How I became a manatee vet
Introduction: Many vet students wish to become a wildlife vet. Getting there ain’t easy. Natalia Rozniewska, a recently graduated vet from Poland and former EWDA country representative in Indonesia, explains how her dream came true and how she ended up in a manatees project on a Carribean Island.
EWDA Student Board: Natalia, can you tell us a little bit about your background and the project you currently work in?
Natalia: I am a recent graduate vet from Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland. Currently, I’m working for the project of manatees reintroduction in the Guadeloupe National Park.
I started to gain clinical and scientific experience while I was still an undergraduate student, on my 3rd year. And so I was a volunteer in stray dogs’ clinic in India, wildlife rehabs in South Africa and Bolivia, I did a research project in Giant Panda Breeding Station in China and I did last years clinical rotations in Kruger and Bialowieza National Parks. At the same time, I was also a volunteer in the Warsaw Zoo and in veterinary clinic for exotic pets. I admit it was a never-ending adventure and a great experience which led me to where I am now.
Straight after graduation I did an internship in a hospital for small animals in Warsaw to later get my first position as a zoo vet in Indonesia. It was a very challenging experience but gave me the chance to gain self-confidence as a vet and to understand the problems which wild animals have to face in this country.
Few months ago I moved to Guadeloupe – an incredibly amazing island in Lesser Antilles. It’s also a place where manatees used to live in the past, but disappeared over hundred years ago due to hunting. However, now they have a chance to return!
Antillean manatees populations are mostly in decrease as a result of human activities and habitat destruction. In such situation, a stable, numerous population in Guadeloupe would serve as a safe site for these magnificent marine mammals. Captive animals from South American countries are going to be transported to the island to start a reproduction and reintroduction project. For this purpose, a breeding center was built, where manatees will get the chance to adapt to the new conditions and breed. Once ready to enter a release phase, they will be moved to soft release enclosures and prepared for life in the wild. When their behavior and health will leave no concerns, animals will be tagged and let free in the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin. The goal of the project is to achieve 100 manatees in about 40 years and it’s a first ever attempt to reintroduce a new population of a marine mammal.
At the moment we are in preparation for welcoming the first group of manatees. I need to pass training which consists of theoretical and practical experience. Besides studying, I’m busy with preparing veterinary room and equipment, creating feeding and reproduction protocols, planning population management and disease prevention. I also have the opportunity to join from time to time some other projects held by the National Park, like bird ringing or searching for turtle nesting places, which let me discover the island’s nature and understand the whole ecosystem here. This fall with the team of experts we will travel to South America to examine animals and perform their health check, based on which it will be decided which manatees will fly to Guadeloupe.
EWDA Student Board: Are there any downsides involved working with wildlife?
Natalia: I thought for quite a while about the answer for this question and I think the only downside I can mention are people, who don’t understand the need to protect wildlife. On the other hand, it’s also an extra challenge which makes us work harder and think of better ideas to conserve endangered species.
EWDA Student Board: What are your intercultural experiences when working overseas/in your current job? How do you get locals involved in conservation projects (your experiences so far)?
Natalia: Here in Guadeloupe we have an educational program for schools where our keepers are giving lectures to kids. We also welcome locals in the breeding center during the open days, when the project details are explained.
Besides, I really enjoy working overseas. I feel like a discoverer here, as everything is new for me – the language, the culture, the place and of course the people. No way to get bored!
EWDA Student Board: Do you have any advice you would like to give to vet students who would like to work with wildlife in their career?
Natalia: Dream and never give up. Think who you want to be in 5, 10 or 20 years and make the first step today to achieve it progressively. Be open to meet new people during workshops and conferences, as you never know who may offer you some great opportunity one day. And lastly – be proactive – look for volunteer opportunities, find people with similar interests as you, participate in scientific events or even organize some at your University and get involved in veterinary associations related to your interests. I think all who are determined and consequent will sooner or later get their perfect job with wildlife.
EWDA Student Board: Thank you for the interview, Natalia!