Scots-based vet is first to work with Chinese on panda medicine

Rui Oliveira visited the Ocean rescue centre in the Sichuan province of China, where he worked alongside colleagues from the USA, South Africa and Hong Kong to educate local vets on providing more advanced care for its ageing Giant Pandas. 

A first for China – and Vets Now

It is the first time that the Chinese has sought international expertise to care for its national animal, mainly due to a need to better treat eye and mouth conditions suffered by older pandas kept in their protected breeding programmes.

The 42-year-old ophthalmology referral clinician who works at the Vets Now Pet Emergency Hospital at Charing Cross, Glasgow spent a week with local vets teaching them to diagnose and manage a range of conditions including cataracts and corneal lesions.

Rui relished the opportunity to work so closely with the endangered species and the local veterinary team, describing it as a lifetime opportunity and a rewarding learning experience.

He said: “First and foremost I am truly thankful to have been part of this landmark initiative to research and educate on veterinary care for the Giant Panda.

“China has been undergoing a focused reproduction programme for the past 20 years and we now have an ageing Giant Panda population that requires ongoing care on a range of geriatric health issues like eyes and the oral health problems.

“The visit to China enabled us to educate the local teams and get a better understanding of how to improve the health and wellbeing of pandas that live in protected programmes.

“Personally it has been a privilege to work alongside some of the best veterinary specialists from across the world and to be part of the first international team to work together with the local veterinarians responsible for the panda conservation projects.

 Rui pandasA fascinating and unique opportunity

“It has also been fascinating to research and learn more about such a wonderful and protected species.”

The ophthalmologist was invited to share his expertise and knowledge by the Hong Kong Ocean Park Conservation Foundation (HKOPCF), which was the lead partner and organizer of this workshop together with the team from the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Dujiangyan Sichuan China.

Rui has worked with the HKOPCF for a number of years, undertaking innovative veterinary medicine with a diverse mix of species including seals, birds of prey and exotic birds.

The Chinese programme has enabled the Lisbon native to strengthen his relationship with the HKOPCF, whilst leading new research on the Giant Panda.

He said: “The programme was very effective in bringing my ophthalmology expertise to the local teams, and training them in cases examination procedures and teaching them on the best way to use veterinary ophthalmology instrumentation.

Rui pandas1

Improved knowledge of Giant Pandas

“However it was also a great opportunity to conduct valuable research on the Giant Panda. There is very little clinical information on the Giant Panda and we have used the engagement to collect data and get a better understanding and knowledge of ageing pandas.”

Rui's day-to-day job involves emergency surgery and referral work at the Vets Now Pet Emergency Hospital in Glasgow.

Since returning, Rui has welcomed every opportunity to share his knowledge of the project with colleagues and industry peers. He said: “There has been great feedback from the profession, people are generally fascinated by this great experience and want to learn more about the work we have done with the Giant Pandas.

“It has been an immensely valuable opportunity for me and I love to share my work and learnings with others across the global veterinary ophthalmology world.”

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