For the Future of Malawi’s Animals

At the foot of Bunda Hill, about 30 km from the capital of Malawi, the LILONGWE UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LUANAR) offers courses in veterinary medicine. In October our team returned to Malawi for the third time to help students prepare for the daily challenges of veterinary care and draw their attention to current issues of animal-health and welfare. Joana Tornow, WTG staff member, captured her experience of the workshop in words and photos.

How can I tell if the animals of a community are handled and treated well? What should their stables look like? Do they have enough food and water? And are they able to behave in a way that is natural for them? These are some of the questions our voluntary veterinarian, Dr. Katharina Schmölz, discussed with the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program (DVM) students at the outset of the course. The afternoon was spent on the university's farm and offered everyone a chance to verify or reassess their theories from the morning.

Digging, snuffling, playing - that's what pigs love to do. Not only are they very clean but also extremely agile and curious animals. As Katharina Schmölz points out, "it's a huge problem when there aren't enough things to keep them occupied. Pigs get bored easily, and they will suffer from a rising level of stress, even if their pens are otherwise well-constructed and clean." Luckily, the workshop participants had an idea right away. After talking to the director, they filled the university's pig pens with straw. As Lonselo Mwakikunga, one of the students, observed, "it was great to see them exhibit their natural behavior at once. The pigs were curious about the straw and started digging and snuffling through it happily."

At the milking stall, we asked our students to examine the cows' udders. Usually the first step is to examine a small amount of milk from each of the four teats. "Who has experience milking a cow?", asked our vet. But, as it turned out, no one had milked a cow before. "Alright, let's try! Who wants to be the first?" The students were clearly excited, but they also displayed a deep sense of respect for these mighty animals. As many realized, milking a cow isn't as easy as it looks. "It's a very important skill," Katharina Schmölz reminded her students, "a good veterinarian has to know how to milk a cow!" The German veterinarian speaks from experience, as a majority of her clients at home are indeed farmers with dairy cows.

Next, the students were asked to perform a thorough clinical examination. This included, for example, estimating the cow's age by looking at her teeth, checking her breathing, measuring her heart rate and taking her body temperature. First, our students practiced on one another
... and then they worked with the cows.

What can I do if a dog is scared or aggressive? How can I best hold on to him without causing further pain or anxiety? Katharina Schmölz knows that a muzzle is not always available, so she shared a few simple but effective tips with her students. For example, a gauze bandage can easily be looped around a dog's nose to serve as an emergency muzzle.

Also, the students will need to know more than the proper handling and treatment of animals. During their daily work, they will also be confronted with laboratory work to identify different diseases and offer a proper diagnosis. To identify parasites, students examined stool samples from cattle, goats and dogs via a flotation process. Earlier they had formed groups to do research on different endo- and ecto-parasites and presented their findings.

A project known as "Farm Day", a mobile clinic organised by our partner Lilongwe Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (LSPCA), offered another great opportunity to gather practical experience. The participants went straight to work, examining, deworming and vaccinating donkeys, pigs and goats, as well as dogs.

As in most African countries, Malawi children play a huge part in taking care of the animals of their communities. Therefore it wasn't surprising that, within a few moments, many of them came out to the village square and watched our team at work with eager curiosity.

Fortunately, we saw that most of the animals were in relatively good health. "However," reports Dr. Schmölz, "it was sad to see that most of the children would keep donkeys in place by twisting their ears. This, of course, is what they see adults do, and as long as no one shows them an alternative, they don't know any better."

This is why it's important to utilize the mobile clinic to share better ways of handling and caring for animals. The knowledge spreads quickly, and the Malawi people are actually very concerned about their animals' health and well-being. Since the majority of the villagers spoke only Chichewa, the official national language of Malawi, our students served as excellent mediators. In fact, their confidence in explaining and sharing what they had learned during the workshop proved that it was once again a full success!

In March 2017 we will return to Malawi for the second part of our course. Until then, dear students, we want to say thank you and wish you all the best. We look forward to seeing you again!

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