Caring for the abandoned creatures of the urban fringe


The chameleon stands perched on Dr Karin Lourens’ outstretched hand, a globular eyeball swiveling towards her as the striking reptile awaits its treatment. Ointment, for the very protruding orb that regards Lourens so anxiously. A dab and a blink, and the uncomfortable moment is over. This injury will heal, thanks to Lourens.

The veterinarian has been working in small animal medicine and surgery for 14 years, and developed an interest in wildlife five years ago. Volunteering at FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, Lourens was exposed to the plight of non-domestic creatures. Because most vets lack the expertise required to care for the diverse array of species that end up in their practices, many animals don’t receive the treatment they need.

To address the issue in her community, Lourens started the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to nursing sick and injured indigenous wildlife back to health. “I am at my happiest when I’ve saved a life,” says Lourens. While there are already a number of fantastic wildlife organisations in operation, this is the first in the area to specialise in small-to-medium-sized animals. Along with chameleons, the facility cares for the likes of bats, meerkats, owls and hedgehogs. Lourens and her team are ensuring that these fringe characters of the urban jungle are no longer overlooked.