LION AROUND: Gabrielle Painter checks on a sedated lion while volunteering for African Conservation Experience in South Africa.
LION AROUND: Gabrielle Painter checks on a sedated lion while volunteering for African Conservation Experience in South Africa. Photo Contributed

Teen heeds call of the wild in Africa

HUGGING a wild rhinoceros and kissing a house-trained hippopotamus are among the highlights of Toowoomba teen Gabrielle Painter's African veterinary adventures.

The 17-year-old volunteered to assist a wildlife vet charged with ensuring the health of the animals which live in South Africa's Greater Kruger private game reserves.

"We are, in a way, his helpful shadows, in that we watch as he does his everyday work and also help out a bit with some drug administration and handling," Miss Painter said.

During her work experience she worked with rhinos, cheetahs and buffaloes on numerous occasions, as well as one lion.

"I considered working with the rhino as the most exciting part of the trip, as it isn't every day that one can get close to a rhino, even in Africa."

PUCKER UP: Toowoomba teenager Gabrielle Painter kisses Jessica the Hippo on a farm near Hoedspruit in South Africa.
PUCKER UP: Toowoomba teenager Gabrielle Painter kisses Jessica the Hippo on a farm near Hoedspruit in South Africa. Contributed

Opportunities to work with the hulking animals came about as a result of poaching activities.

"The first rhino had been shot in the leg.

"The bullet had gone right through his leg, but missed the bone, leaving a horrible wound with two holes."

VET EXPERIENCE: A cheetah is treated for a leg injury.
VET EXPERIENCE: A cheetah is treated for a leg injury.

She helped to flush out the wound with antiseptic and gave the beast some antibiotics.

"It was exciting as I had never been close to a rhino, let alone able to hug one."

The second occasion involved treating a pair of rhinos that had been poached using tranquilizers.

"That is, they had their horns and a good chunk of their noses cut off when they were under anaesthetic.

"We were treating them by cleaning their wounds and placing a cast over the wounds to keep out infection."

BIG BABY: Treating rhinos was a highlight of Miss Painter’s trip.
BIG BABY: Treating rhinos was a highlight of Miss Painter’s trip.

Miss Painter was also fortunate enough to meet a friendly hippo.

"Jessica was on a farm near Hoedspruit in the Blyde River, where she was found as a calf after she was washed away from her family in a flood 13 years ago.

"The couple who found her had to hand raise her on the bottle and she is still one of the family.

"She sleeps on their front porch with her best friend, a bull terrier, on her back, and on occasion wanders into their house for a snack.

"She has managed to break numerous beds and sofas during her life."

UNFORGETTABLE: An elephant comes in for a close look during a game drive.
UNFORGETTABLE: An elephant comes in for a close look during a game drive.

It was while she was travelling across Africa that she learned her efforts at Fairholme College had given her the best possible chance of being accepted into a veterinary science course at University of Queensland's Gatton campus.

"I had just stepped off the plane from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth in South Africa and was waiting for my luggage at the carousel.

"I switched on my phone to find a flood of messages from family and friends - I had achieved an OP 1."



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