An African safari piqued the interest of Gabriella Flacke ’97, whose dream job is to be a wildlife veterinarian. Now, she employs her veterinary skills whether working in a small veterinary clinic in the Napa Valley, volunteering in the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, El Salvador, Palau, and South Africa, or working with African wild dogs in South Africa.
At the veterinary office, she cares for small animals (cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, etc.). Three times a year, she volunteers with Remote Area Veterinary Services (RAVS) in distant locations across the globe. Sponsored by the Humane Society, RAVS offers voluntary veterinary services such as spaying, neutering, vaccinating, and deworming to pets belonging to people in poor areas in the U.S. and in foreign countries.
Flacke lived in Germany until she was 19, then majored in biology at Bradley. She soon decided to pursue her dream and enrolled in veterinary school at the University of Georgia. As a student, she volunteered with RAVS in southeastern U.S. and Guatemala. Since then, she tries to go on three trips each year for one or two weeks. “We set up a clinic with supplies we bring, and local people inform the community that we’re there. My boss in Napa is good about letting me take time off to volunteer for RAVS.”
“It’s rewarding to be able to help people and see how much they appreciate what you are doing for their animals,” Flacke says.
While working full-time, Flacke has been pursuing a master’s degree in veterinary wildlife conservation medicine. For her field research project, Flacke chose a project studying the effects of domestic dog diseases such as canine distemper and rabies on the African wild dog, a black, tan, and white animal about the size of a Labrador. “That’s a different species than pet dogs. They’re also called African painted dogs, and they’re the most endangered carnivore in South Africa. They are wild, live in the bush, and travel in packs. Only the alpha female has pups, and the rest of the dogs help take care of the litter. They are endangered due to persecution from hunting, loss of habitat, and domestic dog diseases. There is concern that African wild dogs will get diseases from people’s pet dogs and this will lead to massive deaths and possible extinction of the species. This phenomenon has already occurred with rabies in the Masai Mara in Kenya, where there are no wild dogs left.”
Flacke is in South Africa until May 2007, working on this project as part of a collaborative effort with the African Wild Dog Re-Introduction, Conservation, and Management Program. “I’m collaborating, because my project will help their cause. Since I’m a licensed veterinarian in South Africa, I can dart the dogs for anesthesia, put on a radio collar tracking device, gather fecal, blood, and urine samples, and then give a drug to reverse the anesthetic.”
She adds, “After they wake up from anesthesia, they easily find their den and their pack-mates again and everything’s fine. They are not ostracized by the group, and there is very minimal stress involved for
Flacke’s goal is to obtain samples from approximately 30 wild dogs. “There are only about 100 wild dogs in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. I want to sample dogs from each pack, older dogs and younger dogs; I try to be as diverse in sampling as I can.”
She concludes, “When I was 10, my parents took me on safari in Kenya. Since then, I’ve known that this is what I wanted to do. Private practice pays the bills, but in the long-term, I am planning to be a full-time wildlife veterinarian.” After finishing her master’s project, Flacke is also planning to study for her Ph.D. in veterinary epidemiology and conduct her field work for this degree in South Africa.
Eric Johannsen ’97 ’98
Leanne Johnson ’82
Gabriella Flacke ’97
Steve McAllister ’85
Cheryl Corley ’76
Bill Costello ‘83
Susan Snyder Sumichrast ’68