A quick movement caught my eye deep in the mass of rainforest vegetation off the road ahead of me. I pulled over and peered into the growing darkness. Another movement, and then I saw it: a burst of brilliant blue skin stood out like a lighthouse in the greens and grays of the jungle. My heart raced with excitement, and a satisfied smile crept onto my face. There it was, a wild cassowary, the mysterious prehistoric-looking giant of a bird that I had been dying to see ever since I arrived in Queensland, Australia, a few weeks earlier.
That flash of blue skin and the hint of a massive dark form supporting it were the closest I got to this magnificent creature, but that’s probably a good thing. The average adult Southern Cassowary is only slightly smaller than me, and their powerful kicking legs and razor-sharp claws are not to be taken lightly.
This brief interaction was only one highlight of the two weeks I spent doing an externship with Australian wildlife veterinarian Annabelle Olsson. The experience came about through my trusty friend Google! As you can read about here, I was already planning a fully funded trip to Cairns for the International Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics (ISVEE) triennial conference. I knew I couldn’t fly all the way to Australia for just the ten days of the conference and workshop I was participating in, so I did some online sleuthing and found what sounded like a perfect situation.
Dr. Olsson owned and ran a pretty typical small animal practice on the outskirts of the city. I say pretty typical, because along with being a regular little vet clinic, it also served as a regional hub for wildlife veterinary care. Dr. Olsson had been passionate about wildlife for her whole life, so she was making a reality out of her dreams. She found a way to provide top-notch medical and surgical care to a wide variety of native species while also making a decent living for herself and her family of six kids and innumerable pets. This set-up also enabled her to become an integral member of the local wildlife and conservation communities.
I was able to track down an e-mail address from an old conference proceeding on the third page of the Google results and sent my proposal into cyberspace and across the world. Incredibly, Dr. Olsson wrote right back with a royal welcome. She offered an apartment and the use of her car, all at no cost to me. That’s what I call serious hospitality and investment in the next generation!
During my brief time at her clinic, I got to necropsy an echidna, assist in a mass removal on a seriously venomous snake, take shifts feeding orphaned wallabies and koalas, and visit a bat rehabilitation center. This was on top of some great clinical experience with the regular dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles kept as pets in the local community.
I was most impressed by the way that Dr. Olsson had found a way to pursue her own passions as a veterinarian while remaining in her home community, raising a family, and making a living. Since my visit to Queensland, she has completed her PhD and now works full-time as a regional wildlife consultant. Pretty cool job, right? And it’s actually completely realistic to aim for something like that yourself.
Let’s make it happen.