Treating Chimpanzees in Sierra Leone

Treating chimpanzees in Sierra Leone

Jenny Jaffe, VetJenny Jaffe, DVM, MSc

Jenny Jaffe graduated from Utrecht University, the Netherlands in 2007. She has spent three years in British small animal practice. After wildlife vet jobs in Ecuador and Indonesia, she completed an MSc in Wild Animal Health at the RVC. Currently, she works at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone.


The sanctuary where I work was founded 17 years ago by Bala Amarasekaran to enforce the laws that protect chimpanzees in Sierra Leone. We currently home and rehabilitate 103 chimpanzees that were either confiscated or handed in after being kept illegally.

Staff is almost exclusively Sierra Leonean. With barely a handful of vets in the country, the post of resident vet is filled from overseas.

Recruited fresh from an MSc in Wild Animal Health at the Royal Veterinary College in London, I was eager to put my new skills and knowledge to use. I had initially applied for the same position a few years ago while still in small animal practice in Oxford. The MSc and recent experience working at wildlife rescue centres in Ecuador and Indonesia meant I was a more prepared candidate this time around.

I am fortunate to have arrived at a relatively well equipped clinic. We have a pretty decent library with reference volumes and relevant scientific articles, as well as airconditioning which we have on for a few hours a day to keep the pages from getting mouldy! With limited funds and few laboratories around, we do our own faecal and blood exams. This is not like in my old practice in the UK where you would place a tube of blood in a machine and get the results neatly printed out after fifteen minutes! Here we use tried and tested techniques which involve a lot of manual counting, which takes time. My laboratory skills needed a bit of brushing up… After close perusal of the instructions and the laboratory reference books, I am now more confident in doing white blood cell counts, differentials, haemoglobin measurements, Gram staining and more. We do need a diesel powered generator to be on to supply the extra power needed for the centrifuge and autoclave, but the solar panels at Tacugama provide enough energy for microscopes, laptops, fridges and plenty more.

Chimp eyeAt present, to anaesthetize the chimps we normally hand inject the smaller ones with medetomidine/ketamine and use the blowpipe to dart the older individuals. However, apes are smart and after catching a glimpse of the blowpipe, they know what is coming and do everything to prevent being darted. They seem to know we need them to be still for a bit and have a thigh or an upper arm exposed, so they move around a lot and avoid sitting with those bits towards us. They are also incredibly quick at pulling out the dart when it hits them and appear to enjoy snapping it in two or chewing it to pieces. All of this can make the process of darting quite challenging. We do have several senior staff members who are very adept at it after many years of practice, so I am learning a lot from them.

When do we need to sedate a chimp? Well, first of all during the three health checks we perform during their quarantine period, which involve intracutaneous tuberculin administration in the eyelid. This site is chosen so that, on subsequent days, the results can be seen easily and no hands-on sessions are needed to ‘read’ the results.

We also sedate when the time has come to insert contraceptive implants. As our priority is to ensure we have the space and resources to care for our rescued chimps, we try to prevent births at the sanctuary. We use contraceptive implants which normally inhibit reproduction for 3 to 4 years.

Jenny Jaffe, Chimp VetOccasionally, clinical cases require sedation. During my first weeks here, the youngest chimp at the sanctuary, developed a quite alarming exophthalmus (protruding eye). I turned out to be a retrobulbar abscess! What now? Within a day, I had received advice from both veterinary and human ophthalmologists by email. Most advised to drain the abscess surgically as soon as possible.The abscess resolved completely after surgery and a week of treatment.The left eyelid is still a tiny bit droopy, but this seems to be resolving slowly over time.

Though in small animal practice I have had to dissuade owners from thinking they can just give their cat a paracetamol, in apes a lot of human medicines and dosages apply due to their similarity to us. We work with a lot of human drugs, which are sometimes donated to us by a local pharmacy just after they go out of date. Most difficult to come by are the veterinary formulations of drugs that I had become used to in the UK.

We are very interested in keeping in touch with British vet practices (maybe if you were seeing practice or doing volunteer work with some nice vets?). Donations such as ‘just out of date’ drugs, old uniforms, etc. are invaluable. If you’d like to find out more about how to help, please contact me at or check out You can also follow what’s happening at the sanctuary on our blog

Vet News

Vet NewsVet News is back for a new year yet we have retained our loyal group of editors, who are poised to continue bringing you the most interesting bits of veterinary and animal-themed current affairs and articles for your education and interest. Their dedication to reading, processing and presenting the relevant news on a regular basis has not gone unnoticed, as our editors have cited their involvement with Vet News as featuring during their vet school interviews. So, there you go – Vet News is making it’s presence felt in the selection rooms of our vet schools. I for one am extremely proud of their efforts and I know I speak on behalf of all our readers when I say “thank you” to each and every one of our super team.

If you fancy getting involved yourself then why not get in touch via the Vet School Success website or Facebook page and make it known which aspect of veterinary affairs you wish to cover, from small animal news, to zoo and exotics, farm and equine, and more. You make this feature so it can only get stronger with your involvement.

This month’s super installment sees us explore the topics of both bovine immunity – a topic so interesting that it has been picked up on by both of our Farm Editors –  and mud fever in horses.


Cows with high levels of disease resistance soon available to farmers

Emma Plowright (Farm News Editor)

The company Semex have recently announced that sires that have been proven to have high levels of immunity will soon be available for farmers to purchase. When these animals are bred, there is a 25% chance that the trait will be passed on to the offspring.

Research suggests that cows with a high immune response are ‘two to four’ times less likely to contract diseases such as mastitis, metritis, ketosis, retained placenta and Johne’s disease than those with a low immune response.

According to Semex, this “marks a significant breakthrough in improving disease resistance in cattle which will reduce the use of remedial medication”. Trials have shown that the use of these sires can significantly reduce disease levels in a herd. Not only will less need to be spent on drugs and medical attention, there will also be fewer losses due to lack of productivity. It is estimated that the resulting reduction in disease could be worth around ‘£50 per cow’

The testing for high immune response involves blood samples, skin thickness tests and immune system stimulating tests similar to vaccinations. The process takes around two weeks and it is only necessary to carry out the test once during a sire’s lifetime.

This test will be exclusive to Semex for the next ten years.


A new trait in cows: high immunity

Farm Editor, Els de VrijerEls de Vrijer (Farm News Editor)

It is a known fact that one of the many problems dairy farmers face is that of diseases such as mastitis and ketosis. Semex, a company that deals with cattle genetics, has recently made public that the new trait, ‘Immunity+’ will be available soon for customers to use when breeding their cattle.

This comes after researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada were able to measure the immune response of a cow and thereby label a cow as ‘high immune response’ or ‘low immune response’. They did this by taking blood samples and doing skin thickness tests, and measuring the antibody and cell-mediated response by stimulating the immune system in a similar way to how a vaccine works. Those with a high immune response, ‘HIR’, are thought to have ‘a more balanced immune response capable of defending the cow against a more diverse range of pathogens’. Currently, it is thought that around 10% of bulls have genes that are classed as HIR.

The application of this experiment has proved to be very useful when selectively breeding cattle for desired characteristics. The researchers estimate that cows with HIR are 2-4 times less likely to contract a disease than those with LIR. They also discovered that this trait for high immunity has a large chance of being passed on – 25% – considerably larger than the percentage for other traits, such as calving ease, which stands at 6-7%.

So what is the benefit for the farmer? Well, bulls with the trait are shown to have higher levels of response to several diseases, including mastitis, metritis, ketosis, retained placenta and Johne’s disease. If this trait were passed on to offspring, then this would save the farmer money as it reduces the need for medical intervention. Managing director of Semex, Gordon Miller also states that the savings might be worth £50 per cow. From a welfare point of view, less disease will increase animal wellbeing, which will increase milk quality and quantity.

What’s more, on a grand scale, it would certainly be more beneficial for us to work with cows that have higher immunity, with antibiotic resistance becoming an ever growing problem, this may be an excellent, non-invasive help to the issue. It also avoids controversies surrounding genetically modified animals, as farmers would purely be choosing to breed from a cow with more desirable characteristics. Clearly, there is not a 100% chance of the trait being passed on, but this new characteristic may certainly be a step towards a future that sees healthier dairy herds across the county.



‘Genetic and epigenetic regulation of the bovine immune system: practical implications of the high immune response technology’ (BA Mallard et al)



Mud Fever

Equine Editor, Pippa LyonsPippa Lyon (Equine News Editor)

It’s that time of year again; horse owners all over the country are pulling out their wellies and braving the ankle high mud that borders most horses fields in winter. Unfortunately with mud comes mud fever or pastern dermatitis; a range of skin reactions triggered by cold wet weather that causes scabs to appear typically around the heel area.  In severe cases the skin can split open leaving deep cracks where bacteria thrive causing painful legs and lameness.

Mud Fever

Figure 1 – Mud Fever Lesions

As in a lot of human bacterial diseases, antimicrobial resistance due to overuse has become a real issue when prescribing treatment for mud fever. A study from the University of Liverpool found that 80% of vets used antimicrobials such as trimethoprim-sulphonamide to treat infected limbs. These are the most popular treatment to use as they are easy to administer and inexpensive, however due to increasing resistance this is sometimes not an effective treatment. Therefore good management is recommended to keep the condition at bay.

Firstly horse owners suspecting mud fever should consult their vet to obtain an accurate diagnosis as the symptoms may be confused with the more serious infection leukoctoclastic vasculitis which is unaffected by antibiotics. Once diagnosed the horse should be kept on clean bedding and turned out in a well-drained field or manege. The infected area should be clipped and cleaned regularly with an antiseptic wash. If the horses’ legs are wet, dry them thoroughly to prevent the skin remaining water logged.


Horse and Hound magazine – 20 December 2012, pages 14-15, Waging war on Mud fever

Figure 1 – horse and hound, chronic pastern dermatitis, May 2010,

New Year. New Plans.

New Year FireworksWith a New Year comes thoughts of what we might do in the next 12 months. Its often a time for deep reflection, musings of a big life change, or simply the creation of several resolutions, most to be dropped, one or two possibly to become established.

There is perhaps no bigger target for a prospective vet in the ensuing months of a new year than to bring their application together and successfully apply to vet school. Whether in the first stages, with the October deadline for applications to be submitted, or the final stretch, with interviews, offers (hopefully) and securing of grades the focus, now is a great time to really take stock, focus and plan for the ultimate goal.

What is it that you plan to do this New Year? Personally, I plan to bring you the next incredible edition of Vet School, in addition to continuing to be there, by your side, as you strive to make it to Vet School.

I hope you have a great start to 2013 and remember that for all the best advice and guidance on getting to Vet School, sign up on the website, keep in touch via Facebook and why not say hi via Twitter. In fact, whilst you’re at it, why not share your plans for this new year.

A Few (Not Necessarily) Festive Facts About Vet School

SantaAs we move a mere four days from when Santa has to dust off his boots and coat, down an energy drink (or five) and ride around the globe picking up where Royal Mail left off, I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at Vet School and offer a few facts – some you may have known, others may well be new.


1. Most courses are 5 YEARS, although the exception to this is Cambridge, where you’ll study for 6 YEARS. You do get a lovely intercalated degree for your troubles though. Which is nice.

2. Vet training involves learning about all species so that when you qualify you can, in theory, treat any animal that is presented to you. The question of whether specialisation earlier in the training will happen is always a topic for debate.

3. One thing that comes as a surprise to most new students is that suddenly getting more than 50% in exams is considered an achievement – vet school is tough! You may no longer be the top of the year…. but that’s ok 🙂

4. At most of the vet schools, you technically get a degree after the first three years, with the final part of the course completing the ‘vet’ aspect of your degree.

5. The range of subjects you cover at vet school is vast, from those you’d expect, like anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, right through to topics as diverse as farm animal housing, small animal orthopaedics, and communication skills. As such, vet school is packed and your time at university will FLY!!!

Social & Fun:

1. Vet students work hard but play harder. Fact. It is a tough course so it is important to be able to unwind and enjoy yourself when you get the chance.

2. The range of socials that are on offer to vet students is immense, from those organised by your specific vet school to national events, such as the (in)famous AVS Sports Weekend. This last example is the mother of all costume parties, with fancy dress being an established essential part of being a vet student.

3. Vet Schools have very well organised and established student societies, who look after much of your entertainment, as well as representing your views on university committees, and other such official stuff.

4. Vet School traditions are a big part of the culture of being a vet student. It is almost impossible not to quickly develop a very strong sense of belonging to an awesome club when you first join your university, and it is this sense of family and community that is the envy of many non-vets.

5. The veterinary profession is, in itself, one big family of professionals and it always amazes me how easy it is to bump into someone that you know, regardless of where you are in the world. As such, vets work hard but definitely play harder!

Be a Conference King or Queen

student-sleeping-on-books-300x2001At this time of year hundreds of prospective young vets converge on the campus at Nottingham University for a week of lectures aimed at providing some insight into veterinary and what being a vet may well entail. It is an event that I have personally been to for many years in a row, both lecturing on a range of subjects, from Life as a Vet Student to Cancer in Animals, and The Importance of Taking a Good History, one of my favourite sessions, and in my capacity as an independent source of advice and guidance on vet careers and vet school. My first book, Vet School, had it’s launch in Nottingham back in 2009, and I have been back each year since. This year I return once again to speak with you all and to be on hand to provide advice, much of which is also immortalised in my new book, Vet School Success, which is exclusively available this week. But what advice is there for getting the best out of the week itself. Well, I thought it would be helpful to offer some Top Tips to Vet Lectures:

  1. Have FUN – it is a looooooong week and you’ll be tired by the end of it, but hopefully enthused and energised to start the new year full of enthusiasm to set you off towards vet school. Make sure to really enjoy your time here.
  2. Make FRIENDS – you may have come with friends already or, like most, on your own. Remember, if you’re feeling nervous and shy then its certain that many others are feeling the same. Be the one to break the ice – say hi; the rest is easy. You’re likely to see many of the people here this week at other points on your journey, from vet school open days to interviews, so get to know them now. With so many social networking options, linking up and staying in touch is simple so get going with expanding your social network.
  3. Remember: at vet school you will NOT have lectures until 10pm! Many students slump back to their halls bleary eyed at the end of a long day of lectures fretting about how they’ll cope with actual vet school. Your vet school day is likely to end at about 5pm (ie normal, sane time) and so this week is not representative of an actual lecture schedule at vet school. I am sure the main reason the organisers keep you in lectures so late is to lessen the chances of you all feeling inspired and energetic enough to head out into town for a night out 🙂
  4. Take SOME notes. Many of the lecturers will be happy to send you copies of their lectures and would rather you sat and really listened and absorbed their sage words of wisdom, as opposed to frantically trying to tattoo pieces of dead tree. You’ll probably find you remember and enjoy the lectures more by just relaxing, sitting back and really focusing on what the speakers are saying. By all means, take some notes, but don’t feel its compulsory to produce a detailed transcript of the entire talk.
  5. Stay well HYDRATED and fed. Your brains will be on overdrive for the week and will be screaming out for sustenance. As tempting, and available, as it is, try not to overdo the sugar, caffeine and poison that is energy drinks – all that will happen is that you’ll be sat their by 7pm buzzing and bouncing like a hyperactive puppy who needs but hasn’t taken their Ritalin.
  6. Ask QUESTIONS. The speakers love to be asked questions – it’s why they do what they do. If you’re thinking it then chances are that everyone else in the room is also thinking it so go ahead, do them all a favour and ask your question.
  7. Have FUN. Oh, I did that one. Still, it’s worth repeating 🙂

There you have it, a guide to getting the best out of your lectures this week. Take it easy.

Happy Future Vets

Vet School has been helping students navigate their way towards a place at university to study veterinary for a number of years, with Chris’ books and advice offering valuable assistance.

Here are a few comments from students who have found Vet School of help in their applications…


Ellie White“My name’s Ellie White and I’ve just started my AS Levels sixth form; I’m currently studying Biology, Chemistry, Maths and History. I’ll be applying to study Veterinary Medicine at university next October, which is absolutely terrifying; the time has come around so quickly! Since there’s less than a year to go now before the UCAS stress begins I’ve started to get organised and I’ve found Vet School to be a great aid.


Of course competition for places at university is tough yet I think Vet School made me aware of things that will improve my chances that I’d never before considered. Over the past couple of months Vet School has helped me an extensive amount. I was unsure as to what to study along side the required Biology and Chemistry and Vet School helped me make a decision. It also helped me justify my answer to the all-important question… “Why do you want to be a vet?” It’s something I’ve been reflecting on for a really long time and I‘d also encourage anyone considering Veterinary Medicine to really survey this question.


As for my advice to those interested in Veterinary Medicine I suggest you get start preparing early, show a real interest and do something different to stand out and catch the eyes of admission tutors.  The more informed you are the greater your chances of success. Least I forget, I extremely recommend you read Vet School, it’s fundamental for any forthcoming vet student. If I haven’t stressed the helpfulness enough I’d also like to highlight the use examples throughout the book. These show real people writing from their own experiences and it helps you realise how versatile a career in veterinary medicine is. You’re literally guided through the process of applying, to studying and to how many paths you are presented with once graduated.


Alongside all this I couldn’t be more grateful for the help from Chris. Any questions I’ve ever had he’s given really helpful and given informed advice, so thank you. Good luck to you all. With a huge amount of work, dedication and determination you can make it, we will make it.”

Ellie White


“I bought Vet School earlier in the year and It has been a great tool throughout my application; it’s great to have some trustworthy guidance as there is so much information out there that it is hard to know what to believe! There are sections on all of the major parts of the application process as well as information about the different careers which a vet degree can lead to and life at vet school. Not only was it a brilliant investment but the style of writing made it an enjoyable read. It increased my confidence in my application and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to do the same.”

Emma Plowright