes said.

“The leopards are very rare with only 40 to 50 left in the wild and about 100 in captivity. Unfortunately, in September two more of  their bodies were found.”

Dr Holmes, who usually works with injured cats and dogs in her Warrnambool job, said dealing with larger and often traumatised animals was challenging.

“Working with primates was very different and interesting because they have more human diseases and are mentally more like humans,” she said.

Some of the animals were so traumatised they were unable to return to the wild. 

“The centre has no full-time paid vets so they are crying out for volunteers to help. It’s good to be able to use skills that can help,” Dr Holmes said.

Non-veterinary volunteers are also needed to help with maintenance, cleaning and enrichments, particularly to keep the primates entertained.

Dr Holmes became part of The Vet Group’s Wollaston pet care team in Warrnambool in January 2011 after moving from Scotland, where she started her career. 

She has previously volunteered in the Cook Islands and Botswana.

“A lot of places I visit don’t have vets so what I do is very much appreciated,” she said.

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