The Jungle Doctor Interview

We are so grateful to have had a zoom interview with the incredibly inspiring Chloe Buiting, also known as “The Jungle Doctor”.

Chloe is one of the world leading veterinary conservationists, having contributed extensive and extremely important conservation work in areas all over the globe. Chloe was so warm, open, and incredibly generous with sharing her story. We hope that you enjoy reading her journey as much as we loved listening to it!

Tell us about your current roles

“I have a pretty balanced split between clinical work and non-clinical work. How many days I work clinically a week depends on the month of the year, and where I am in the world. One part of my non-clinical work is with Loop Abroad, which is a study abroad company where we take students all across the world to learn about wildlife and conservation in the field. I help design those projects, oversee them, help put together the curriculum, and support the students in any way that I can. That is a role that I really really enjoy. I did many of these study abroad programs when I was younger, and they had a huge impact on my career. On top of this, my non-clinical work also involves a being a consultant with Flora and Fauna International (FFI), the oldest conservation organisation in the world. FFI is based in the UK and has projects in 40 different countries. It is a really broad scope of work, such as purchasing important land which are wildlife corridors for threatened species, and using that land for conservation and protection. They also institute rangers in areas of high poaching threats, for example with leatherback turtles in Central America, or with rhinos and elephants in Africa. FFI also does a lot of work to retrain ex-poachers or ex-falconers, taking them from one side of conservation to the other, helping them champion the protection of these species. One way they do this is by funding and creating jobs. Ultimately, if people are struggling, they will go to wherever they can get money, and you can’t really blame them for doing that, so it is really important to make it profitable for them to protect our wildlife. A good example of this is the bee-hive fences initiative, where projects go and put bee-hive fences around farms to protect the farmers and their crops, so people like ex-poachers get paid to go in and institute these bee hive fences, which helps the farmers and also helps generate an income for themselves that does not involve illegal trade in wildlife. FFI also advocates and lobbies governments to increase funding and protection to their wild spaces and places, against things such as single-use plastic and microbeads. FFI is a really exciting part of my work. I went through all of this university and training to become a clinical vet, but I always really loved conservation, so it is a really good mixture of all the different levels of conservation.”

What did your journey look like getting here?

“My passion for conservation and wildlife probably dates back to when I was 11 or 12. I grew up on Lord Howe Island off the east coast of Sydney. It is so beautiful, and I was surrounded by nature every day. School was really an afterthought; I had 6 people in my class which was taught by distance education from the mainland. It was very relaxed and informal, so school for me was really just swimming in the lagoon and hanging out for the few years that I spent there. It was just amazing and magical; I completely fell in love with nature. My grandfather, who sadly passed away before I was born, was a vet, which meant that I grew up hearing stories about him.”

“So combining my experience with Lord Howe Island, with the knowledge of what my grandad had done, and my love for animals, I decided to go to vet school. This was actually a way harder path than I thought it would be. I now also know that you can work with animals in many other different ways than becoming a vet. However, it was very fortunate that I love being a vet, and that it worked out for me. I never really gave it too much thought other than animals + nature= vet. After high school I spent a year in Africa shadowing different vets, doing bits and pieces in the communities, hearing first-hand the issues that wildlife were facing. I then came home to Australia and did my undergraduate degree, Bachelor of Science, and then my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), both through the University of Melbourne. Over the 4 years of the DVM I focused my studies as much as possible to wildlife, conservation, and zoo medicine.”

“When I graduated university I knew I wanted to go back to Africa. Over the course of my degrees, the threat that rhinos in Africa were facing became even bigger since I previously visited 5 years ago. It was serendipitous timing as I knew I wanted to go back to Africa, even though a lot of my colleagues and uni friends were going to do the more “normal” thing, which would be going into general practice, do internships, or go on to do further study. I went that different direction all together, as ultimately I always aspired to be in the wild, with wild animals, and work in conservation. I wanted to get straight into it! In Africa I did advanced training courses in handling dangerous drugs, and translocating large animals and wildlife, which was great in expanding my skills and my knowledge, and also meeting a lot of people already working in that field. Conservation is a really small space which is really intertwined throughout the world, so it is really wonderful to meet people, as the chances that we will cross paths again is high. So that was great, and I had a few other veterinary experiences, which was a mixture of work and volunteering in different parts of Africa, always gaining different invaluable experiences”.

“I then did a research project fellowship at a zoo in America, did an internship here in Australia, and then set off on my journey working with wildlife. My first stop here was on Kangaroo Island working with the koalas, before I moving overseas again. It was not really planned or designed, I always tried to look ahead to the next year but never past that point, because to a certain extent I don’t believe that you can plan beyond 2 years or so, especially early on in your career. Whether you are studying or are a new graduate, it is very hard to see past that point. So I tried not to get too strung up on the end goal as I was not too sure what that was. I see a lot of people focus on ‘I want to be “X”’, and while it is awesome to have passions, don’t get me wrong I do too, things change as you develop more in the field and with your interests.”

“I think that this whole space of conservation is great as it is so diverse. It is not only very meaningful work, but it is also really exciting work.”

What is your work split looking like now that you are basing yourself in Kangaroo Island?

“I am doing one day clinical at the local veterinary clinic, treating a mixture of wildlife and small animals which is really wonderful, as they are a really active in the conservation space. We have an abundance of wildlife here so it is very busy. We have a very active wildlife park and a raptor area, so we do a lot of work with them too which is great. I started doing that 6 months ago or so, where I realised that our borders will probably stay shut for another year, and I wanted to continue to do regular clinical work. With loop abroad I usually practice clinical work overseas which is not currently happening. I am also the vet for the wildlife call out here. We decided to base ourselves here as it is a really beautiful part of the world, and we thought that once we came back to Australia, we would try out KI for a year, but 2020 was such a strange year so we decided to extend it. It is somewhere I aspire to hold loop abroad trips in the future.”

“Just a few days ago we purchased a campervan, and in around September time we are planning to go around different project sites around Australia. FFI, a range of Zoos, and loop abroad all have fantastic project sites around Australia. Ideally, the plan for the future is spending 6 months somewhere in Australia such as KI, and the other 6 months overseas.”

Where are your biggest passions within conservation? Do you have a specialised area that you are interested in perusing?

“I think mine is probably the opposite of a specialised area, as I am really interested in the bigger picture and broad strokes of conservation. I am really interested at working with animals at a population level, and making plans for the big picture of the species rather than the individual. That is probably part of the reason why I have moved away from clinical work, and only practice clinically one day a week now. This is because I do find so much excitement in the non-clinical space, such as scoping out new blocks of land, reading environment sustainability reports and communicating those, helping to advocate for the reduction of plastics, which all feed into a healthy natural world and balanced ecosystem. I see a lot of my friends and colleagues whom I really respect, niching down and going far down their areas of specialisation. For example, my friend is solely an elephant dentist, or my friend who purely translocates animals around Europe for breeding and conservation purposes, or my friend in Africa who developed the technique to transport rhino’s upside down for short distances which solved the problem of how to get animals out of trouble in difficult terrain. These people are highly specialised individuals in conservation, and are also performing such important roles, and I have so much respect for them. Whereas I have really gone the opposite way, being drawn more towards the big picture stuff, which is less hands on with the animals but is something that I take a lot of meaning from.”

Clearly, all areas of conservation need attention. However, is there a certain space that you feel like needs particular attention in conservation at the moment? Does that link into where you are planning to head next with your work?

“Personally, I think that the area that needs the most attention is here at home in Australia. This is probably triggered by the bushfires, but also marrying another vet not from Australia, and getting to relive our native animals through his eyes. We have quite a dismal conservation track record, we don’t have a very good rate of successful species revival plans. We have the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world. For a first world country that is relatively affluent, and has a relatively low population density, I find that really difficult to come to grasps with. I also think I felt a bit of guilt, as all through veterinary school I wanted to get out and go to Africa, even though I’m Australian. I spent 5 years overseas working with all of these different animals which was very exciting, before I realised that Australia is facing a huge silent crisis back at home with our animals who are facing extreme pressures. Coming home to Australia, recognising that we had a pretty awful conservation history which I wanted to turn my attention to, working with the Australian animals again with Jan made me appreciate a lot more what we have here. For this reason, I see this being an area I am going to focus on in the future, such as taking on Australian projects through FFI and other programs.”

You have recently published your first book, “The Jungle Doctor”! What inspired you to write the book, has it been something that you have always wanted to do?

“I think as conservationists we are really good at communicating the issues within our group and to each other, however the problem I have found with this is that we are often preaching to the converted. We are all on the same team. It is about taking our work and what we do in the conservation space collectively, and putting a forward facing thing to that, and communicating to the public with what we do, why it is so interesting, and why they should care about it and get involved. I also really wanted to contribute, which is why I chose to donate all royalties of the book, so I could share my story and also donate the proceeds to organisations that are really meaningful to me.”

“I decided to do it at the end of veterinary school. I am very much a physical writing learner, so kept notes of all of my experiences so I didn’t forget! I spent a year or two thinking about it and keeping notes, and about two years ago I thought a lot more seriously about doing it. Fortunately, someone took me on and published it! It was so much harder than I ever thought. For the past 18 months or more, so much of every day has been consumed writing this book, so I am very glad that it is finally out in the world now, and that if people can take something from it then that’s great.”

What have you been the proudest of in your life, personally, professionally, or both.

“Mostly there is a clear line between what I am proudest for personally and professionally, however when it comes to my husband, the lines are a bit blurred. He would die and fall through the floor if I said that, but he is just great and has always been very supportive. It is very fortunate that we both share interests, and developing between non-clinical and clinical work on Kangaroo Island and feeling our way through together is very exciting.”

“Probably also the book, but I think I am proudest to be a vet. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues in the veterinary profession, it is a very hard one and takes a lot of commitment. I am really quite humbled on a daily basis on the commitment they have to treat their patients. In that same vein, I am very proud to be a conservationist, and be in a network of these amazing conservationists that I am very glad to have met. Overall, probably the people that I have met and the relationships that I have built in a space that I am really inspired by gives me the most satisfaction and happiness.”

What advice would you give to younger women who want to pursue a similar career?  

“First of all, how great is that! I feel like we are living in a wonderful time for women. Talking to my mum and hearing about the challenges that herself and other women in her generation had, it is thankfully so different to what I have experienced. A lot of women have paved the way for us, for example Jane Goodall. So, really know that the conservation space will not only welcome you, but needs you. I think that it is so exciting to hear that bright, young, passionate people would consider joining this field. So, welcome! I personally have never looked back since joining the conservation space.”

“I cannot think of anything that would give me personally more me meaning or satisfaction or excitement. If there is anyone that you look up to in the industry, reach out to them. They would probably be very happy to hear from you. People tend to be very busy, so do not take unreturned emails personally, just continue gently reaching out to them and ask them about their careers, what they would do differently, what inspires them, what challenges them. Gathering information in that way is something really beneficial, and is something that I have really taken advantage of and benefitted from. It is something that is quite easy to do these days compared to even 10 years ago, through social media especially which is a great avenue these days. Try to get some hands on experience where possible, often wildlife parks, zoos, sanctuaries, through the government. Feel the space out for yourself, and you will start to get some idea on the areas that you enjoy and the areas that you don’t.”

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