Dr Chris Brown goes to Africa

Dr Chris Brown

“There’s no doubt this is a challenging location. This giraffe stumbled into the mud on the banks of the Nile River. With crocodiles nearby, there are some anxious moments.” Dr Chris Brown

In search of new inspirations for his veterinary work, the former host of Bondi Vet headed to Uganda to help a tower of giraffes cross the River Nile. By John Burfitt

The past few years of TV success have made Dr Chris Brown the best-known vet in the country, but in recent months, he’s been shifting gears in the way he approaches his work.

In particular, he has purposely freed up his TV schedule so he can spend more time in his clinic at the Bondi Junction Vet Hospital in Sydney

When he announced earlier this year he was quitting Bondi Vet to devote more time to the practice, it was a conscious career decision.

“I wasn’t spending enough time in the clinic, full stop,” Dr Brown says of his recent resolution. “For the past few years, I have struggled with the requirements of hosting three prime-time shows and, most importantly, working as a vet.

“I’ve had so much great fun doing the TV work, but I don’t feel complete as a person unless I’m actually doing my quota of vet work, and I’m much more centred and at peace with myself when I’m doing my vet work. It’s just the balance I need.”

Which leaves the weekly lifestyle show The Living Room the main gig in his TV schedule, and that will be a far easier fit in and around his veterinary appointment book.

“This was the first time I’d worked hands-on with a giraffe and I found that fascinating and a real intellectual challenge. It’s something that can easily kill you with one kick but was surprisingly gentle and beautiful to work with, despite its size.”—Dr Chris Brown

Not that the Newcastle-raised Dr Brown, who graduated from the University of Sydney back in 2001, has any complaints about the TV opportunities that have come his way. He admits he found a wealth of new inspiration for his work during some extraordinary veterinary experiences he had in Africa, while filming I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here.

Dr Chris Brown

Three Nubian giraffes on the search for a late afternoon snack in Murchison Falls National Park. While many people believe a giraffe is a giraffe, in fact there are four distinct species.

He has spent two months of each of the past three years filming the reality show in the Kruger National Park in the north-east of South Africa. In spare time away from the cameras, Dr Brown often got away to practise alongside local vets at a nearby clinic, to experience working with a range of African wildlife.

He was soon vaccinating rhinoceroses, health-checking cheetahs and helping relocate lions to a safer part of the park.

He was so inspired by the experience that he returned to Africa in early August, this time to northern Uganda to work on a one-week giraffe relocation program, which involved moving 20 giraffes across the River Nile. It was his first time working with this group of vets.

“I have previously made some good contacts over there and when they called to say they could do with an extra hand, I just went. I’ve developed a real affection and respect for the challenges they’re facing over there,” Dr Brown says.

“This was the first time I’d worked hands-on with a giraffe and I found that fascinating and a real intellectual challenge. It’s something that can easily kill you with one kick but was surprisingly gentle and beautiful to work with, despite its size.”

The relocation team of four vets worked with a range of local animal workers to prepare the animals for the trip, and then to put them into a carriage to get across the river.

“That is one of the privileges of being a vet, as you find the way those skills are transferable between a domestic cat and a lion out in the field. And funnily enough, they’re not actually that different in how they work, although drug dosages are very different and you can’t exactly coerce a lion into a cat cage when you need to examine it!”—Dr Chris Brown

“It was getting them out of an area that is affected by poaching and increasingly under threat from oil drilling, so it was about giving them a new start in a much better area for them to be,” Dr Brown explains. “To do that, we had to get them on and off what looked like a very big horse float.”

To prepare for the project, Dr Brown completed a range of research into the functioning of a giraffe’s circulatory system, to best understand the way any medications or treatments would impact on the animal.

Dr Chris Brown

After having her sedation fully reversed, this giraffe is loaded aboard a giraffe float for the short journey to her new home. The blindfold is a crucial part of minimising her stress on the trip.

“I quickly realised I needed to understand how they metabolise any drugs, and the quirks of their circulation, as they have a massive heart and their circulation system function is quite remarkable,” he explains.

“It’s like the challenges of working with a horse are amplified when working with a giraffe. Because of their long neck and long legs, you are in some ways worried about the same things as you are with a horse. A lot of times, I had to change my way of thinking, imagining if it was a horse or a cow, and then that would all make sense and we were able to work it out. So, putting it into that kind of context proved a good approach for me throughout the week.

“That is one of the privileges of being a vet, as you find the way those skills are transferable between a domestic cat and a lion out in the field,” he says. “And funnily enough, they’re not actually that different in how they work, although drug dosages are very different and you can’t exactly coerce a lion into a cat cage when you need to examine it!”

It was finding himself out of his comfort zone and exploring new approaches to his practice that proved exhilarating.

“As a vet, I certainly have a desire to keep learning, and exposure to the animals that I encounter in Africa certainly gives me that,” he says. “It was just so nice to feel a little bit out on the edge and to know you’re going to have to think outside the square and adapt the skills you have to fit what’s going on in a situation you are not so familiar with.

“This has taught me to look at problems from a number of different ways, how to think it through to sort it out and to be prepared to be flexible,” he says. “That all comes back to the underlying skills set we have been trained to have as a vet, and why I have truly loved all these trips
to Africa for what they have opened my eyes to.”

Dr. Chris Brown is on The Living Room, Fridays 7.30pm on Network Ten.

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