A N I N T E R V I E W W I T H A W I L D L I F E V E T !
Maru García Urbina is the lead veterinary surgeon at Wildlife Aid and has given us an insight into her life as a Wildlife Vet!
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME A WILDLIFE VET?
"I’ve always loved animals, since I was a kid I was very passionate about them. But obviously when you are a kid, you are more passionate about your pet and things like that. When I started training to become a vet, I got a little bit lost. I realised that even though I loved dogs and cats, I wasn’t getting the feeling that I loved most. So, I started looking up something to do with wild animals because I was really interested in this. I did a career project at a rehabilitation centre in Spain, called Amus, and it just blew my mind. I realised that that was what I really wanted to do."
HOW DO YOU TRAIN TO BECOME A WILDLIFE VET?
"Unfortunately in Spain, and I think this is a problem everywhere, when you train to be a vet, you basically train with pets - dogs, cats. If you’re lucky, maybe some exotic pets, and also farm animals and things like that. In terms of wildlife, you need to train yourself once you’ve finished vet school. For example, the first time I held a bird in my hands, I didn’t even know how to do it, because they don’t train you how to. I did a lot of volunteering in Spain and abroad where I trained myself and learnt from other wildlife vets that had great knowledge."
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY AT WORK LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
"When you work with wildlife, it’s very seasonal. At the moment it’s winter, so we are not that busy and the amount of patients we get a day is quite low. This changes drastically when we come into orphan season*. In winter, we can range from no patients at all to an average of 10 patients a day. Last summer, in orphan season, we were taking up to 60 patients every day. At that point, my work is a lot of triage, with some more complicated procedures like orthopaedic surgery or eye traumas. In winter, because I have more time, I do research and have a look at data from previous years and try to improve protocols. That’s the only way to improve what we do, to look at what we’ve been doing and see if it’s working. If it’s not, then how can we make it better?"
**’Orphan season’ runs from March through to the end of Summer. It’s our busiest time of year. When animals start having young, we get an influx of orphaned and abandoned fox and badger cubs as well as baby owls and birds. Because these patients are so young, they stay at the centre until they’re old enough to fend for themselves and be released into the wild.
WHY DO YOU THINK IT'S IMPORTANT TO SAVE WILDLIFE?
"I think every single organism has something to do in the world. Some people don’t like rodents, and they always say ‘Why do you treat mice or rats?’ and I always ask the same question - ‘Do you like owls and raptors?’ and I have still never had a single person tell me ‘No’. So if you like owls and you like kestrels, you should like mice. We should be thinking about the ecosystem as a whole. At the moment we have an in-patient buzzard with rodenticide toxicity (rat poisoning) – we keep putting poison out to eliminate certain species that we don’t like, but we don’t realise everything is a chain. Every single species has a purpose in life and we should respect that. Also, it’s definitely an issue that we, as humans, are displacing species so we should be responsible and at least try to make it better where we can."
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
"My favourite part of my job is seeing the different characters in each animal as well as the great satisfaction you feel when you see an animal come in, in a really poorly state, and you see that animal fighting and improving day by day, until it’s released. The hard work and all the hours that you do, and the stress and frustrations, when you see it released, it makes you want to carry on doing what you do."
WHAT'S THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
The hardest part is the other way round. I guess sometimes things are not meant to be. You may try really hard to help an animal but there might be some underlying disease and it cannot make it. It’s really upsetting – there are some days where you get really quite depressed. Especially during the winter, a lot of the patients coming in are really unwell. I guess on the other hand, we need to remember that these animals were dying anyway, so we are able to end their suffering quicker.
IS THERE A PARTICULARLY MEMORABLE PATIENT THAT YOU'VE TREATED?
"I have plenty of them, but my most memorable one from the past year was a Crossbill, which is not a usual patient for us. She had flown into a window and came in with neurological signs – she was able to move her legs but she wasn’t able to stand or fly. In cases like this, it’s tricky because if you think the animal is not going to make it, you want to stop their suffering as soon as possible. This is the most critical point in the job – it’s really hard to determine if the animal is going to make it or not. But she was so strong. She was such a fighter. When I’m in doubt, I usually give them 24 hours and we’ll see what happens. So I did that and in 24 hours she had improved so much. It was quite a long recovery, she stayed here for around 3 – 4 weeks, but she was improving day by day. We had to do physiotherapy so that she’d recover with full mobility of her legs, but you could truly see that this animal was fighting for her life. And, luckily for her, she recovered. The day we put her in the aviary and she flew and used her legs was so amazing."
Thank you so much for reading.
Maru García Urbina
Lead Veterinary Surgeon