Friday, February 21, 2014

Interview with companion animal and wildlife veterinarian Dr Jemima Amery-Gale

Dr Jemima Amery-Gale with an echidna.

SAT caught up with recent graduate Jemima Amery-Gale,a young veterinarian who spends her spare time lobbying for causes she believes in. No matter what your polical persuasion, we think you'll agree that Dr Amery-Gale's energy and committment is inspirational.

She graduated from The University of Melbourne in 2012 and is based at The Ark Vet Hospital in Darwin. 

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a new graduate vet and have been working at The Ark since January 2013 (so I’ve been out for a year but still think of myself as a new grad). I am from Adelaide but lived in The Territory for a few years when I was very small, and have now returned to the Top End to work – with the main attraction being the NT’s very special and diverse wildlife. I most enjoy working with wildlife, both at The Ark and The Territory Wildlife Park, but equally love going on bush trips to de-sex and treat dogs in Indigenous communities. I have also been to Timor-Leste twice to work with a team of Australian volunteer vets on livestock vaccination and parasite control programs.

What inspired you to become a veterinarian?

My main passion in life is biodiversity conservation, and I studied veterinary science because I thought it would be a useful skill to have to be able to contribute to the fight to save threatened species from extinction. I suppose my love of animals and passion for preventing the tragedy of species extinction was inspired by my heroes: the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, my mentor and friend, zoologist Dr David Taggart, the wise environmentalist and former Australian Greens leader Dr Bob Brown, and the writings of scientist and climate change activist Dr Tim Flannery. And of course my first hero, dairy farmer and the most generous and kind-hearted humanitarian, my late grandpa Max Gale, OAM.

Looking up at grandpa Max Gale OAM.

You undertook an additional year of research during your veterinary degree. What was this about?

During my Bachelor of Animal Science research year I investigated a gammaherpesvirus and a novel coccidian both infecting the prostate of male Antechinus, plus urogenital tract bacteria of koalas on French Island. Antechinus are small insectivorous Australian marsupials of the family Dasyuridae. They follow the ‘‘big bang breeder’’ pattern of reproduction involving a frenzied two-week mating period in late winter, followed by the stress-related synchronous annual die-off of the entire male population at approximately 11.5 months of age. It is likely that the prostate gland is the site of productive infection for both the gammaherpesvirus and the coccidian, with virus particles and coccidian oocysts being shed in prostatic secretions and hence semen to be cleverly sexually transmitted just prior to the ultimate demise of all host males at the end of their one and only breeding period.
A female antechinus.
My koala work involved searching for mycoplasma as a possible cause of ‘wet-bottom’ (urogenital tract infections) in the chlamydia-free population of koalas on French Island, Victoria. Unfortunately mycoplasmas are extremely fastidious and difficult to culture, so the search proved frustrating and largely fruitless, but did include some fun koala-catching fieldwork on a beautiful island and led to some leads on possible causative bacteria for future projects to investigate.
A koala nurses her offspring in a tree.
Who are the non-human companions in your life right now and how did you come to meet them?
Right now I have 5 delightful chookens and 4 puddle ducks. Their names are Hennifer Anniston, Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy Pond, River Song, Melody Pond, Clara Oswin-Oswald and Madame Pompadour. They are lovely and friendly, tolerate cuddles, make the cutest contented noises and lay me delicious eggs! I love them so much J

Jemima's ducklings and chickens.
What do you do to chill out when you’re not vetting?

Hmm… spend time with family and friends, watch movies, gardening, baking, go to the Darwin markets, listen to music, read, volunteer for a variety of political, environmental and social justice campaigns…

You’re very passionate about politics. What are the main issues you’re concerned about and how do you go about effecting change?

I don’t think I’ve ever been able to effectively effect change, but I’ve attempted to by volunteering for The Greens – I still feel like this is a productive investment of time and effort as our MPs have been able to achieve a lot of positive outcomes in Australian politics, and I feel very proud of our Greens policies. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to compromise my own values to go along with the party position (like I’m sure most major party members have to do with regularity), and even if you put many hours of really hard work (often forcing yourself to be an outgoing campaigner when that doesn’t come naturally) for little statistical gain in the results of an election (like the devastating election of an Abbott-led Coalition at the last federal election), at least I can feel like I was standing up for what really matters and doing everything I possibly could to avert that disastrous result. 

At the moment the main issues I’m concerned about are climate change, our current species extinction crisis, biodiversity conservation and environmental destruction. Plus Closing the Gap and in particular campaigning against the NT Government’s abolition of Bilingual Education for Indigenous kids, campaigning against the Australian Government’s unbelievably cruel immigration policies and the resultant inhumane treatment of refugees seeking our protection, trying to support asylum seekers being held in detention on mainland Australia, reducing global poverty and campaigning against atrocious human rights abuses being committed around the world and most often against Indigenous peoples, particularly in West Papua and Tibet. So in addition to the Greens I volunteer with a few local social justice and conservation groups like DASSAN (Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network), Territorians for a Free West Papua, Friends of Bilingual Learning and Environment Centre NT, or make donations to contribute to the work of organisations like Oxfam, UNICEF, etc.

What can ordinary vets do to reduce their environmental impact?

Most vets could reduce, reuse and recycle a lot more than they do already, and vet clinics use a lot of electricity – going solar or switching to an alternate source of renewable energy is an excellent way of reducing a clinic’s carbon footprint (plus installing solar panels makes economic sense as it will also reduce electricity costs in the long-term).

Jemima with a patient.
What has been the highlight of your first year in practice? (any lowlights???)

Highlights include fun bush trips to Yuendumu, Nyirripi, Yuelamu, Bonya, Belyuen & town camps round both Alice Springs & Darwin, Milikapiti & Pirlangimpi on Melville Island, & Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island working on dog health programs – de-sexing to control dog populations and anti-parasitic treatments to reduce the prevalence and impact of zoonotic diseases to improve both human and animal health and welfare in Indigenous communities. Also working as the relief veterinarian for the Territory Wildlife Park and getting involved in the Australian Wildlife Health Network’s Zoo Based Wildlife Disease Surveillance Pilot Project through the electronic Wildlife Health Information System database. Plus another trip to Timor-Leste with a team of volunteer Australian vets evaluating their pilot livestock vaccination program, and attending 3 amazing conferences: the Sea Turtle Health and Rehabilitation Workshop, the Australian Wildlife Health Network’s Wildlife, Emerging and Emergency Diseases workshop, and the very fun Wildlife Disease Association Australasian Section Conference in the Grampians. Also caring for 3 extremely sweet orphaned Sugar Gliders, an orphan Northern Brown Bandicoot and a Radjah Shelduck named ‘Raj’, and getting my first scientific paper accepted by the Journal of Wildlife Diseases. Plus treating a huge variety of interesting Top End wildlife while working at The Ark.

Looking after sugar gliders...someone has to do it!
Lowlights mostly involved getting a few hours sleep on dog mats on the floor of the clinic in between after-hours calls and writing endless boring histories while on-call…
Any tips for surviving your first year out in practice?

Hmm, master the art of being able to say ‘no’ and learn the tricky life lesson of how to be selfish occasionally – strive for that elusive work-life balance…

Thanks Jemima for your time!