Meet Emily Baxter...
I was born and bred in London but work with Dr Will Fowlds as part of his veterinary team as a veterinary surgeon.
I knew I wanted to be here, and I knew this is what I wanted to do so I did a student course with Dr Will Fowlds through the Vets Go Wild programme and I was hooked. However, I didn’t really know how to go about getting in here and from a confidence point of view, with people telling me it wouldn’t be possible, I didn’t think I could apply. I had people telling me that there was no room for women or foreigners in the industry, but friends and family gave me the nudge I needed so I emailed Will asking if he had any volunteer places and he said yes. Once I completed vet school at the University of Bristol, I came out here for nine months working with Will as his assistant and at Amakhala Game Reserve with their ecology department. I then went back to the UK and worked with dogs, cats and mice while I sorted my visa out to come back here.
On being a woman in the industry...
I think the industry is changing, I’ve noticed it in the 5 years that I’ve been here. The first veterinary conference I went to I was the only woman in the room, but now when you go it’s about 10-20% women.
I think women bring different skills to the field; I may not have the strength of a 6ft tall man, but I could bring a different way of thinking about an issue or a case. I think women also approach situations differently and it’s not necessarily that men are harsh, but we tend to be a bit more delicate or aware of our touch. With game capture, everyone loves the animal, but I think we’re more aware of welfare and wellbeing not just from a clinical perspective but also a nurturing point of view.
I think now that women are being given opportunities in the field, it is up to us to prove that we’re capable and can bring different skills to the industry. I think because there aren’t as many women vets in the industry, people are afraid that we may not be as capable i.e., may not be as capable of leading a team or in darting animals. Obviously with game capture there are many people who are involved with the procedure, and it needs to go smoothly and run regimentally, so it is proving that you are able to command a team and get the job done “as well as men”. We may have different leadership styles, but it doesn’t mean we’re any less competent.
I think it’s important that young people have women role models to look up to so that it becomes normalised. You want to be seen as a vet, not as a woman or man. Cathy Dreyer, former Conservation Manager at Great Fish Nature Reserve and current Head Ranger at Kruger National Park, is my superhero. When I used to do a lot of work at Great Fish Nature Reserve, I used to be in awe of her leadership skills and approach. She is very much like ‘I’m going to command but no one is going to know that I’m doing it’.
My advice for other women or young girls is go for it. You have to put yourself out there. You are capable.
As well as the wildlife veterinary work, we do a lot of work in the local communities surrounding game reserves. We provide their animals with basic veterinary care such as deworming and spaying, but the aim is to teach them the importance of welfare. They care deeply for their animals but it’s teaching them how to look after their animals properly. That is a huge part of what we do and then the wildlife veterinary work and a lot of rhino management such as collaring and looking after the anti-poaching dogs. We also deal with the sad stuff like going to poaching scenes and having to write forensic reports.
I think things are going to get a lot harder for conservation. With COVID and the lack of funds coming in from tourism, it has made the world of conservation that much harder as you’ve got very little funds to run off, so you have to come up with different ways to make things work. You need a lot of different minds working together, especially those who have been excluded from decision-making in the past.