admin 9 November, 2018 0

Meet the heroic vet who’s saved thousands of Africa’s animals


Pete Morkel met his wife, Estelle, at the Rundu hospital in Namibia where she was working as a radiographer. The young vet arrived with a sedated lion that he wanted X-rayed, and she bravely agreed to assist.

It was good preparation for their marriage. Morkel, a 58-year-old Zimbabwean who tonight received the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa from the charity Tusk, has spent the subsequent three decades immobilising and trans-locating rhinos, elephants, lions, giraffes, giant sable and other endangered wildlife – primarily to save their lives.

He has done so in order that they can be used to establish new populations in other countries, or moved away from danger; or, in the case of rhinos, de-horned to deter poachers; or tagged for monitoring; or treated for frequently hideous snare and bullet wounds.

His work involves tracking animals on foot, sometimes for many hours in harsh terrain, or by jeep or helicopter. It requires marksmanship to dart the rump of a galloping animal, often from a moving platform. It requires instant calculations of dosages to match the animal’s weight, and of the risk of the drugged animal careering off cliffs or into gulleys or water.

It requires careful monitoring of a sedated animal’s heartbeat and respiration, and knowing when to back off, and how minimise the trauma. Once, while flying a rhino to Germany, he made an emergency landing in Tanzania to find oranges to calm the distressed creature.

His work also requires courage. Morkel has been charged by elephants and rhinos: “You’re always taking a few blows here and there,” he laughs. He works in some of the world’s least stable countries, in areas infested by armed poachers or rebel groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army or uncleared mines. He once fractured his skull when his Cessna crashed.

He reckons he has immobilised 10,000 animals. Inevitably a few have died. “Success and failure are just a heartbeat away from each other,” he says. “It can be gutting. I’ve had my share of failure and you just have to pick up and keep going and learn from what went wrong.”

He has has sought to pass on his vast experience by training a whole new generation of African vets – and others. In 2015 the Duke of Sussex spent three weeks with him in Namibia, helping de-horn rhinos. It was a dream to work with “the top vet in southern Africa”, said an admiring Prince Harry.

Steppes Travel (0843 778 9926; steppestravel.com) offers a luxury eight-day northern Tanzania Singita safari from £6,125 per person.  The price includes a night in Arusha, two nights at Singita Sabora Tented Camp, Grumeti and two nights at Singita Mara River Tented Camp in Lamai, private transfers and international and internal flights.

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