Vet climbing new heights in livestock reproduction

By By Francis Mukuzunga
October 2010
NAMIBIA’S livestock potential could improve if the proposed restructuring of the Veterinary Services Department takes place and incorporates new breeding technologies.

This according to top State Veterinarian, Doctor Yolande Baby Kaurivi-Katunahange.

With personal experiences from different countries that include Zimbabwe and Australia, Dr. Kaurivi-Katunahange says Namibia’s livestock potential could be further enhanced by digitalising livestock operations and encouraging farmers to move away from traditional methods of reproduction.

With this in mind, Kaurivi-Katunahange is undertaking a major exercise to incorporate animal reproductive methods which provide good yields as experienced in other developed countries such as Australia.

Through her determination to become a Livestock Reproduction Specialist, she intends to introduce and use modern methods such as Artificial Insemination (AI) and Embryo Transfer (ET) which she argues will go a long way to revolutionising livestock yields. These are highly specialised scientific processes used to determine the sex of an offspring before it is born. Hopefully, she will introduce Sex Sorting (SS) soon too.

“We need better quality cattle, especially with the northern communal areas in Namibia striving to attain the foot and mouth disease free status. The same also applies to sheep and goats, a potential export earner for the country’s agricultural sector,” says Kaurivi-Katunahange.

She believes that communal farmers could benefit more if artificial breeding is successfully implemented.

With successful implementation, Namibian communal farmers will be competing effectively with their commercial counterparts within five to ten years from now.

An animal health commentator on NBC’s Otjiherero Language Service, the vet is worried that Namibia’s communal farmers are not informed about animal health and other clinical issues that bring better breeds into their kraals.

More worrisome is the inadequacy of veterinarians in Namibia.

“Several times I am invited to schools as a motivational speaker for students to study veterinary sciences as Namibia is still in dire need of local veterinarians. An anecdote I love to relate on these occasions, is how I eventually have managed to allay the fears of predominantly male farmers who were reluctant to allow their animals to be touched by a woman, a long standing cultural norm.

“Growing up in rural Namibia developed my natural love for animals. I was privileged to have been exposed to different livestock, pets as well as farm management techniques such as the dehorning of calves, branding and castration. This formed the foundation of my journey to veterinary. However, pursuing a veterinary career never crossed my mind when I was growing up and only happened by chance years later,” says the winner of the Australian Development Scholarship which she used to obtain her Masters in Veterinary Studies.

She came to Windhoek in the late 1980s, as a young girl from Erindirozombaka village in the Otjombinde communal farming area of Omaheke Region, with nothing but a sharp brain and a rich cultural background of the OvaHerero people which boast of vast knowledge of cattle, sheep and goats.

When she matriculated at Augustineum High School in 1992, and thereafter obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Namibia in 1996, Yolande then youthful Yolande Kaurivi still had no clear career path. And so, the job hunting process began.

“I had options such as being a medical doctor, pharmacist, dentist or marine biologist. After obtaining my Unam degree in 1997, job prospects were scarce. In sheer desperation I managed to secure a post as a veterinary technician at the Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) of the then Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development in 1997.”

She worked her way up and has become more than a figurehead in her community of origin, where she is often referred to as “Nganga yo zongombe” (Cattle doctor).

She is now a qualified State Veterinarian. But being a young black woman in a male dominated profession and coming from a culture-centric society made her journey a rough-ride.

“Being a veterinary technician opened my scope to the understanding of Veterinary Medicine. The Namibian veterinary sector was mostly dominated by foreigners and mostly men. I gained experience in the various sectors of the laboratory such as parasitology, serology, bacteriology, virology and post-mortem. I was in constant contact with diagnostic and field veterinarians.

“The urge to pursue a career in veterinary medicine hit me one day after observing a field veterinarian perform a skin scrap from a sick dog. The field vet requested me as the technician to perform a parasitological diagnostic test on the skin sample. ‘Why shouldn’t I be the one to instruct some technician to test the sample?’ I pondered on this for some time afterwards and this made me realise that I would rather be the veterinarian than a technician,” she reminisces.

Around the same time she applied for and was awarded a European Union Scholarship for a Bachelor degree in Veterinary Science (BVSc) at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, 1999-2004. She admits braving to complete her studies despite political unrest in Zimbabwe.

“Graduating was a great moment for me. I had full of expectations for the future as a qualified veterinarian. It was also a big achievement for the people of my tribe (OvaHerero) and my village as I was the first person to qualify as a veterinarian,” Kaurivi-Katunahange says.

It is common that the Herero culture places very strong emphasis on cattle. In this culture certain cattle passed on through generations are regarded as sacred. Women are not allowed near such cattle, let alone perform any rites that may involve the killing or treatment of sick animals.

Knowing all too well that the majority of people she is likely to deal with are her own people, Baby, as she is affectionately known. took the challenge to become a veterinarian head on.

In October 2004, she was employed as a State Veterinarian for Omaheke region in the Ministry of Agriculture. Being the only female veterinarian at the time and very young, she had to cope with many challenges among them cultural and language barriers. Farmers in the Omaheke Region and especially Gobabis have various cultural differences, although they share cattle farming as one of their common experience, she says.

“Once, a Mr. Bohitile walked into the office requesting for a vet as one of his cows was having complications during delivery. When I told him I could help, he again asked three times before I could convince him to take me to his farm. Reluctantly, we went together, only because he had no option.

“I found the cow in pain and needing a caesarean section procedure. Mr. Bohitile could not believe his eyes when the calf came out after I performed the surgical removal from the uterus through an abdominal incision successfully. He shouted, ‘A lady doctor has saved my cow and gave life to another!’ It was from then on that people around Gobabis began to know about me.”

A mother of two boys Puna and Muza, both 16, the 37 year-old is married to Asser Katunahange, whom she credits for her the room and support to further study. PF