City vet says goodbye

After 26 years of service, the City of Cape Town’s chief veterinarian, Elzette Jordan, has packed up her medical kit and called it a day.

Dr Jordan was part of the Baboon Technical Team.

Her journey with the City started as a veterinary meat inspector at the Maitland Abattoir in 1990. In 2005, the facility was closed down and staff were deployed to different departments.

“Quite a few of us took up the challenge to join the Biodiversity Management Branch, which was the most rewarding experience and probably explains why I stayed ever since,” said Dr Jordan.

Over the years she has worked with various wildlife, including baboons, which often have been and continue to be the subject of contentious debate.

“Funnily enough, my mother always hated baboons because she thought they resembled humans too much and she found that uncomfortable. I enjoy baboons immensely and believe they are incredibly valuable,” said Dr Jordan.

She believes that there are three main misconceptions about baboons.

“Firstly, people think they are naturally aggressive. This is not correct as baboons only become aggressive if they are cornered.

“Secondly, some people are of the opinion that we should treat them as humans – and we cannot. A wild animal is a wild animal and should be left to their own devices. They spoil just as quickly as children, which compromises their safety.

“Thirdly, people think ba- boons only come to the human areas because of available food or waste. While this is certainly an attraction, baboons also see ‘human areas’ as interesting places to explore. They are playful and inquisitive, and they will investigate. And this is all the more reason to not have food easily available as they might visit you simply for recreational purposes,” said Dr Jordan.

Among her duties at the City, Dr Jordan was responsible for arranging the monthly Baboon Technical Team meetings. She also liaised with the service provider, Human Wildlife Solutions, which manages the baboon troops from Tokai through to Cape Point.

“Baboon management has grown so much over the last five years, and so many good relationships with different stakeholders have been established – all due to the input from so many people. One can only hope that we will find new, less invasive ways of dealing with baboons. The dream is still to have as little as possible contact or close proximity to baboons but to still exercise effective baboon management. Naturally, I have not achieved all of my goals or the dreams but I am happy with the progress that has been made,” said Dr Jordan.

“Waste from humans, the easy access to human-derived food, and uninformed people feeding wild animals such as baboons, are among the main challenges to baboon and wildlife management.

“Other challenges include the expanding human footprint and urban development and the balance that must be attempted in this respect. This balance must look to mitigate the often self-righteous claim that humans have rights that exclude other humans and animals.

“We are all custodians of the world we live in, and baboons deserve a breathing space in this world where humans are forever expanding and taking over the home ranges and living spaces of wild animals,” she said.

“As humans, we need to respect and be thankful for the wonder of being able to share our space with wildlife – and this entails living in such a way that our lifestyles do not exclude theirs.

“It would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to urge members of the public not to feed animals, either purposefully or inadvertently by not locking their food away or not securing their premises. Most importantly, please do no harm our wildlife as they have a role to play in our eco-system,” said Dr Jordan.

Dr Jordan qualified as a veterinarian in 1988 from the University of Pretoria.

“I have always been an animal lover, but being a veterinarian was not my first choice as a career. I was involved in the publishing world after I obtained my BA degree Honours in Philosophy from Stellenbosch University. Only after personal challenges in 1982 did I decide to apply to Onderstepoort and to change direction completely.”

When reflecting on her career, some of Dr Jordan’s best memories include working with birds, duiker, mongoose and caracal when she initially had the idea of running a wildlife rehabilitation clinic.

“On the other side, the utmost worst experience of my career was the first baboon I had to euthanise, while the devastation caused by the fires in 2015 is forever imprinted in my brain.” She said she was going to miss the spectacular views of nature and the wonderful people she had met.

Dr Jordan, who is now in the first month of her retirement and who lives in Somerset West, already has plans to visit her only daughter, who is living in San Francisco.

She is also considering studying English literature, which is her “lifetime desire”. During her spare time, she will be gardening, reading and walking her two dogs – a goldendoodle and a rescue schnauzer-cross.