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A South Africa Experience

“My IVSA Symposium in South Africa Experience”

by Erin Beasley

North Carolina State University, CVM

This past December, I attended my first International Veterinary Students’ Association (IVSA) Symposium in South Africa.  I was excited to learn about the impacts of IVSA on a global level, as my past involvement has only been on the local chapter level.  Also, I had never been to Africa before, so I was excited to experience the culture and see the landscapes and animals.

After a long plane ride, I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa.  By the end of the first day, I had already met many veterinary students from around the world.  Over 30 countries were represented at the symposium, and there were nearly 150 veterinary students attending.  I was proud to be a part of the SAVMA delegate group.  I enjoyed collaborating with other students from across the USA while also learning about other veterinary schools from students across the globe.

We woke up extremely early on the second day to visit Adventures With Elephants.  Besides tourism, the organization also educates people and contributes to research with elephants, such as scent tracking.  We met the seven resident elephants and even got to pet them.  Later that day, we arrived at Sondela Nature Reserve & Spa, where we stayed for a few days.  We went on some game drives and viewed the animals, including warthogs, giraffes, ostrich, and wildebeest.  Our tent-making skills were tested, as we camped in tents for two nights there.  The next day, we listened to lectures about wildlife health from professors of the University of Pretoria, Rhino Connect, and Sondela staff.  That afternoon, we toured the wildlife rehabilitation centre at Sondela.  I found it valuable to hear different perspectives about managing wildlife and to learn about South Africa’s current efforts in preventing poaching.  After leaving Sondela, we visited Dinokeng Game Reserve.  This game reserve had more land space, and we saw many antelope species, warthogs, giraffes, and rhinos.



Finally, we arrived at the University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort campus, where the Faculty of Veterinary Science is located.  The business portion of the IVSA Symposium began with the opening ceremony and the first general assembly.  It was good to practice Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.  Even within this first general assembly, I learned a lot about the structure of IVSA Global, including the Executive Committee, Standing Committees, and collaboration with international organizations, such as the OIE.  In other general assemblies, we discussed position statements and policy papers, covering topics such as shelter medicine, hunting, and aggressive dogs.  Additionally, I helped our SAVMA group vote for amendments to the by-laws, pass endorsements, nominate the new president-elect of IVSA Global, and vote for the future location of an IVSA Congress.  I was impressed by the variety of issues discussed in general assemblies and the quality of debate.  It was fun to be a delegate contributing to the actions of IVSA Global.  Throughout the general assemblies, I gained perspective on the roles of IVSA on a global level.  The collegiality between delegates was also encouraging for the outlook of our profession.

Between our eight general assemblies, we had other activities.  One day, we toured the Onderstepoort campus and learned about their veterinary medicine curriculum and teaching hospital.  Later that day, we completed a scavenger hunt around campus called the “Amazing Race.”  My team ended up winning the competition!  There were also international stands, where I learned about each country and exchange programs they offer.  We also got a taste of different countries’ cultures during the culture evening.  There were workshops on campus, where we practiced blood smears, performed ultrasound on a horse’s limb, and practiced bandaging, intubating, suturing, and rectal palpation on models.  The school’s simulation lab was big and had a lot of fancy models for student practice.  For dinner one night, our teams made potjie, which is made in a pot over charcoal fire.  An auction was also held to help raise funds for IVSA.  Our formal dinner took place at a horse stud farm, and we watched some demonstrations of the horses.

Besides the general assemblies and other activities, we also attended lectures and committee workshops.  I listened to the production animal lectures, which included talks about rhino poaching, brucellosis in antelope, cattle health in South Africa, and elephant and rhino conservation.  I also participated in the Standing Committee on One Health’s workshop, where we discussed risk communication and different disease outbreak scenarios.

For my optional activity day, I chose to go on the heritage tour in Pretoria.  We visited the Voortrekker Monument, an old Pretoria fort, and the Union Buildings.  I enjoyed seeing the architecture of the buildings and hearing about the stories of Pretoria’s history.

On the last day of the official IVSA Symposium, we served in community veterinary clinics.  I was in the production animal group.  We traveled to a local farm and dewormed about 500 cattle and about 30 sheep and goats.  I liked serving the local farmers and gaining a better perspective of rural veterinary medicine in South Africa.

As the IVSA Symposium came to a close, it was sad to say goodbye to international friends.  We still keep in touch via social media.  After the official symposium, 30 of us continued on to the Post-Symposium.  We stopped by the Amarula Lapa for lunch and made our way to the Blyde River Canyon.  We stayed here for a few days.  I hiked a short trail by a small waterfall and then we went to the Blyde River Canyon and the Three Rondavels viewpoint.  The landscape and scenery were amazing.  After a pancake lunch, we saw Lisbon Falls, which were much larger waterfalls amongst the mountain range.  Our next adventure was visiting Kruger National Park.  We did several game drives here, even a night game drive.  I was surprised to see hundreds and hundreds of animals so easily.  We also saw many young animals of different species.  All of us were ecstatic to see three leopards during our visit.  Furthermore, I saw all of the “Big Five”:  leopards, lions, elephants, water buffalo, and rhinos.  Other species seen included hippos, baboons, vervet monkeys, crocodiles, zebras, impala, kudu, bushbuck, duiker, steenbok, and vultures.  We were surprised to also see over 20 African Wild Dogs and a serval.  We stayed at a campsite in Kruger National Park, and it was fun to have a braai (basically a barbecue in Afrikaans) for dinner.


After traveling back to Johannesburg, a small group of us visited the Apartheid Museum.  I thought it was important to learn about the history of apartheid and learn about the achievements of Nelson Mandela.  I flew back to the USA later that day.

This experience was definitely invaluable!  I will treasure the friendships, and I look forward to working with IVSA members in the future when we are all practicing veterinarians!  The symposium showed me the current work improving animal health in South Africa, and as a future public health veterinarian, I was impressed by the powerful international collaboration.  Thank you to the International Veterinary Experience Committee of SAVMA for awarding me the IVSA Symposium Scholarship!  The funding support greatly helped me be able to complete this experience.  In all, I was honored to be a delegate in the 66th IVSA Symposium in South Africa and to experience the unique culture and wildlife of South Africa.

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