At present I work in the United Kingdom and now work at two places – the Bristol Zoo Gardens, which employs four vets and two veterinary nurses (VNs), and in a private practice, which employs three VSs and three VNs.

However, I recently worked in North Sulawesi for a month, having gone there for a sabbatical to help in a struggling wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre – the Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre. There I helped in the setting up of a small-animal hospital, as a non¬government agency (NGO), for health checks and emergency treatment of wildlife.

The Tasikoki Centre employs between one and three nurses, one veterinary surgeon, up to eight keepers and from three to 15 volunteers at any one time. It has been open for three years and occupies reasonable-sized converted premises.

General population and lifestyle

The standard of living in North Sulawesi is relatively low, with houses ranging from small wooden shacks with tin roofs in rural areas, to larger, wooden-framed homes surrounded by planted flowers in the towns.

Families are typically large, and the villages seem to be very tight-knit, with entire communities gathering together to celebrate weddings, birthdays and christenings.

Language, culture and religion

The main spoken language is Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia). The dress code is modest, on account of the predominant Christian beliefs. Tourism is low, and so westerners are not a common sight! I was frequently approached by people interested in the shape of my nose and the colour of my hair, occasionally having my photo secretly taken on camera phones!

Having at least a basic grasp of the Indonesian language is desirable, as locals rarely speak English. However, in the confines of the rescue centres, there are usually multiple nationalities and English is widely spoken.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of working in Indonesia include the hot climate, stunning scenery –   with active volcanoes and occasional earthquakes – fantastic diving opportunities, and, of course, seeing and working with the amazing wildlife (Figures 1-8).

Figure 1: Sulawesi babirusa, Babyrousa celebensis, endangered through over-hunting for meat

Figure 2: Scanning a saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, for a microchip during a basic health check

Figure 3: Female Eclectus parrot, Eclectus roratus, one of many birds rescued from the illegal wildlife trade and housed at Tasikoki Rescue Centre 

Figure 4: Macaques. Macaca hecki, in the group enclosure, prior to release 

Figure 5: Ornate lorikeet 

Figures 6a and 6b: Veterinary health checks with Dr Felicia Knightley 

Figure 7: Veterinary health checks of the snake-neck turtles, Chelodma mccordi, critically endangered 

Figure 8: A Maccaca maura receiving treatment

Some of the wildlife is endemic and can be seen naturally only in Indonesia, including the macaque species Macaca nigra, Macaca nigrescens, Macaca maura, Macaca tonkeana, Macaca hecki and Macaca ochreata, tarsiers (a tiny, nocturnal primate), babirusa (a type of pig, which is endangered/vulnerable), ornate lorikeet and cuscus.

The negatives from my point of view were the mosquitoes and, occasionally, the humidity. Although the remote location of Tasikoki offers tranquillity, it can also make travelling to local towns more difficult. 


Formal qualifications

Veterinary nurses are not officially recognised in Indonesia. However, the rescue centres such as Tasikoki do recognise the qualification, and greatly appreciate the assistance of VNs.

There is no regulatory body and there are no VN organisations.

Typical salary, benefits and working hours

Nursing in Tasikoki is on a voluntary basis so there is no financial benefit; however, accommodation and meals are provided. The meals vary and vegetarians are well catered for. The working days usually run from 6am to 4pm.

Daily duties and responsibilities

Early morning checks start at 6am. The VN ‘walks’ the centre, checking each individual animal, ensuring that their enclosures are safe, they are acting normally and have no injuries. Water is topped up if necessary and faeces (if present) are checked and monitored.

It is the responsibility of the VN to medicate the patients – this requires a great deal of patience and, usually, some form of deception, as the medications are bitter and the animals do not willingly take them!

Animals are monitored constantly, with special attention being paid to those individuals in quarantine or those that are in the process of being socialised within a group situation. The latter is important to prevent food and territory aggression.

Emergency procedures are usually overseen by the manager, but the VN is always expected to be present and available to assist in the surgery. There are usually volunteers who are responsible for the day-to-day husbandry and upkeep of all of the animals under the care of the rescue centre. However, the VN is expected to help when there are fewer volunteers or the veterinary schedule is quiet.

Differences in working practice

Volunteering at Tasikoki provides the opportunity to work with many different species, ranging from birds and reptiles to bears and primates. There are considerable health risks that must be considered – risks that are increased when working with primates, the major ones being rabies, herpes B, tuberculosis, Shigella and Salmonella.

Vaccinations are essential and it is also very important that anyone wishing to work with Old World primates is fully aware of the risks involved.

Other roles filled by veterinary nurses

Tasikoki Rescue Centre encourages education and has many school visits, where VNs can get involved with giving talks. These highlight animal welfare issues and illegal wildlife trade, as well as some of the major conservation issues such as deforestation through illegal logging and palm plantations for the harvesting of palm oil.

The education centre on site is key to the delivery of such important messages; and working at the rescue facility can also give insights into the politics of the country.

Opportunities to network

Tasikoki is fortunate to have a wide range of veterinary professionals travelling to help out and participate – veterinary surgeons and VNs travel from different areas of the world to volunteer. There are also sister branches to Tasikoki throughout Indonesia. Certificate holders and zoo veterinary surgeons also lend their skills and knowledge to the centre.

How are UK-qualified VNs viewed?

Veterinary nurses are held in high regard within the rescue centres. The quality of the UK qualification is recognised and considered to represent a high standard of education. Veterinary nurses with at least two year’s post-qualification experience are desirable, as many of the tasks require the nurse to draw upon past experience and act quickly according to the given situation.

Advice for UK-qualified VNs wanting to work in Indonesia

A visa is required to visit Indonesia and it is advisable to speak to the manager of the centre before obtaining this.

My advice to VNs who wish to travel and work at Tasikoki – or any of the other rescue centres within the Indonesian area –   would be to check with your doctor about any vaccinations that you may require. It is essential to take out medical insurance as any medical/surgical treatment will require immediate upfront payment.

Sunscreen is a good idea and a mixture of clothes for all types of weather. A mosquito net is also a wise idea – I personally attracted many mosquitos and took comfort in antihistamines! 


Adina Valentine

RVN MBVNA Cert Exotics

Adina qualified three years ago and now works in general practice and at the Bristol Zoo Gardens. She is the owner of two spoilt 'moggies', two feisty snakes and a fluffy German shepherd dog.

Her main veterinary interests include exotics, anaesthesia, welfare and ethics, conservation and education.

To cite this article use either

DOI. 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2012.00232.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 27 pp 463-465

Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 27 • December 2012 •