Working as a conservation orientated wildlife veterinarian with a focus on wild and remote landscapes, and the wild animals that call these landscapes their home, can be really tough work. Africa has an incredible diversity of ecosystems, landscapes, people, cultures, challenging governments and political spaces and is renowned for its outstanding biodiversity. From steaming, hot tropical forests and swamps to deserts that stretch as far as the eye can see, to savanna woodlands and dense thickets, to mountains with snow-caps, rugged gorges and tumbling rivers, beautiful, untouched coastlines, with mangrove swamps and nesting turtles. Forest and savanna elephant, giraffe, buffalo, lowland gorilla, black and white rhino, lion, leopard and the inimitable honey badger, and many, many more.
Africa presents great challenges for anyone who wishes to get to know her well and this will often require a lifetime of endeavor. But there is no doubt that a wildlife veterinarian with a continental African vision will face some of the toughest challenges. Pete Morkel, African born in Zimbabwe on the 16th September 1960, is a man who has chosen to explore, discover and contribute to the African continent, plying his considerable skills as a wildlife veterinarian, an animal doctor who has experienced many things that others might only dream about. Challenges taken on with courage, focus and a desire to make a difference. An African adventurer, weathered and a survivor of these unrelenting and at times dangerous years (36), but as he enters the latter stages of his life, Pete faces his greatest challenge.
In 2018, he was diagnosed with a metastatic urothelial carcinoma of the bladder, which had spread into the architecture of his prostate and some of his lower vertebra. An aggressive, difficult to treat tumour located in a complex part of the body, he has been given a year to live. Radiation therapy, excruciatingly painful and debilitating has now been followed by chemotherapy, conventional and unlikely to impact on the prognosis.
It is now May 2020 and as Pete and Estelle seek their privacy and peace on their remote Kambreem ranch, and Pete tries to build up his strength and weight, they are facing their greatest challenge together. Pete is not someone who gives up easily and through his medical knowledge was able to find out that his cancer had a very high tumour mutation of the bladder, but importantly there is positive PDL1 with a very high tumour mutation burden, which is in fact incredibly high with 56 mutations per mega-base. His medical specialist suggested, as opposed to chemotherapy, that he should consider, if possible, immunotherapy. The specific drug for Pete's situation is called Pembrolizumab, and will cost Pete and Estelle the equivalent of USD 7,083/treatment on a monthly basis. The health insurance will cover a small percentage for a limited time. They need help!
Before I discuss our decision to go for crowd funding, let me spend a little time talking about Pete and his life. It would be impossible to cover such a rich and productive life so here are snippets of a life well lived.
First and foremost, Pete is a family man with a wonderful wife, Estelle and 2 young adult children, Benoit and Cheri, who are also involved in the wildlife and conservation game . They live on a remote ranch, Kambreek, in the southern reaches of Namibia alongside the Orange River. This river forms the southern border of Namibia with South Africa. Kambreek is a rugged, waterless, boulder strewn and mountainous landscape and now, connected with the adjoining properties, it covers 52,000 ha.
Pete is a graduate of the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa . His wildlife veterinary work has covered private practice, Government work in Namibia with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and with the South African National Parks. His career then expanded beyond the borders of South Africa to include work in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area with Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) followed by private wildlife work for organizations such as African Parks. He has probably worked in more African countries then any veterinarian alive, with challenges ranging from black rhino reintroduction to Zakouma National Park (NP) in Chad, savanna elephant work in Garamba NP in the DRC and forest elephant work in Gabon.
Pete is a world-renowned specialist with rhino, particularly with black rhino. He and colleagues the first developed a de-horning technique for both black and white rhino in Namibia, during the early 1990s, as a risk reduction strategy to deter poachers. His rhino work has become legendary. Pete has continued to travel extensively over the last decade but with his recent diagnosis he has had to stop his fieldwork, passing it on to younger veterinarians. He has taken a step back, re-engaged with his family and confronts his biggest challenge yet. He and Estelle currently are ensconced on their remote ranch, they visit Windhoek on a monthly basis so he can receive his chemotherapy, but the nature of the cancer makes a cure difficult.
Immunotherapy might be the only hope for a complete cure. We are launching a platform to raise the funds to help Pete and Estelle and are calling on all their friends, colleagues and acquaintances from the four corners of this planet, to contribute to a crowd funding drive. Our target is USD 98,000! Dr. Michael D. Kock
- Loupe 16
- Lyddy Van Gyen
- Karen Young
- Patrick Brakspear
- Linle Hou
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