It’s the end!!!

by Luke, in Costa Rica
17th January, 2010
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The last day of power for the series. It’s done! Finished! What a privilege to have been able to do these programmes, collect so many stamps in my passport and meet so many fantastic and inspiring people. Just had the final flight (42nd in the last ten months) and am now back home and able to shake my head and get back to normal life!

So since I’ve finished the trips for this series, and this is my last blog entry, I am going to talk about flying. Flying is something we’ve had to do a lot and has been (theoretically) a taboo subject during the actual making of the series. Statistically, according to planecrashinfo.com which runs an accident database 1989-2008, the odds of being killed in a single flight on a commercial jetliner in the top 25 world airlines is 1 in 13.57million.

To helpfully put this into perspective, there were coincidentally 13.57million mobile phone users registered in the entire Czech Republic as of Dec 2008 (78,876 sqaure kilometres in size, 115th biggest country in the world with 10million people living there) so I guess that means if you buy a phone in the Czech Republic – the odds on your phone being the only one to blow up in the entire country on any given day – are the same as you having a serious mishap on a plane. Whether that helps you grasp the odds or not; it is fair to say that you can safely assume you are taking a fairly low risk in boarding a plane (probably more helpful statistic is that you have the same chance as winning the UK jackpot lottery – all six numbers matching – as you do dying in a plane crash). Whilst I’m on it – the odds of a random person dying as a result of a shark attack in their lifetime are apparently 300million to 1 whereas the odds of someone in the UK dying as a result of a car accident are only 8000 to 1 – which, if definitley true, is frankly implying getting in a car or going near a road and surviving is almost like a failed suicide attempt.

Having said that, the nail biting terror of being trapped in an aluminum tube flying through the air at night – at about 600mph and 39,000 feet, somehow can’t be ignored – no matter how irrational. If you pick one of the commercial airlines in the bottom 25 of the league of accidents, you are slicing your odds of being killed to 1 in 1.13million. That somehow doesn’t seem so big. There are a million millimeters in a kilometer and although a millimeter is very small – a kilometer doesn’t seem that far. Sadly 45% of plane accidents occur at landing which means, if you are a nervous flyer, you have to deal with your terror right up until the final moment of the journey – and if you see a twitch in the pilot’s eye as you board the plane, try not to remember that 50% of accidents are down to pilot error.

Luckily, Iberia have a couple of moves to numb all feeling – these are chiefly by using a really old plane that has tiny seats so you can’t feel your legs after the first 40minutes or so, to the extent that you become so uncomfortable that you are desperate to get off the plane and almost begin not to care if it is during mid flight. Secondly, they also have considerately one tiny TV screen per 200 passengers which is fixed on a distant ceiling in one of the economy cabins. Whilst in flight entertainment might not be your chief concern, on Iberia, it is. On our return flight, they showed a kids movie they had shown on the flight out, and then followed this with a classic Michael Caine movie – not just once, but three times. This was the same movie over and over again, just in case any passenger may have missed a subtle nuance in the complex plot line of a singing Jamaican/Scottish rebel (Billy Connolly) on a mission to save a fictional island from developers who want to pump pure mineral water from it, build a bottling plant, and exploit the commercial rights of the island away from the locals. Michael Caine is a Brit on the island who does his thing to say the day – and help the guitar playing rebel.

Brilliant – I watched all three showings. Everyone was transfixed – will they actually show this movie again and how many times can they fit it in during one flight. Maybe the Captain was having a bet with his friends – all Iberia flights that night were embroiled in some bizarre competition to see who could show the same 1980s film the most times. Who knows. What it does do is numb the mind of each passenger and they don’t care about anything. To the extent that even huge amounts of alcohol wouldn’t have the same mind numbing effect – just as well because whereas BA have cut down on cabin crew, Iberia don’t seem to have any after takeoff so getting any form of beverage or service is impossible. Marc tested this theory and after a sweep of the plane to get some help for an electrical fault with his light (?!) and not finding anyone, he pushed his flight attendant button pushed for five hours – no cigar.

The best bit about the journey home though was the last leg. BA for the final flight of all. Madrid to London. Yes, they did once again lose all our bags – but that is standard fare through Madrid, nor did this journey stand out because one of the ground crew helpfully drove a vehicle into the side of our plane delaying us for three hours – no problem, we were going home, had delays everywhere, not a bother after an all night flight across the stormy Atlantic. We were strong – lions of the documentary film making nature – despite only being able to see spots through our eyes with fatigue and exhaustion. The absolute best stand out bit of this flight was the BA pilot. A hero who single handedly restored the faith of flying with the flagship British (almost) airline.

Just before takeoff he considerately explained that it was going to be very rough to get above the clouds due to high winds – but after that – it would be fine. It takes 1 hour 40min to fly from Madrid to London. So he was telling us that the first half of the journey would be a bit bumpy – but after that we’d have no problems on the home straight. So we started to takeoff with complete faith in our considerate pilot. As we approached the end of the runway, the plane skewed sideways – twice. It was okay, he could handle it. We lifted off at a tilt and proceeded to surge through the clouds being shaken to pieces. All good – our pilot was the man that can – he was prepared for the challenge . We were ready as he had told us it would be rough. But, as we reached altitude and the seat belt sign came off and everyone breathed a sigh of relief we hit –turbulence.

Not the sort of little bumps you normally get every now again, we are talking the real deal. The plane shaking, dropping, dipping, and battling to keep itself going onwards and upwards. As the air stewardess at the back of the plane shrieked – always reassuring – the team and I clamped down hard on our armrests and wondered if the show was meant to be. Then, just as a sense of despairing acceptance settled over the passengers – the captain came back on the comm.:

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t be alarmed. This is what we call clear air turbulence and is perfectly normal. Imagine yourself in a boat going over choppy water – it is just like that. We will try to rise above it and get out of it shortly. Apologies for the discomfort but everything should be alright.’

Aside from assuming the Captain was into power boating – one of the most dangerous sports on earth – and was therefore used to going over choppy water at speeds in excess of 200mph in a tiny plastic speedboat– we deduced he had pretty good reflexes and aside from the use of the word ‘should’ he sounded relaxed. I loved him as much as I could love a strange man I have never met at that point. John Smith was his name – can’t get more English than that – and with typical British stiff upper lip – which only we can do -we were shaken from our reverie of despair.

Undoubtedly had one of the engines been on fire, Captain Smith would have told us it was perfectly normal and not to worry, as he would have done so he had been leading us into battle and told us to charge a machine gun turret during the second world war – the bullets may sting a bit lads but you’ll be fine – but for some reason I think we’d actually have charged if he told us to and and we also believed at that moment, without a shadow of a doubt, he would get us home safe and sound. True to his word – he managed it. What would the final journey be without a bit of drama. We even got a packet of peanuts for lunch which for BA is cause for hardcore celebration.

And so, having been seated cozily next to Adam for nearly 15 hours, I arrived in Heathrow without bags and in good spirits for the last time in this series. What an amazing experience it has been and thank you to Sky for the opportunity, to Redearth for taking the chance on me and to all the inspirational people I’ve met along the way. I’ve loved working with all the wonderful animals I’ve met these last ten months – not mention the tight knit team of Marc, Adam, Simon, Scottie and Nathan/Lupe/Chai/Narender Carr – who really isn’t an Armenian orphan and really does have a family – on the VetAdevnture team.

Some of the times have been very sad when things haven’t quite worked out for an animal, despite the best efforts of all involved, and I won’t ever forget those moments, but unfortunately those times depict the struggles that the amazing people who run animal shelters and sanctuaries around the world have to go through. This series will hopefully depict the nature of their work, pay tribute to them and show what they have to endure to champion animal welfare in tough environments. The world would be a much poorer place without them or their organizations for sure and it has been a privilege to visit them and meet them.

These people battle against the odds and make a difference for animals that have no one else to turn to – and not just that, they often help the people and communities that depend on animals for their livelihoods as well. I sincerely hope that the programmes capture that and the series does them justice – who knows, the next bit is out of my hands, but I know the film crew have all been touched by many of the cases they have been involved with on the shoots and they all care deeply about what the charities we have worked with do. It has been a winner and thanks to everyone who has put up with a whirlwind TV crew invading their lives over the last ten months. As for WVS – the introductions and opportunities for the charity to help so many new worthy causes has soared and it will be a staunch supporter of all those I’ve worked with for the long term.

Life now is back to business. Can’t pretend I am not incredibly happy to be home for more than two weeks at a time again, can be there for Cordelia and Noah – especially with the next baby due in Feb – very exciting. Noah’s birthday party this weekend so a good chance to get high on helium balloons which is never not funny no matter what anyone pretends – and to cap it all, it’s my five year wedding anniversary tomorrow so according to the traditional anniversary gifts that means giving wood – things are definitely looking up (I know but last gag of the blog so let it go). Roll on 2010 and let’s see what happens!

Very best wishes to you and yours,

Luke

The first five programmes of ‘The World Wild Vet’ series are due to be screened weekly on Sky One at 7pm starting Sunday 28th Feb. Hope you like them.

sunset

Tick-Man??

by Chris the Assistant Producer, in Costa Rica
6th January, 2010
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This morning I woke up with just a hint of horror, as I was to discover something had set up camp on my arm. Looking at this black motionless thing buried into my arm, all my panicked efforts to get the thing off failed. Thankfully I was working on a programme following a vet, just slightly alarmed, I was straight to Luke for his professional diagnosis. Apparently it was the ‘nasty variety’ of a Tick….Luckily it did not qualify for the removal to be filmed for the show. I was pretty grossed out by the whole awakening this morning. Luke claims I am now diseased. Having visions of a spider-man like story evolving…. which clearly would be no were near as cool.

Almost there

by Luke, in Costa Rica
12th January, 2010
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We drove back to the Pacific coast today to get a few frinal shots done and the end piece to camera. It has been a day tinged with sadness because we found out two of the dogs we treated the other day – one we didn;t operate on because it was too sick, hasn’t responded to treatment and has had to be taken to the back up vet in Golfito (who was covering for any post op complications after we left) and a Doberman who I operated on and had a slow recovery from the anaesthetic. The surgery went well but she had lots of stones in her faces, was underweight and probably had ehlricia and heartworm. The vet saw her today – couple of days post surgery – and she was very weak and they advised putting her to sleep. Very sad.
There has also just been an earthquake in Haiti and there is a big storm brewing here – the roads around where we were planning to go yesterday are all sealed shut due to the volcano and flooding and it is definitley picking up outside.

Back to the Big Freeze…

by Chris the Assistant Producer, in Costa Rica
13th January, 2010
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So it’s coming to the end of the trip and what an adventure it has been. Before I head back to all the snow that is currently taking over the UK I thought I would get a last blog entry in. Firstly, it has been great to see Costa Rica, such a lush, colourful scenic country. The best morning coffee. Friendly people, have met some real characters along the way, who I thank for all their hospitality and to keep up the great work that they are doing. Having seen the work that all these people put into maintaining shelter for all these animals really has given me a new admiration to the commitment, hard graft and care that goes into running the shelters and sanctuaries. Plus, the importance of the work that is done, not only for the species of animals, but for the communities also. Luke really gets stuck in with everything he does, you can see just how much the community, and I’m pretty certain the animals themselves, appreciate the work he is doing to help.

All in all, it’s been a great experience, working with the crew and Luke has been a real laugh. Lastly just want to thank the team for giving me this great opportunity to join them on the final shoot of the series. Can’t wait to see the episodes up on the TV screen!!

Now back to that ‘special’ airline…..

Marc’s big move to save the planet

by Luke, in Costa Rica
11th January, 2010
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I forgot to metion during yesterday’s excitement that Marc has been making his stand to save the planet. This involved going to the management at the hotel we were staying at and asking them not to clean his room, make his bed or do his washing. Trip ten in the series, three days before the end, definitley caught the rest of us a little by surprise – but there was more in store – because returning last night I discovered that luckily my room hadn;t been touched either. So I also score some points on the saving the planet stakes. The downside is that three local Costa Rican ladies have now lost their jobs and a huge pile of my damp washing (complete with all sorts of muck from the pig op and assorted other animal related activities) could accompany us in the 30degree heat in the car for our nine hour drive today – not my fault. Marc is just really lucky that none of us like to make a fuss and I certainly haven;t gone on about it hardly at all. Quiet as a mouse (sort of).

marc_and_luke_end_of_day

We didn’t make it to Limon – weather is horrednous and some of the roads have been closed. Big disappointment as the sloth sanctuary would have been lovely to visit, but we can;t risk being stranded. So we stopped this evening in San Jose and are going to head to a suitable place for the closing piece to camera tomorrow and pick up some general shots of Costa Rica. I’m also going to try to get some washing done without telling Marc.

Last community day of the series!

by Luke, in Costa Rica
10th January, 2010
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The last big community spay day of the series! I didn’t realise this until Marc said it to me as we walked up to the boat this morning, laboriously lugging all the gear with sweat already pouring of us at 7.30am. And what a day to finish on. The island is apparently a place where people dump abandoned dogs they no longer want and the population has become feral and dangerous – as well as uncared for. The mission was to get there, catch the dogs and do the job. The truth of it is that the dangerous bit of the job was done by Don Oscar – a world renown dog whisperer who had given up his time (and driven 16 hours) to get down here and perform some miracles in coaxing these feral dogs into his arms. True to his reputation he managed it without any heroics or rough handling and before we could blink he had us a large collection of dogs to get cracking with.

marc_and_adam_chilling_under_tree

When I say us, I wasn’t alone today. I was working with Dr Bitter who is on the McKee board, has about twenty years experience and what a great guy. Together we got set up and started operating, working it all out as we went along and a special thanks to Leo – a tireless local who helped us with all the logistics or rigging up all the bits and bobs (and trained me in hardcore machete action yesterday) – as well as getting the few island residents on side. A tough looking bunch (hard as nails, covered in homemade tattoos and not an ounce of fat to spare between them), they were very quick to smile and join in with us once we got going and despite my total ignorance in being able to speak more than three words in Spanish, I really enjoyed their company today – despite the fact most of them were armed with three foot machetes strapped around their waists.

luke_spaying

The sun, the mosquitoes all added to the sense of hardcore healing and I’m absolutely shattered tonight. Christine worked really hard to sort all this out and as logistically challenging as it has been from organising to doing (we even had to take water with us for this) she really pulled it out the bag and I desperately hope today will do justice to the message of the McKee foundation and the great works it is doing on championing the welfare of these sort of animals (and in turn hopefully benefiting that island community). It will, I have no doubt, although I have to smile because Dr Bitter uses exactly the same technique as I do back home in spaying – he doesn’t use the cable ties and takes no shortcuts so all of that became a non issue very quickly – as did the anaesthetic and we swapped ideas and techniques readily throughout the day. I tried his anaesthetic, he tried mine and it was really good fun. The best way is always the one with which the surgeon is most familiar with in my book and it was just great working with him.

Adam, Marc and Chris are all in good spirits – now today is out the way I think they feel pretty happy this one is going to be a winner and the next couple of days are going to be general shots as well as a quick nine hour drive across the country tomorrow to the Caribbean coast of Limon to visit – guess what – a sloth sanctuary! The only nerve wracking bit is we need to drive right past an active volcano (erupted four days ago) and apparently is categorized as being extremely dangerous at the moment… never a dull moment!

Osa Wildlife Sanctuary

by Luke, in Costa Rica
9th January, 2010
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Today we went back to see Carol and Earl atthe Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. 700 acres of designated National Park in the rainforest, in such a remote location where it is only accessible by boat with only two hours of electricity a day and very limited phone access, is a wonderful place to be able to visit two days in a row.

spider_monkey

Sweetie, the big spider monkey I had anaesthetised yesterday was there to greet us as we waded into shore through about three foot of water (always a challenge considering the 12 foot crocs and bull sharks that patrol the waters) and she had forgiven me for her in the arm and avidly pointed out the wounds on her legs, asking me to scratch or rub them for her. I sprayed them with blue spray instead and she loved this even more surpsingly and I had to do it repeatedly before I could escape! I have to say, that spider monkeys are now up there on my favourite primates of all time, mainly thanks to the incredible endearing qualties of Sweetie and Winkie who stuck with us throughout much of the day and won everyones hearts.

The mission today was to castrate a couple of collared peccaries – wild forest pigs – and this was a job and a half. The boar (collared peccaries are notorious for being wild, undomesticable and very dangerous) was thankfully relaxed for the injection, but I had a heck of job to castrate him (pre scrotal approach – not a good idea as the gubernaculam and fascia is an absolute hellish thing to get through). I think it was the hardest castrate I have ever done on any animal in terms of technical headache. Learning from this, I did the younger pig with a scrotal approach and it was a piece of cake, so lesson learned if I am ever in that situation again.

I also treated a possum, a three week old baby anteater and went with Carol to release three howler monkeys back into the rainforest – one of which was called Lulu – which was brilliant as my head nurse back home is called Lulu and it was hilarious as I called Lulu and she jumped on my head. I could only imagine Lulu (at Pilgrims) being in absolute stitches as we tried to encourage her howler monkey counterpart out the enclosure!

I am completley sold on all Carol and Earl are doing and am so privileged to have met and worked with them. A real treat and I think they are doing brilliant work and are incredibly worthy of all the support they can muster. It is very tough for them being so isolated, championing the rainforest and the sanctity of the animals within it, and the creatures I have met and worked with over the last two days will stay with me for a long time.

It is visiting places like this that really brings home what an awesome experience making this series has been and I think all of us have loved the last couple of days. Adam was walking along with one of the monkeys firmly clamped top his head soon after we arrived and I saw both Chris and Marc having some quiet time with other monkeys that came up to say hello to them. It was unique for all of us and in a very different way to the other primate experiences we have had over the last ten months. Somehow, they seem a bit more vulnerable here (which isn’t quite true as with Carol and Earl as guardians they couldn’t hope for better despite being a critically endangered species) and that made the whole experience really exceptional.

We polished off the day by meeting up Christine and helped lend a hand setting up the McKee spay clinic on the beach tomorrow. It promises to be a brilliant day so early night tonight to get fresh and ready for a hadcore mission tomorrow – looking forward to it!

crew_at_ossa_wildlife

Noah’s Birthday!

by Luke, in Costa Rica
8th January, 2010
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Noah’s birthday!! Mobile reception has been an absolute killer on this trip and there is no phone in the lodge so Christine very kindly lent me her super powerful 3G iphone as a solid back up for the essential call home. Amazingly Greg’s lodge does has wi-fi so I was able to download Skype and phone home first thing this morning (UK time) to blast out my finest rendition of Happy Birthday to a (presumably) very bemused Noah. He did say Daddy down the phone which pretty much broke my heart as I tunelessly sang my lungs out in my very best dulcet tones. Hopefully I didn’t wake Marc next door – but he was incredibly supportive first thing as we crawled out of our rooms about 6am to get to the boat on time so I don’t think he minded if I did. He said not – but I suspect he was just being nice. Noah was planned to meet up with cousin Robyn at the soft play centre in Basingstoke today but the weather in the UK has been the worst in 30 years (apparently) so hopefully Cords and Noah made it whilst we are sweating our socks off, careful not to jump in the water with12 foot crocodiles no matter how tempting. Hard to think all our families are freezing cold and despite the amazing company and great people, can’t help but wish you were at home.

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Today has been a day of power, met Carol and Earl who are hardcore jungle people, championing the wildlife of Costa Rica in pristine rainforest. They don’t have electricity more than two hours a day and live about as rustic as you can get. They are warm and generous and clearly do all they can for the rainforest and the animals within it. Very inspiring people and immensely likeable. They had flown in the head exotic vet of Costa Rica for the main film day so the pressure was on as we knocked out Sweetie, a stunning spider monkey with skin lesions and took some samples.

filming_luke_operating_sweetie

This was closely followed by examining a Macaw with an injured wing and a Jaguarundi – which was the most playful and amazing cat you can imagine. Beautiful animal with a face like an otter but the body of a cat. They are related to Cougars and are awesome creatures – often kept and captured as pets until they reach maturity when they turn wild and are abandoned by their ‘owners’.

luke_operating_on_sweetie

The best animal of the day though was the anteater called “Tank”. I think anteaters are my favourite baby animals. They are simply the most adorable creatures and without sounding completely wet – but probably failing – they are the sort of animals you just want to give a hug to. One of the only species of mammals that never possess teeth, they have a tongue that darts out at speed of a 150 times a minute. When adults, they are a bit formidable – growing up to seven feet in length – but a three days old, they are some of the sweetest things in the world. Also one of the hardest to raise and rehabilitate.

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Carol and Earl reckon only 25% of those brought into their care make it due to the phenomenally intense efforts required to raise them and the high protein diet they need to make it. Tank is on a winner and looking good and the sancturary on the whole is so impressive and so remote (now we have made all the efforts to get here (huge thanks to Christine and Karen)) we are heading back there tomorrow soo I can castrate a couple of collared peccaries for them. Should be exciting as these wild pigs are so wild they have never been managed to be domesticated. Will keep you posted!

luke_and_anteater

Getting Hotter

by Luke, in Costa Rica
7th January, 2010
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Today was a big drive further down south – it is absolutely scorching – mid thirties and whilst I do my best not to sweat, I am absolutely dripping all the time. Lovely for the camera. I’m actually a bit beyond caring at this stage in the series, but I look like I am in a sauna, which to be honest, is how it feels.

ossa_coastline

The Pacific is amazing, we even had time for a quick dip this afternoon after our four hour drive to get here – all work, work, work I know. We’re staying at Zancudo lodge courtesy of Greg who runs the place and has very generously given us our rooms for free. If you are into sport fishing – this is the place as it is a mecca for serious fishermen.
fish Tomorrow is a big day – Noah’s birthday back home so looking forward to ringing home and doing my best happy birthday song down the phone (we have the party when I get back so that will be brilliant) and I am off to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary to help Carol Crews and her team and learn about the great work they are doing there. Going to be a good day.

Chris makes a new friend

by Luke, in Costa Rica
6th January, 2010
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Chris is officially diseased – massive tick on his arm – much to his horror – and so we are now having to quarantine him. It was also one of those really nasty ones that buries incredibly deeply into your skin, sucking out your life force – or so I told him. I think he appreciated my candour.
Big day – we are near Guapil – that should make our location clearer. I have become an equine vet apparently and word has spread I am here to treat lots of horses. All good stuff. Went through a castration with a local farmer – they castrate the stallions here using ropes – enough said. Hopefully, given him a few tips and it went well. Big stallion and hardly broken, but the locals are natural horsemen and the horse was incredibly trusting. I knocked him down so everyone could see what I was doing and thankfully it went like clockwork.
Must go and have a good scrub because I’ve been standing near Chris and don’t want to catch anything.