As I mentioned in my last post, I have also been on holiday over the summer, to bright, sunny Scarborough. This was mostly a laying-around-the-pool-doing-sod-all holiday, but we did manage to do Scarborough SeaLife Centre, and, in case I have never mentioned this before, my zoological area of expertise happens to be marine life!!

I like SeaLife as a franchise, because they do do a lot of work for conservation projets, including WDCS (Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society), and, despite the fact that they have overseas centres, they have a 100% no-cetacean policy. No marine mammals are kept in captivity in any SeaLife Centre, except for seals which are receiving medical attention, in which case, the centres serve as veterinary hospitals. In the Scarborough Centre, there were many fascinating permanent exhibits, including a Pacific Giant Octopus, a jellyfish display, leafy sea dragons, seahorses, pipefish, penguins and an artificial reef housing a variety of reef fish, as well as blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks and leopard sharks.

Perhaps the most unusual inhabitant of the aquarium was the 50-year old Loggerhead Turtle, Antiopi. She was rescued from the waters off the Greek island of Zakynthos, where she suffered severe head injuries following a collision with a pleasure boat. Unfortunately, her injuries were so extensive that by the time the rescue crew arrived, she had suffered permanent brain damage. She was brought to the centre, where it was discovered that the way her disability affects her is that she is permanently hungry. In mammals, birds and fish, this problem can often result in obesity, and all its associated problems (kidney disease, heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.), in turtles, the problem is far more serious. Because of their shell, turtles cannot comfortably carry very much body fat, and if excessive fat builds up under the skin or around the organs, it cannot grow outwards against the bony shell, and can begin to crush the vital organs, causing internal bleeding, breathing difficulties and organ failure. In light of this, Antiopi is on a strict diet, and is fed mainly oily fish that carry little or no fat.

Another interesting specimen at the aquarium was a small pod (pod? Oh, hell, it’ll do…) of common seals. Yes, I did say that the aquarium operated a no-mammal policy, however, all the seals kept at the sanctuary are rescue seals who, for one reason or another, would not survive if released into the wild. For example, one resident male seal, Bubbles, is 14 years old (and therefore, in the wild would probably fall victim in a fight to a younger male), and is partially sighted, and therefore unable to hunt live food for himself. While I was there, there was also a young seal pup (not weaned – 6mths or younger), which was found on a local beach, having been apparently abandoned by its mother and severely underweight, dehydrated and malnourished. Fortunately, he is making good progress in captivity, and is having minimal human company, which will prepare him for going back to the wild once he is weaned onto solid food.

I find this an interesting contrast to the “educational” methods of the larger international aquariums, such as SeaWorld, but it’s late at night, and I’m running out of room on this page, so I will have to cover this argument in another post (and believe me, I will!!)


…Sorry for my inconsistency!!

Long time, no see…


I have been absent from “blogging” for a few months now, but I have a good excuse!! I have had a very busy few weeks… I had a week in Swindon working on a vintage steam railway, a week on holiday in Scarborough and two consecutive weeks’ work experience. Unfortunately, all these activities occurred over 100 miles from home, so I have been physically seperated from my beloved “blog”!! Thankfully, we recently made it up, and we’re both very happy.

I want to talk about all these things, but I’m going to discuss them in separate posts otherwise this could get confusing. First, my week on the railway. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I work as a volunteer every weekend at the Swindon & Cricklade Heritage Railway, at Blunsdon, West Swindon, (Google it, we need the money!!). The railway is currently in celebration of the opening of our new station at Taw Hill, in the middle of the beautiful Moulden Hill Country Park. This southern extension of the line has increased the length of our line to three and a half miles, and the presence of our rare visitor engine, the very pretty little former Great Western prairie tank, number 5521, has brought in even more visitors.

“Wait!”, I hear you cry, “This is all well and good, but this is a vet student blog, who gives a toss about some obnoxious little rattler in the middle of rural Wiltshire?” I’ll tell you. As the railway runs through a National Country Park, we need (and have) the services of a very good Wildlife Manager. And every good Wildlife Manager needs an Assistant Wildlife Manager… I think you can see where this is going. As the Assistant Wildlife Manager, I’m basically responsible for looking after and keeping track of the local wildlife. This includes feeding and keeping records of the wild bird populations, keeping the area on and around the railway free of pollution and litter, and looking after the station cat!

As well as this, I am also involved in some engineering projects on the railway; I am currently a trainee fireman (fire stoker – one rung below train driver!!), I’m involved in restoring a British Rail Mark. 1 carriage, a former Great Western Siphon G, a British Rail Diesel Multiple Unit and the general restoration and maintenance of all our working engines and rolling stock.

Working at the railway has helped to develop my skills in teamwork, lateral thinking, problem solving and time management. I have also had the opportunity to do things that not many other young people these days have ever or will ever get to do, but that can be very rewarding and useful later in life, such as rewiring the control panel of a BR-DMU, replacing the wooden floor paneling of a vintage carriage, driven both a steam and a diesel locomotive, performed a boiler washout, painted a 30′ railway coach, worked on stalls in fundraising events, laid down and taken up track on the permanent way and helped out in repairing the sewage system and dig the new cesspit.  .  . nice!!

Photos on the way!!

Work Experience!

Good grief, it’s been a while! However, now that exams have been successfully finished, I should now have much more time for “blogging” ;-)

The first thing I should probably mention is that I am a week up on work experience since last time, thanks to the kind and helpful staff at the Pilbara Reptile Shop of Gloucester, who were thankfully able to offer me a placement with a very useful four days’ notice, and to a certain young Master Davies, who was able to put me up at the last moment for a week in the spare room!

A week in Pilbara did teach me an awful lot about exotic husbandry, especially about the vast and tragic number of people who keep exotics having bought them on a whim, and without having considered every eventuality. In particular, one keeper at Pilbara, Tina, with whom I had a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening conversation, has since risen to the rank of hero in my opinions, due to her incredible determination and total forethought for animal welfare. She taught me exactly the opposite of what was drilled into us at both Vet MedLink and VetSim, that the person always comes first. Tina of Pilbara taught me that if at any time, she believes that a potential customer is giving her any doubts as to his/her ability to keep an animal in the manner to which it should have become accustomed, then she will simply refuse to serve them. I personally believe this to be a heroic and unselfish attitude to take, especially for a small business such as a reptile shop, and if there were more like her around, then there would be no need for vets.

Anyway, enough of the advertising, my duties at Pilbara involved cleaning out adult, adolescent (and, on one occasion, hatchling) corn snakes, feeding and cleaning out tortoises, bearded dragons, geckos, frogs and king snakes, clearing, disinfecting and prepping vivariums, cleaning feeding equipment and just generally lending a hand, with plenty of animal handling in the process! I found the whole experience much more organized than my last reptile placement, at Silent World Aquarium & Reptile Collection, which seemed to involve more handling for the fun of it, and less concern for professionalism.

All in all, I found the whole experience at Pilbara thoroughly enjoyable, I would recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in exotics, I learned a great deal about husbandry, handling and responsible ownership, as well as receiving a well-deserved rap across the knuckles for my sloppy habits. This placement has definitely helped to raise my standards in cleanliness, and my awareness in the responsibility of the professional to ensure that the animal in the hands of the amateur is being well cared for.

- Photos on the way!!

Life… The Universe…

It’s been a good month since my giant leap into the world of “blogging”, and the response of the world in general has been… Total ignorance! Well, thanks – It just goes to show you, doesn’t it? I reall am crap with technology ;-)

Leaving aside my digital don’t-know-how, I thought I’d mention one or two items of interest I’ve spotted in the news recently. First of all is the amazing photo I found in the Telegraph (I know, I know…!), of the first basking sharks of the season being spotted off the coast of Cornwall. The snaps were shot by diving instructor Charles Hood near Mount’s Bay, Penzance of a male shark, around 10 years old and 20ft long. Richard Pierce of Shark Trust said, “Normally it is the start of June when we start seeing them in numbers”. These incredible fish, secondary in size only to the Whale Shark (And possibly Mo Molam on a bad day!!) can reach up to 40ft in length, and survive by filter-feeding plankton from the water, which, for some reason, seems to be the best food to sustain anything over 30ft long in the oceans.

Something else that caught my eye, this time sifting through the Metro (Well-read, aren’t I?!) is that an African Black-Footed Cat has been successfully bred from nine-year-old frozen sperm using a common house cat as a surrogate mother. The resulting kitten, named Crystal, is being hailed as a world first along with her ‘mother’, Amelie. Five embryos were produced from thawed sperm samples, and Crystal was born 67 days after  the transfer. This kitten must be handled with kid gloves, however, as there are fewer than 10,000 of her kind left in the world, mainly due to loss of habitat in southern Africa. Ron Forman, the president of the Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans, is optimistic that this experiment will open doors for more projects like it in conserving endangered animals all over the world. Though I’d like to see them use a house cat to surrogate a baby rhinoceros!!

Hello world!

Greetings, Earthlings…

Let me just say, I have never had anything close to a “blog” before, and so none of what I say or do here is rehersed, and you must excuse my bimbo approach. I don’t actually know what a “blog” is, or how to start, and so I’m going to start by telling you who I am, and then using this page to post any news, photos or anthing else I fancy on here. First of all, my name is Rebecca, I am 17 years old at the present, and I live in a small Welsh cottage in a small Welsh valley (for my sins). I am currently attending Ystaslyfera Comprehensive School, and I am studying A-Levels to hopefully go on to study Veterinary Surgery. I was encouraged to start this “blog” by the lovely people at VetMedlink, who claim these to be very helpful (ho ho). Anyway, I shall try and prevent my total ignorance of modern techology cloud this wonderful system.

- Over and out.