BOOKS: Tales of an African Vet

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)
Tales of an African Vet by Roy Aronson, VMD
Lyons Press (246 Goose Lane, Guilford, CT 06437), 2010.
227 pages, hardcover. $19.95
Tales of an African Vet, by Roy Aronson, VMD, captured my
attention. I have never been to South Africa and enjoyed sharing
Aronson’s acquaintance with the many wild and exotic animals who
inhabit the region, some of whom, like cheetahs, are endangered.

Loving horses, Aronson in his first year of vet school was
also a “fledging farrier.” While shopping for horse shoes in
Pretoria, Aronson was offered a job at a private game preserve in
Botswana, which he took. “Thirty years later I can still taste the
dust in my throat and feel the tingle in my belly when I think back
to this time,” Aronson writes. His final year of vet school i\was
spent caring for the animals at the Pretoria Zoo. He later worked at
Kruger National Park. Among his most interesting cases have been
treating snakes, saving a cheetah’s life, and performing a
difficult diagnosis on a lioness named Mehlwane at the Thornybush
game preserve. A dark circle surrounded Mehwane’s eye. After
consultation with another wildlife expert, Arson identified a case
of entropion, a congenital condition “where the lower lid rolls in
toward the cornea,” also found in dogs. Entropion can inhibit lions
from hunting successfully. Mehlwane was darted with anesthesia and
the vets successfully corrected her condition on a makeshift
operating table in the bush.
Aronson came of age during the ugly apartheid era. A chapter
called “Cry Wolf” discusses a hard-to-believe episode in which,
according to Aronson, the South African Defense Force in the 1960s
bought about 200 wolves from the US.
“At the time there were border wars, and freedom fighters
affiliated with the then banned African National Congress were
infiltrating the border with the intention of committing so-called
acts of terror,” Aronson explains. The government planned to breed
a hybrid wolf to track and attack the infiltrators. As wolves had
been entirely extirpated from the Lower 48 in the 1960s, except at
some zoos, and Aronson offers no sources to support his claims, I
did my own checking.
Elaborated Robyn Dixon of the Los Angeles Times in October
2004, “Scientists at Roodeplaat Breeding Enterprises imported the
animals from North America in an attempt to create an attack dog that
would have a wolf’s stamina and sense of smell to track down black
insurgents in the harsh border regions. The secretive experiment
failed–the wolf hybrids were stubborn and hard to train.”
Descendants from that experiment reputedly inhabit the
Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary near the southern coast of South Africa.
Designed by Patricia Bloom, the original 2008 edition of
Tales of an African Vet, from Arrowvet Publishers of South Africa,
was extensively illustrated both with photos and pen-and-ink
drawings. The lack of illustrations in the Lyons Press edition is a
disappointment, along with the lack of a clear time frame for the
content, which Aronson provides at his personal web site. That
page belongs in the book. –Debra J. White

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