In addition to tending medical problems, Tubbesing has recently established a 25,000-acre (10,000-hectare) preserve for Namibia's wildlife. He has begun to relocate many of his patients to this area where a thriving ecosystem once existed but was hunted out. It's called the Ongos project.
Some of the new inhabitants are big cats who got into trouble with ranchers. "It's a really satisfying feeling being able to take an animal that is either doomed to life in a cage or doomed for a bullet and release it out in the wild again," he told Ultimate Explorer. "That's really exciting to know that one keeps something going, that it didn't just end with a bang."
Other animals are being relocated to the site as well, including wildebeest and giraffes.
The process of capturing and moving them to the new reserve involves an intoxicating mix of excitement and danger. Mayor helped capture and move giraffes. "That process was a lot more dangerous than I had anticipated," she reported. "It's dangerous for the animals and for the people capturing them as well." But the result is worth it: the gradual rebirth of one of the planet's great natural environments.
'Fortunate Accident' Aids Leopard Brain Disorder
Meanwhile, one of Tubbesing's fortuitous discoveries may spell great news for the leopardand perhaps someday for humans as well. It came about because Tubbesing found himself unable to euthanize a sick leopard placed in his care. "The leopard was extremely ataxic [unable to coordinate its muscles]," Tubbesing told Mayor. "It was hardly able to walk and falling over all the time. She couldn't climb, she couldn't jump, she couldn't do anything. I just didn't have the heart to euthanize her." Instead he persuaded a local hospital to do a brain scan and discovered the animal had hydrocephalustoo much fluid in her head. The genetic disorder causes brain and spinal cord damage, and often proves fatal.
Tubbesing gave the ailing leopard, named Umqua, a vitamin supplement that is normally used to treat human liver ailments. Within mere days she showed remarkable, dramatic improvement. "Some of the better things in life happen by accident," Tubbesing mused. "This is one of those things."
Umqua made a near full recovery, and the wild vet is now prescribing the same treatment to afflicted cubs from the same family.
"We don't know why it's working," he said. "You can't interpret it in scientific terms, but emotionally there is something substantial to this treatment and it is worth pursuing."
Mayor noted that the same affliction affects humans and that to date it has no cure. "The treatment seems to be working so well that it could eventually be worth pursuing some kind of study for humans," she said.
So someday, the wild vet's fortunate discovery could benefit people. For now, it's enough that it is benefiting just a few special animals.
"I've built up a very strong bond with the leopard," Tubbesing explained. "To me, the leopard somehow represents the ultimate beast. They're extremely moody they can be the most loveable animal today and, within a split second, turn into a killing machine."