Kandy, Sri Lanka
Though it may seem small in comparison to its much larger neighbor, India, Sri Lanka is far from lacking in the quality and variety of veterinary medicine being practiced there. In addition, its abundance of natural beauty, including much notable wildlife, made it a truly wonderful place to enhance to my veterinary education.
During the three weeks that I spent there, I was exposed to following areas of veterinary medicine: shelter/sanctuary medicine, wildlife medicine (captive and free-roaming), large/food animal medicine, municipal veterinary practice, small animal teaching hospital, and academic/research. It was a lot to take in and process, but all the experiences were amazing and taught me a lot.
Our first stop was the coastal town of Unawatuna, which is home to the Home for Dogs, a sanctuary that sterilizes, vaccinates, and adopts out stray dogs from the community. The sanctuary is privately funded via a benefactor in Germany and many of the administrative staff are also German citizens. However, the grounds staff, veterinary assistants, and veterinarians are all Sri Lankan. Through spending time at the sanctuary I saw how important education and outreach to the local community are to animal welfare organizations.
The next phase of our trip was focused on Sri Lanka’s beautiful and diverse wildlife. Sri Lanka has only recently emerged from many years of bitter civil war, and its tourism industry is starting to gain steam again. A key aspect of tourism in Sri Lanka is the wildlife that visitors can see up close and personal at many of the country’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. We visited the Elephant Transit Home in Uda Walawe, where orphaned and injured baby elephants are cared for until they are fit to be released back into the wild. Visitors can pay admission to watch the elephants during feeding time, but unlike many other elephant sanctuaries are not allowed to interact with the animals in any other way. The assistant veterinarian working there told us that there are only seven wildlife veterinarians in the country, due largely to low pay. This further emphasizes the role that economics plays in wildlife conservation medicine (and in a larger sense, in veterinary medicine in general) in Sri Lanka.
The main goal of our trip was to visit the University of Peradeniya in Kandy in order to speak to the faculty and students there about One Health. The University of Peradeniya is unique in Sri Lanka because it has a veterinary school, medical school, dental school, and agricultural school all on the same campus. We had meetings and discussions about the contrasting curricula at UC Davis and Peradeniya and how One Health might be integrated into already existing courses. In addition, there was some exciting conversation about collaborative research possibilities between the different departments at the university. In spite of all this, the best part for us was definitely the One Health workshop we facilitated for veterinary and medical students. This included a case study that students worked on in groups and presented to the entire class. The students did wonderfully and impressed everyone with their creativity and attention to detail.
My trip to Sri Lanka was unforgettable, filled with new adventures every day. The people, animals, places, and food were some of the best and most interesting I’ve encountered in my life. I’ll definitely take the lessons I learned this summer through the remainder of my veterinary education and on into my career.