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Julia Mewes Weekly Column For The Middy

Life as a Vet student was hard work but presented some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities too!

My time at Whipsnade Zoo was a magical experience for me.

I spent some weeks living within the zoo, sharing a run-down old bungalow with other like-minded students. We were within an enclosure, but its only inhabitants were some awful peacocks who hopped in and out at will, and woke us every morning with their dreadfully unmusical raucous cries.

I enjoyed pulling the leg of a PhD student who had committed to spending the whole summer collecting faeces samples from the camels! I only helped her once, and never again. Each sample had to be observed as it was being produced so that she could record whose dropping it was. Not my idea of how to spend a glorious summer’s day!

I was more fortunate. It was my role to follow the resident Vet around – observing, learning and generally getting in his way. I had a romantic notion at that time that Zoo work might be the direction that my career would take, but the Vet, Richard Kock, was terrifyingly clever. He spoke at a rate that my brain could barely compute, and was also pretty hot with a dart gun, a skill which I had never acquired.

I have some wonderful memories from that period, including being involved in treatment of a fawn which had broken its leg. Very sadly amputation was the only option, and I believe the Zoo carpenters were regularly challenged to produce ever larger versions of a peg-leg to help the little one get about as he grew. He became quite a feature in the petting zoo area.

But perhaps my favourite memory is of the walks I took after hours, when all the visitors had gone home.

One evening I came to the bear enclosure where a mother bear had recently had two cubs. The evening sun was shining onto her rock where she had taken up an armchair style position, and she was just settling down to feed her cubs.

It was remarkable. I suspect that feeding times in the day would have taken place in her indoor area, but here she was enjoying the setting sun, communing with her family, just as you or I might do. I felt incredibly privileged.

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