A day in the life of a vet in the Falkland Islands - Veterinary Practice
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A day in the life of a vet in the Falkland Islands

GARETH CROSS continues his occasional reports on practice in far-flung places with an interview (by e-mail) of a London graduate who was born in the Falklands and now works there

AS an intermittent series, the Crosswords column looks at the work of vets around the world in our “Day in Life” series.

The last instalment was provided by an inner city small animal vet in New Dehli, India. Much work vets do around the world has many similarities (as we learned in Delhi, pyos still turn up on Friday evening without an appointment) and much of the way vets live and work around the world is similar.

It is the similarities that give us a way in to understand and empathise with our colleagues whether up the road or across the globe, but of course it’s the differences that make it interesting. So I thought: last time we looked at inner city India, what could be further from that in terms of climate, patient type and general lifestyle?

The Falkland Islands seemed the logical non-sequitur. The islands (there are two main ones and many smaller ones) lie some 400 miles from the South American mainland and 850 miles north of the Antarctic Circle. The islands have a population of about 2,500 and are about half the size of Wales.

The climate is characterised by a narrow temperature range (-5°C to 24°C), strong winds, fairly low rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year, and higher sunshine hours than most parts of Britain.

They have been in the news in the UK more than usual recently with the 30th anniversary of the war last year which brought remembrances at home and more polemics from the Argentines.

With the Iron Lady’s recent death (may she rust in peace) there has been some discussion again of the islands.

The vets are part of the Ministry of Agriculture (there are no private practices). I contacted them via e-mail and interviewed Zoe Luxton, one of the two veterinary officers, to find out about her working day:

  • Zoe, could give me an idea of your average “day in life”?

    “At the moment a day in the life of a Falkland Islands Government Veterinary Officer is extremely hectic! So apologies for the delay in replying to you.”

    “A brief bit of background on me: I was born in the Falklands in 1977 and apart from holidays lived here until I went to Winchester in 1994 for my A-levels (you can still only study up to GCSE level in the FI [Falkland Islands]) and from there went to the RVC in London. I graduated in 2001 and worked in Suffolk until the end of 2005.”

    “After a year travelling in Australia I got the position as veterinary officer with the Falkland Islands Government. It’s an extremely varied position – there are no other clinics in the Islands, so our Government office houses a consulting room and a small but well-equipped surgery and kennel room.”

Public health duties

“As well as being responsible for animal health in the Islands, we also carry out many public health duties as we are the competent authority for the EU-approved abattoir and fishing vessels. During the ‘high’ export season there is a full-time OV at the abattoir which leaves the veterinary officer and senior veterinary officer in the clinic.

“We travel all over the Islands for large animal duties (flying or ferrying to the West island). The local air service are extremely obliging when it comes to flying our smaller patients from remote areas and we try to do a three or four day visit to the West every quarter or so to do routine tasks such as pregnancy testing, dehorning, castrating, etc. All farms on the East are an easy drive from Stanley now but it does mean you can drive for two hours, see your patient and then drive two hours back!

“A typical week involves admin and any vessel inspections or emergencies on Mon/Wed/Fri. Tuesday and Thursday are clinical days and there is always a vet on call (i.e. a 1:2 rota). The office hours are pleasant, 8am to 4.30pm, and most people get home for their hour lunch break (I live about five minutes walk from the surgery).

Welfare problems

“Admin days are filled with fielding numerous e-mails with varying queries ranging from importation or exportation of animals or animal products to requirements for fishing vessels. We also deal with wildlife casualties and domestic welfare problems.”

  • Small animal wise, what’s the set up?

    “We have a nice little well-equipped theatre with autoclave, GA machine, GA monitoring machine, dental machine. We have a practice manager/veterinary nurse who is, quite frankly, indispensable! We also have a receptionist/trainee vet nurse. We have a basic desk-top haematology machine, biochem is run through the local hospital lab and we use a UK-based pathologist for most other samples.”

  • According to the website the islands have half a million sheep and nearly 5,000 cattle. Do you see any different diseases to the UK?

    “We are very disease free (e.g. TB, bovine brucellosis and Brucella ovis have been eradicated) so rather than a lot of time spent treating clinical things, we spend a lot of time on our import protocols keeping things out! The practice is subsidised a bit by the Government.”

  • Wildlife: I’m thinking lots of penguins, what else do you see?

    “Mostly penguins, a few seals but options are a bit limited with them! Cleaning and rehabilitating oiled penguins is what we see most but luckily not many of them either (a few a year currently). We do get the chance to do some wildlife work too: I help the Elephant Seal Research Group sedate and tag seals and have been to some fantastic places in the Falklands to help with some sea bird projects.”

  • Lastly, how has the recent referendum and subsequent response from the Argentines affected morale on the islands and at work? Are the Argentinians making things especially difficult re shipping and trade or is it just something you get used to living with?

    “You get used to the sabre rattling – the referendum has boosted patriotic morale but our shipping links are always under threat (although currently operational).”

  • More information can be found on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website at www.agriculture.gov.fk.

As I sit here at the start of a wet weekend on call, the thought of the variety of work some vets do in drier climes is appealing. But grass is always greener … this week it looks greener in the South Atlantic!

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