Learning from each other - involvement with Veterinarians without Borders

Investigated at Dr Olaf Bellmann, the institute veterinarian and animal welfare officer at the FBN and involved with "veterinarians without borders" for years

Hello Dr Bellmann, you have been working at the FBN since 1997 and are employed here as an institute veterinarian as well as an animal welfare officer. What are your main tasks? 

Dr. Bellmann: I advise the scientists at the FBN on all questions and issues relating to animal experiments, such as how the stress on the animals can be reduced or how approval processes work. In addition, I provide information on how animal welfare can best be ensured in the context of animal husbandry and animal experiments and have overall responsibility for the health of the animals here at the FBN, because scientifically usable data can only be obtained from healthy animals. I also advise and train in all aspects of animal welfare, in short: whenever animal welfare issues arise at the FBN, I am there. 

Are there any special projects or projects that you are working on particularly intensively at the moment? 

Many training courses in the field of laboratory animal science focus on laboratory rodents; with a focus on farm animals, the FBN has a real unique selling point, e.g. with the topic of improving animal welfare in farm animal husbandry. Some time ago, for example, we were able to establish targeted training courses FELASA-certified courses and day seminars in the field of laboratory animal science for farm animals.  In addition, I am working on the development of reliable catalogues for stress assessment in farm animals in animal experiments. FBN scientists were and are involved in various committees nationwide that focus on agricultural husbandry or animal experimentation. For example, the Brandenburg Animal Welfare Plan was drawn up under my moderation, which required a compromise between the needs of farmers, consumers and science. A representative of the FBN has also been a permanent member of the animal experimentation commission of the state of MV for years (read our last „Researched“-Story about Dr. Jan Langbein!)

In addition to your work at the FBN, you are also involved with "Veterinarians without Borders" - what are the tasks of the association and how does it help animal owners and animals in other countries?

The focus is on supporting people who live from animal husbandry, but it includes many far-reaching projects, from pure animal husbandry to training in animal health to the marketing of animal products, but also hygiene and health training, AIDS education and much more. The work covers all areas of life of pastoralists (people who run mobile livestock units using natural bush and grassland pastures along the rainfall). Regionally, the focus is on East Africa (Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda).
The association Tierärzte ohne Grenzen e.V. (ToGeV, www.togev.de) was founded in 1991 as a student initiative at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover. I have been a member since 1996 and have been on the board ever since, from 1997 to 2006 as chairman. In the meantime, the association has about 300 employees in Germany and in Africa.

What motivated you to get involved there? 

I have always been very interested in East Africa and the life of the people there, and I have travelled to the region several times for longer periods. I have experienced there how little one actually needs to lead a secure and contented life and how wasteful and thus destructive we live here. Our prosperity is also partly due to the underdevelopment of African regions. In order to make at least a little something like equal opportunities possible, even on a small scale, it is important for me to get involved. Many families in Africa, for example, don't even have the opportunity to choose between different paths, while here we have so many opportunities open to us. 

Is there an experience that has remained particularly memorable for you? 

There are many! Above all, I was impressed by the encounters with the local people, who are always friendly, no matter how little they have. They welcome every guest with open arms. They willingly told me about their everyday lives and let me accompany them, even if they didn't understand why I was filming or photographing everyday things for them. One moving story is that of a seventy-year-old man who, together with his wife who is only three years younger, is raising nineteen of his grandchildren because their parents died of AIDS. I will never forget the sparkle in their eyes when, in a joint project with the Herman van Veen Foundation, we were able to hand over a milk cow to this family after prior training so that they would have food and an income. Another experience was the encounter with Lopeyok, a man from South Sudan, who gave me two goats out of gratitude during a visit to his village. They are still running in his herd and have hopefully multiplied diligently. I could go on like this forever!

What are the future plans of the association "Vets without borders"? Can other people get involved and support the association?

Of course, anyone who wants to support our work can get involved. Sending people to Africa for projects is a bit problematic because we often work in crisis regions and there are also many professionals on the ground who have a family income through their work for ToGeV. But here in Germany we need supporters who sensitise other people to the issue. Above all, donations help us a lot: The association always has to raise its own funds for projects. Especially because of the social and economic restrictions caused by the corona, many people in rural Africa are concerned about their existence, as there are no health insurances or governmental support. For example, a school closed due to the pandemic means no income for a teacher there to feed his family. If you would like to support Vets Without Borders, please contact me or find out more here: https://www.togev.de/unterstuetzen/ .