Catherine Man arrived on St Helena in October 2016 to take up the position of Senior Veterinary Officer. In her new role she’s responsible for providing care and treatment for all animals on island, including the tortoises at Plantation House. We chat to her about how she’s finding living on St Helena, her relationship with Jonathan and why St Helena is like Devon.
Tell us a little bit about your responsibilities as St Helena’s Vet
As the only vet on the island I’m responsible for literally anything animal related. This involves the “traditional” vet work such as tending to sick animals, doing surgery and diagnostic work, laboratory testing (and post-mortems) as well as preventative health programmes.
We have cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys as well as dogs, cats, fish, rabbits and guinea pigs and of course the giant tortoises at Plantation.
But it also covers all the government veterinary work which is crucial to protecting the island from new diseases coming in as well as protecting the public. This involves maintaining quarantine facilities, import and export inspections of animals on ships and yachts (and hopefully soon by plane), seizures of illegal imports, surveillance work to ensure we detect new or emerging diseases, official disease reporting, investigating welfare cases with the police, amending legislation, assisting with public health enquiries etc.
It really is a very varied and busy job!
All creatures great and small: Catherine in action
Where have you worked prior to this?
I completed a Masters in Conservation Medicine in Western Australia shortly after graduating from vet school whilst working as a vet for a cat charity. My thesis focused on rehabilitation of elephant seals and I worked quite a bit with turtles, seals, sea lions, fish and dolphins both in the wild, in captivity as well as rehabilitation in the USA and Australia.
I then returned to the UK and worked in mixed practice on the north Devon/Cornwall border before starting work at Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts as a full-time zoo vet.
After a few years I moved up to North Yorkshire to join my husband who was in the military and after a short spell as a locum in small animal practice I joined the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) as a veterinary investigation officer for the UK government.
What do you love most about living on St Helena?
It has to be the unspoilt nature! There are amazing walks and the marine life is fantastic, so diving, snorkelling and whale shark swimming are top of my list. It’s a lovely friendly community as well where everyone knows each other, a bit like living in a small town in Devon!
What’s the most quirky thing that you have found so far?
That would have to be the weather. It can be 30 degrees and clear skies in Jamestown and a few miles up in Scotland it can be raining and windy. Another few miles on in Bluehill the fog can come rolling in. It is bizarre how in such small distances there are so many different microclimates but this also allows for all the beautiful and varied landscapes.
How often do you see Jonathan the tortoise?
Jonathan gets a weekly supplemental feed on a Friday lunchtime, which takes about an hour and gives us a chance to check him over and make sure he is ok. The Plantation gardeners check on the tortoises the rest of the week and let us know if there are any concerns.
Catherine and Fredrika
Jonathan is doing well considering his age. He has got cataracts which affect his vision but he copes very well around Plantation. The other tortoises also get checked every Friday. Fredrika has a few shell lesions which we are currently treating. David tends to cause the most trouble and he escaped out of the paddock the other day!