Meet Ben Davidson: Orana Wildlife Park's vet

Meet Ben Davidson: Orana Wildlife Park's vet

A North Canterbury vet has one of the most challenging rounds in the country, serving the animals of Orana Wildlife Park.

Ben Davidson's Orana patients are just a tad more exotic than the farm animals he usually looks after. But for Mr Davidson, the approach is the same. There are just a few extra appendages to deal with.

"You've got to treat them with respect, but you've still got to be confident with them," he says.

The big animal vet spends most of the week on the farm dealing with livestock, but come Tuesdays, he's navigating around claws and fangs at Orana Wildlife Park.

The lemurs sometimes let him close enough for an inspection, but it's marginal. It's all about trust and relationship-building.

Mr Davidson has been in the job for 18 months. He was a big part of the zoo's new gorilla project.

The big boys are too dangerous to get close to. If there's work to be done, the vet has to knock them out with an anaesthetic.

"The value is immeasurable, and you do whatever you can to get that animal right, and that's very rewarding as a vet," says Mr Davidson.

But more often than not, he's dealing with smaller animals like a rough gecko, who's having some skin trouble.

It takes a bit of getting used to.

"Yeah, big tools and two hands, and the whole body holding onto a giraffe's foot, whereas this is like, yeah, my fingers feel quite big and chunky when I'm dealing with very small animals," he says.

The focus is on prevention, and stopping the problems before they happen. But with around 400 animals at the zoo, it's impossible to catch everything.

He wants to get up close with every single animal at the zoo over the next couple of years, but judging by some of the characters around, he'll have to have his wits about him.

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