Tanzania, 2015

CVM UIUC Study Abroad Program in Tanzania 2015

Tanzania Team (Sokoine University of Agriculture, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Morogoro) : Amandus Muhairwa; Ng’umbi Nickson Hassanally; James Nathan and Anthony Mhando

US Team: Margarethe Hoenig; Avery Bennett; Shannon Ortiz-Kofoed, Kate White, Cassie Wolsic, Ryan Freed and Steven Zary

We thank our sponsors Nestle Purina and Dean Constable, CVM UIUC, for financial support. We are grateful for the donation of vaccines from Boehringer-Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., and supplies from Dechra, Zoetis, Elanco Animal Health, and General Econopak, Inc.


Monday, June 29: Ryan Freed

Today we woke up to begin a day of adventure. We ate a tasty breakfast at the Arc hotel. This hotel was beautiful and almost palace like. There is a circle drive that wraps around the front of the hotel. Our breakfast included yummy crepe-like pancakes, hot dogs, toast, eggs and coffee. We hopped into the car with Habby to drive to Sokoine University School of Agriculture to meet with Professor Muhairwa. He is our host for our trip to Tanzania. He greeted us with a smile and a handshake. We came to the school to gather supplies that we would need to perform our spays and neuters. Fluids, needles, vaccines, tables, surgery packs and sterile gloves are just some of the supplies that we packed into the truck. We also had the opportunity to meet Nickson and Antony. They are the people who will assist us during our surgeries. Nickson is a veterinarian who is finishing a PhD program and Antony is the senior veterinary surgical technician from the veterinary school.

We went to Kingolwira to perform our very first surgeries in Tanzania. We set up our surgery tables under a covered area next to the seminary. The ground is covered with red dirt. We begin our rotation by pairing off with Dr. Bennett to work with him individually so that he can evaluate our skills and surgical proficiency. We used the three clamp technique just as we had practiced in junior surgery. We worked very well as a team to perform surgeries, vaccinate animals and deworm with ivermectin. We administered rabies (3 years) and distemper vaccines to all of our canine patients. We quickly had to learn to adapt to working in a field situation. There are different considerations for patient prep and sterility when working in the field. Many of the dogs are covered in fleas. We treat all of the dogs with “flea juice” that was some concoction of imidacloprid.

We had the opportunity to speak with many local people who owned the dogs. They were very friendly and most of them spoke very little English. After our long day of work we drove back to the Arc Hotel for dinner. The food was wonderful. Some of our personal favorites were the curry dishes and the magical chicken which we have affectionately called “miracle chicken”. Many of the students tried the passion fruit Fanta and we loved it. Today was a wonderful beginning to our study abroad program.

HabbyOur driver, Habby.

Tuesday, June 30: Shannon Ortiz-Kofoed

We survived the first surgery day Morogoro!!! Today we are off to the races upon entering the site where we saw the famous Balboa trees that Dr. Hoenig just adores.

Baobab tree

Our surgery suite today consists of a wood overhang between 2 buildings, next to a tractor maintenance drop hole that had a broken down tractor over it.  Upon entry there were 6 dogs just waiting for us! Gosh word spreads quickly. We start getting to business doing surgeries, dogs and cats kept piling up everyone ready for surgery or just vaccines. Kate and I took the lead to start the vaccination line. Our first patient was roughly a 4 month old kitten. We gave the rabies vaccine and then doused the kitten in “flea and tick juice”. That’s when panic set in flashback to Dr. Campbell’s lectures “DON’T use DOG flea and tick treatment on CATS”, we began to freak out minorly until we learned that the “juice” was safe for cats. As the day progressed we had animals tied up all over even in the cattle stocks. We learned about the uses of a lot of these dogs in hunting monkeys. Even learned that some of them mean business, watch your fingers! We ended up vaccinating over 30 animals and spayed and neutered 12 when all was said and done. We also got the joys of being mobbed by a whole litter of puppies that ransacked our surgery suite. Tomorrow we get to go see the mine detection rats. Who would have thought rats finding mines.

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Wednesday, July 1: Ryan Freed

Today we met with the scientists and trainers that work at the Apopo training grounds. At first glance, you see a field with measuring tape sectioning off pieces of the field in “lanes”.  A group of men are clipping away at the areas of tall grass with machetes. There is also a young gentleman who is sharpening the machetes in a most unique manner. He is sitting on a stationary bicycle and pedaling backwards. With every rotation of the pedals, the kinetic energy spins a stone that rests on top of the handlebar area of the bike. The rider is sharpening the blades at the same time as riding the bicycle. Many clear cages can be seen sitting in a truck bed just beyond the front gate entrance. Two black eyes stare back at you connected to a fluffy brown, tan and gray body. These rats are the true reason for our visit to the Apopo facility. There are 81 rats make up the entire group at the training facility. They are called “panyabu” which means “big rat” and differentiates them other smaller rat species in Tanzania. They are incredibly intelligent creatures.

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The training program begins at 6 weeks of age for the rats. They attend training sessions every weekday for 6 to 8 months. If they pass all of their tests and show the appropriate level of progress at every checkpoint, then they will be deemed “trained rats” that will be sent out into the field to detect real land mines. Not all of the rats stay in Tanzania. Some of the rats are sent to other countries to perform their mine detecting abilities elsewhere. Do other countries need to pay to use these rats? The answer is no, the program is essentially humanitarian project. The funding comes from generous donors who give money to support the program. The rats are trained to scratch at the ground when they smell TNT and are rewarded with one of their favorite treats, a piece of banana. The method that is used is clicker training. Yes, rats can be clicker trained just like dogs. They learn to detect the TNT smell and distinguish it from other distraction smells (tea, plants, spices, etc.). They ran the rats up the dirt lanes on a tether system. The rats wear a harness that straps to a measuring tape. The movement of the rat is guided by two trainers, one on each end of the measuring tape. It was amazing to see the entire training process from beginning to end. These rats can live up to 8 years old in captivity. What is the passing rate for the majority of rats? Well, approximately 70-80% of rats that begin the program at 6 weeks old will complete the training and become full-fledged mine detectors.
Later in the day we drove to the village in Mazimbu. There was a large group of people waiting and watching us perform the surgeries. All of the dogs belonged to the man that runs “the compound”. We set up our surgery tables under a mwarubaini tree. The name of this tree means “forty” and is thought to cure over 40 different diseases. The leaves and bark can be boiled and used to treat malaria. We saw many children riding their bicycles and walking with their backpack. Many children gathered around our surgery tables and watched us with wonder in their eyes. All if the children said hello to us and waved. They were so happy and full of life. Dr. Hoenig took some photographs of all of us (veterinary students) sitting with the children. Steven gave the children a frisbee and we played frisbee with them at the end of the day. It was truly a magical day to remember.

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Thursday, July 2: Shannon Ortiz-Kofoed

Today we went to the middle of nowhere to a small town which is translated to “dark village”. We pulled up to the site to meet the village supervisor, and Dr. Bennett and Nickson had to sign their life away first for tax purposes. We then followed the supervisor to the site, who himself was lost. As we drove to the site children just kept popping up out of the corn fields that we were driving through, cue flash backs to the movie Children of the Corn. Once at the site we were greeted by a gentleman that owns over 15 dogs and 10 of which he wanted to be altered. Our suite for today consisted of us standing in the middle of the village under the shade of a small tree that had no shelter at all from the elements or the sun. As we began to unpack it started to sprinkle a little bit, once we were set up though the rain thankfully stopped. We gave the anesthetic injection to the first dog and then, of course, pack mentality kicked in for the group of dogs that were waiting. They proceeded to try to attack our anesthetized patient so we had to be on guard duty watching each patient thereafter. We began the first set of surgeries and when we looked up there were over 50 little kids just standing around watching us do our work. Poor Nickson had to babysit to make sure the kids didn’t get too close because if they could they would be on top of the tables watching. The adventure began when we were getting down to the last 2 dogs. We had to go on a mad chase and catch the last 2 since they caught onto the game and realized what was going on. Eventually one was caught up on the roof of the house and then other was caught after 15minutes of a chase. Poor Steve got the last surgery which turned out to be a dog that was in heat so he had an adventure of a surgery. After all the surgeries were over we entertained that kids with candy, we soon realized they didn’t know what it was so we had to show them to unwrap the Starburst, they thought the candies were pencil erasers. Steve brought stickers and Frisbees with him which were a major hit with the kids, we all played Frisbee for almost an hour with the kids. The best part of the day was when we started to take pictures of the kids they didn’t know what a camera was and were amazed to see themselves in the picture on the camera. They were so excited that they began posing for us and asking us to take a bunch of pictures with them, Kate was the biggest hit with the kids.

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Friday, July 3, 2015; Steven Zary

Today was the last day of surgery of our first week in Tanzania. We went to a village near Morogoro and set up our “surgery room” in an open area with barely any shade. There was an open field nearby with tons of grazing cows and goats. As soon as we pulled into the village, a group of children started running after our car and watched us as we set up shop. As we started our surgeries, the children slowly crept closer and closer to our tables, and their numbers seemed to increase ten-fold. There must have been at least 100 children watching us perform our spays and neuters! The kids were so interested in what we were doing; they just wanted to see everything! Nickson and Anton had to draw a line in the dirt and tell them to stay behind the line because they were getting too close to our sterile fields. I am amazed by how intrigued the children in Tanzania are with our surgeries. I feel that children in America would lose interest soon after the surgery begins, and they would likely be grossed out by what we were doing.

It is amazing how much our surgical techniques have improved in just one week! We have our system in place to be as efficient as possible, and we are able to perform surgeries much quicker than we were on day one. My spay for the day was a dog that was in heat. Even with the added difficulty of spaying an in-heat dog, Shannon and I were able to complete the surgery extremely efficiently. Because the dog was in heat, our patient lost more blood than normal, so we administered IV fluids to our patient after surgery. Nickson climbed a tree to hang the bag of fluids. After our surgeries were complete and we tore down our surgery stations, we took a bunch of pictures with the children. They were so excited to see their pictures show up on the digital camera! We also let them listen to their own hearts with our stethoscopes, and they loved it. It amazes me how these children are so intrigued by the little things in life and how happy they all are. It gives you a new perspective on life.

Saturday, July 4, 2015: Kate White

Today we went on an all day safari through Mikumi National Park.  We traveled in an open safari jeep about 30 minutes to the park entrance, and on the drive we saw a herd of giraffes very close to the road.  They are surprisingly not skittish at the presence of cars and people.  We watched them as the sun was rising and then continued to the park.

Once we arrived we walked through a little museum that had several skulls of animals such as hippos and elephants, and it discussed the danger that human impact has on these wild populations and ecosystems.  We drove through the park and stopped to observe several beautiful colorful birds.  There was a herd of impala; wildebeest and zebras all intermixed along the trail.  We learned that they work together in a few different ways.  They all eat different levels of the grass forage, and while wildebeests have the best sense of smell for locating water, zebras and impala have better eyesight for spotting predators.  They work together so that some animals are vigilant while others are able to eat.

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The acacia trees are also interesting as many different creatures utilize them.  Some of the larger ruminants eat the bottom levels, while animals such as giraffes and elephants eat the leaves and taller branches.  It was amazing to see that one tree can support so many different organisms.  Another interesting food chain is that in the hippo pools the hippos forage on vegetation and then defecate in the water, the fish eat the feces and the crocodiles eat the fish.

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Throughout the day we saw a myriad of animals including giraffes, impala, wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, baboons, birds, crocodiles, hippos and lions.  The elephants are very protective of their babies and we had a couple of close encounters that got the blood pumping a bit!  The hippos had babies that would stand on the mom’s back to get air.

We saw a glimpse of some lions sleeping in bushes.  It was amazing to see them, but it was unfortunate to see how much people swarm the lions when there is a sighting as it probably stresses them out.  Overall I think it’s so important to expose people to these majestic creatures and educate them about the importance of the intricate balance in these ecosystems.

Sunday, July 5, 2015: Kate White

On Sunday we woke up early to go to Udzungwa Mountains National Park.  Here we hiked several kilometers up a mountain to see the incredible Sanje falls, the tallest waterfall in any of Tanzania’s national parks.  There are several different viewpoints to see the falls as you ascend the mountain, which builds your anticipation until you reach the stunning vistas at the top overlooking the vast amounts of sugar cane agriculture in the valley below.

Along the way we saw many types of plant and animal life.  We saw Iringa red colobus monkeys, mangabey and baboons.  We encountered many different types of trees and our guides taught us which ones were poisonous and which had been used for medicinal or building purposes.  Some large trees with hollow trunks were used for communication through the forests, while other trees had a psychoactive ingredient that was put on arrows for hunting in the past.  Other trees were used for everything from timber to pillow stuffing.

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This park covers an area of 1990 square kilometers and was established in 1992 by the WWF president at the time.  The name of the park is thought to be a mispronunciation/ or misspelling of the word “Wadsungwa” which was one of the main tribes who lived in these mountains.   The way the light filters through the trees, the beautiful butterflies and the distant sounds of wildlife and waterfalls made this an unforgettable experience.

Monday July 6, 2015; Cassie Wolsic
Mosquito Hemostats are Like Duct Tape…

Today we set up our surgical suite in a soccer field in Mikumi village. At this point we have all had about one week’s worth of surgical experience and are now focusing on reserving resources and improvising. This is significantly different from our junior surgery experience, which afforded us endless amount of suture and instrument replacement. What do you do when the surgical drape from the pack is absent – use your sterile glove wrapping instead. How about when you drop your needle drives (twice to be exact) or drop your thumb forceps just before starting body wall closure? You can use mosquito hemostats. We jokingly concluded mosquito hemostats are like duct tape and can fix just about anything. Today’s surgical experience included a crypt-orchid neuter and a small tumor removal on a hind limb, all in addition to the other spays and neuters. All surgeries went well and everyone recovered without an issue. As the day ended we were greeted by a herd of cattle being moved onto the soccer field.

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Here we are setting up under a mango tree at the edge of a soccer field.

July 7, 2015; Cassie Wolsic                          

Even though we are visiting during the dry season, the skies are threatening with rain this morning. We are still in the Mikumi village and because of the potential rain we are setting up our surgical tables under the easement of an abandoned school. Fortunately the weather held out today and we only experienced some light rain that ended by lunch time. We did experience a few hiccups during surgeries, and Dr. Bennett made it a great learning experience. All of the animals were fine and recovered without incident. There were a lot of children present today during our surgeries. In preparation for this trip my children and I went through their old toys and filled a bag to bring for the children here in Tanzania. Before lunch I handed out a few toys to the children who were watching because they did not have any toys with them. Seeing the children from the villages was a very different experience from the States, where you regularly see children with smartphones, iPads, and other toys. While I was happy to have brought the toys I do wish that I had brought children clothing as well. Many of the children were wearing mis-matched outfits that were too big for them. To see these children still happy, despite the lack of materialistic wealth, I began to think about my own children and how maybe less is more? By the time surgeries were concluding for the day word had gotten around that I brought toys we had more children show up, so I gave out the rest of the toys. We also blew up several gloves and drew faces, even something as simple as a blown up glove made the children very happy.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015; Steven Zary

We went to a little village today down a small and windy dirt road. When we got to our destination, we saw a pavilion-like structure made of logs with palm leaves for a roof. We learned that this building was a church because we were told we weren’t allowed to set up our surgery tables under its shelter since it was holy ground. Instead, we set up our surgery tables under the shade of a mango tree.

dog with skin tumor

Today day was different from our other days of spays and neuters, because we also removed a giant mass from the Tan Swiss Lodge owner’s dog. Earlier in the week, the owner asked us to look at a mass that had “gotten a little bigger.” He said that a veterinarian had prescribed an antibiotic ointment to put on the mass, but it hadn’t really helped. When we looked at the mass, it was enormous! It was a circular mass in the skin over the dog’s back that was about 15 cm in diameter. The dog had been licking it, so it was red and thickened, and there were flies crawling around the mass. It had divots and bumps, and it looked like a giant Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s. It was disgusting! Luckily, the mass was only in the dog’s skin layer and it did not penetrate into deeper tissues, so Dr. Bennett was able to remove the entire mass. The dog had a lot of extra skin, so it was no problem removing such a large area of his skin. When we began excising the mass, a few small blood vessels began spurting blood – all over Nickson and me. We quickly ligated the vessels and removed the mass without any problems. While we were removing this mass, a very drunk man came riding up on a pikipiki (motorbike). He was speaking very loudly and almost knocked our surgery table over! Nickson said that he was so drunk that he was “saturated.” We all got a good laugh out of that one.

All the other surgeries were going well that day, until my spay, which was another dog of the owner of the Tan Swiss Lodge. When I went to start tying the first pedicle, the tissues ripped and the pedicle fell back into the body. Dr. Bennett came over to help find the lost pedicle, and I ligated the vessels successfully. Luckily, the dog did not bleed too much into her abdomen since we acted so quickly. The rest of the surgery went smoothly, and the dog recovered uneventfully. Of course the one time a pedicle slipped on me on the trip was with the owner of the Tan Swiss Lodge’s dog. He had told us that dinner and drinks were on him that night as long as his dogs made it out of surgery alive. Thank goodness we were able to stop the bleeding quickly and his dog did not have any complications! When we got back to the Tan Swiss Lodge, we had a large meal with dessert and plenty to drink. It was a great day!

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Thursday, July 9; Ryan Freed

Today is a new day that will be filled with new experiences. This morning we had a pleasant breakfast at the Tan-Swiss restaurant. There were so many options to choose from on the buffet table. We had breakfast potatoes, veggie baby omelettes, hot dogs, bananas, French toast and regular toast. An assortment of coffee, tea and hot chocolate were available to drink. Fresh squeezed mango-orange juice was also available. Kate came up with a creative way to organize her breakfast. She took the mini French toasts and spread jelly on top of them. Then, she sliced up a banana and placed the slices on top of the jelly. Voila, sweet genius!

We drove to a new village community today and set up our surgery table next to an open field area. There were many houses surrounding this field area. It was very windy and a lot of dust was being blown into our eyes. We split up into groups to perform the spays and neuters. Many people brought their dogs to get vaccinated. By the end of the day we had administered 65 vaccinations and performed 12 surgeries. We returned to the Tan-Swiss Hotel for some rest and relaxation. Steven and I watched Río 2, a movie with singing blue birds. We met at 6:30 pm for dinner. Nickson and Antony joined us for dinner. I got the Tanzanian dish called ndizi na nayama. After dinner we moved over to the gazebo area and Nickson played us some songs on his guitar.

Here is a list of the songs that we played for us: Jambo Jambo, Time of your Life, Ask my shoes, All of Me and Malaika.

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Friday, July 10, 2015; Steven Zary

Today was our last day of surgery for our trip, and it was a bittersweet day. On the one hand, I was excited to be closer to relaxing on the beach in Zanzibar for a few days before heading back home. On the other hand, I was sad to no longer be helping the animals and people in need in Tanzania. I loved having an audience of children watching throughout surgery and watching their faces light up when I handed out stickers or played Frisbee with them. I loved knowing that I not only helped the animals by spaying, neutering, and vaccinating them, but I also helped their owners. It is an amazing feeling to help those in need, especially when they show so much appreciation.

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This trip has changed me in many ways. I have made new friends that I plan to keep in touch with for years to come. I have greatly improved my surgical skills and learned from an amazing board certified surgeon. I was able to check off the top thing on my bucket list: go on an African safari. I learned about a new culture of which I previously had no knowledge. This trip reminded me of how much we have and should be thankful for in America. Just seeing how happy Tanzanian children are when they play with sticks or with blown-up surgery gloves with faces drawn on them is truly inspiring. A smile can go such a long way, as I learned from passing people in the streets. Smiling is contagious. Everyone always had a smile on their face and would wave to us, and it made every day a great day. I was reminded to not always fret about the little things in life. “Hakuna matata” – it means no worries.

I loved my trip to Tanzania. I could not have asked for a better group to travel with or a better set of experiences. I hope to one day return to Tanzania for another veterinary trip and to experience another set of memorable adventures.

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