Our Friend of the Month is Dr Pete Morkel, wildlife veterinarian, who earlier this year helped the EPI’s Dr Dolmia Malachie with a collaring project of Chad’s elephants.
What made you decide to become a wildlife veterinarian? Where did you spend your childhood and were you interested in wildlife conservation at a young age?
I grew up in eastern Zimbabwe. I always loved animals, especially wild animals and I wanted to be a game ranger when I grew up. It was almost by accident that I became a veterinarian but I’m very pleased I did.
You’re recognised as a world expert in the translocation of giraffes, elephants, rhinos and many other species. Do you ever fear for your own physical safety?
Obviously one has to take chances to get the job done but one must always be sensible and not push things too far. I rarely get myself into a situation where I fear I might be injured or killed.
Much of your work is spent moving endangered wildlife populations from one place to another. Do you sometimes feel you’re fighting a losing battle to preserve African wildlife, or are you encouraged by your successes and the many dedicated people you meet?
Tough question. There is both success and failure but all in all we are clearly losing the battle, mostly because of poor governance and our continent’s exploding population. There are however some positive conservation developments, especially African Parks. Another positive is the increasing number of dedicated Africans who are committed to saving our continent’s magnificent wildlife.
The African elephant is in retreat in many parts of the continent. Please tell us the populations/regions you worry about the most?
I’m most concerned about forest elephants in Gabon, Republic of Congo, DRC, Cameroon and CAR. Unlike savannah elephant, forest elephant are rarely seen and poaching usually happens in the depths of the forest and the carcasses rapidly disappear. Bottom line: most forest elephants will be gone within ten years. The other three populations that I’m worried about are: 1) the Tanzania/Mozambique border elephants 2) the KAZA elephants shared by Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola and Namibia 3) elephants in SE Zimbabwe, Gaza Province in Mozambique and Kruger NP in South Africa.
You’ve worked with African wildlife departments for many years. If you compare their capacity today with that of, say, 20 years ago, what observations would you make?
Some have improved while others have deteriorated. It depends on the quality of governance in a country and if wildlife is considered a valuable asset. Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA) in Tanzania is an example of an agency which is much improved over the last twenty years while the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in Zimbabwe has sadly gone backwards in the same period.