The reality/documentary series Frontier Vets recently hit South African television screens. The show follows eight soon-to-be-qualified vet students who have to take on the responsibility of running a rural animal clinic in a community on the border of the Kruger National Park.
Under the guidance of Dr Greg Simpson, the students’ patients will range from wild rhinos, lions and elephants to cute puppies, aggressive cattle and a mix of other animals. The students’ patients are important livelihoods for their owners, and so the pressure is on the young students to diagnose their ailments and keep them alive. They are out of their depth, and it is a steep learning curve where they are far from sophisticated diagnostics and have to use their hands and their heads, while negotiating the cultural and language gaps. Animaltalk went behind the scenes of one of the episodes, in which the students had to take on the capture and relocation of a zebra.
Part one: darting competition
Dr Greg and his team of students were asked to help Dr Alex Lewis with a zebra capture and relocation. Dr Greg decided to allow one of the students to use the dart gun to dart the animal. To do so, however, they needed to prove that they were up to the task, so Dr Greg organised a darting competition. The winner of the competition would get to dart the zebra.
A target was put up against a tree out in the bush. Delarey had the most experience when it comes to shooting, so he went into the competition as the favourite. Tina from Germany was desperate to win, as the zebra is her favourite wild animal. But to everyone’s surprise, it was the bookworm Roxanne who hit the bullseye in the first round. The pressure was on, but Delarey, as expected, stepped up and earned the right to dart the zebra. However, rather than taking the opportunity, he handed it over to his roommate Drew, from America. Drew and Delarey had formed a close bond, and Delarey wanted him to have this opportunity, even though Delarey himself had never darted a wild animal before. Drew gladly accepted. Tina was irritated, because the best shooter should have been afforded the opportunity to shoot – in the best interest of the animal. Delarey was the best shot, not Drew. But Drew would be the one to try to dart the zebra, as Dr Greg allowed the swop-out.
Behind the scenes: notes from the producer
The darting competition was tough to shoot, not from a logistics point of view, but because we had to do it in the midday sun. We’d had a long morning trying to find a wild animal, who decided to disappear on us, the students were tired, hungry and disappointed, and we hadn’t shot anything all day. So we decided to go ahead and use the opportunity to get the shooting competition in the can. It was a long shoot with multiple retakes, with no shade for the students and crew to take shelter from the baking sun. Added to this, we shot next to a road, and for sound purposes had to constantly wait for vehicles to pass, and do retake after retake. Not much fun for anyone!
* What happened next? Find out in the September issue of Animaltalk! Also, remember to catch Frontier Vets on Saturdays at 11:30am and the repeat on Thursdays at 9:30am on SABC3.