A Conservationist Explains What Life Is Like As A 'Jungle Doctor'
Photo Credit: Chloe Buiting
How does one capture a giraffe in the wild?
If you were ever curious, Chloe Buiting — the Jungle Doctor — could tell you that it involves a helicopter, heavy tranquilizers, jumping out of a speeding vehicle, capturing the giraffe with two pieces of rope to ensure its safe landing as it falls, then using the full weight of your body on his neck to secure him as you rapidly administer the antidote. Sounds simple enough, right?
The better question is, why capture a giraffe in the wild?
For Buiting, Australian veterinarian and wildlife conservationist, this is a labor of love, passion, and absolute necessity.
Buiting’s most formative years were spent barefoot and immersed in nature, far from tall buildings, cars, and the hustle of the modern world. She and her mother moved from one beautiful, exotic place to the next, one of them being Australia's idyllic Lord Howe Island at the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef. This novel and nontraditional upbringing inspired a calling in Buiting to preserve wildlife and to “keep wild spaces wild,” which parlayed into what her career is today. “After those few years [on Lord Howe Island], I just really couldn’t imagine doing anything else, I didn’t know much about it at the time because I was young, but I just knew I wanted to be involved in conservation and wildlife and wild spaces and keeping wild spaces wild.”
To be a wildlife vet is to be a member of a very small niche in the field. According to Buiting, “animals in the wild more than ever need veterinarians these days.” When challenged with the old-standing argument, let nature run its course, Buiting begs to differ, stating “I heavily refute that sentiment because I feel like that ship has already sailed. We’ve already meddled in nature so much and, at least in my experiences, the vast majority of problems that wildlife face are heavily human-driven, and really avoidable, potentially leading to disastrous consequences on an ecosystem basis. So, veterinarians have a really special role in that in terms of managing wildlife as much as treating them.”
Buiting has dedicated her career to rectifying the collective damage that humanity has inflicted on our planet and its creatures, both large and small. One scroll through Buiting’s instagram will take you on safari in Africa and deep-sea diving off the coast of Honduras, showcasing an array of animals, many which have been injured by human interference and are on the mend after veterinary intervention. From elephants receiving prosthetics after losing a limb in a landmine injury, a tortoise getting an entire 3D-printed shell after being caught in a brushfire, to a macaw that has been fitted with a 3D-printed titanium beak after being captured and neglected, the images and stories she shares are both fascinating and heartbreaking, but always hopeful.
Beyond her hands-on medical veterinarian interventions in the wild, Buiting has coupled her practice with education and mentorship. Mentoring is a crucial aspect of her career, as it helps open doors and facilitate careers for future veterinarians and wildlife conservationists to help ensure the future of our planet. She currently designs volunteer programs for future wildlife vets whom she also has the opportunity to teach and mentor.
Buiting puts a strong emphasis on education, not only for future vets, but for every individual who inhabits this planet. She strives to educate and inform people so that they are aware of the existing problems so as to make educated decisions and know that they are capable of effecting change. She states, “Awareness is the first step to making any sort of change … it can seem really overwhelming at times to know what you can possibly do as one person, the problems can just seem so overwhelming.” Buiting offers direction on how individuals can make changes in their daily lives to create change on a bigger scale.
Become an Informed Consumer
Seek out reliable information and share it with your community, and make it part of your everyday dialogue. Start asking questions about where your clothes, seafood, and even your pets come from to help curtail wildlife trade. Asking these questions will lead to becoming an informed shopper and a responsible consumer, which will then urge companies to follow suit.
Vote With Your Money
It’s important to put pressure on major companies in order to make changes toward sustainability. For example, Buiting advises, “Don't purchase products that engage in unsustainable palm oil practices because that’s leading to unsustainable decimation of orangutan habitats, and they’re an umbrella species, so we’re risking the collapse of entire ecosystems.”
In addition, she notes that centuries old jungles, which are known for absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, are being replaced with monocultures, which absorb hardly any carbon dioxide. So, informing our spending habits and knowing where our food and products come from are simple but important things we can do to encourage a shift for companies into sustainable practices.
Focus on Small Steps
“The urgency of putting certain protections around the natural world is enormous,” says Buiting, but change happens in small increments, so don’t give up hope or feel defeated. We can achieve really big things, so celebrate the victories, no matter how small they may seem. She encourages people to “balance the urgency with the good news” so as not to get so overwhelmed with the larger tasks at hand.
Buiting is certainly a hero among us, who inspires us all to stay informed, lean into self-agency, and know that we are all capable of making an impact. In addition to her veterinarian practice, mentorship with organizations like Loop Abroad, and her role as an ambassador with Fauna & Flora International, one of the world's oldest international wildlife conservation organizations, Buiting has also authored a book, The Jungle Doctor, which was released on May 4, 2021.
And, if you're curious as to why Buiting did actually capture a giraffe, head over to her Instagram post to find out.