Do you know why giraffes have long necks? It seems she already knows the answer we want to give. Most people think they can reach the leaves at the top of trees this way, but their necks are so long that they can fight each other. The animal with the largest and strongest neck wins.”
Martine van Zijll Langhout hits her arms hard: puff, puff, puff! “It’s okay. Wonderful, isn’t it? One of evolution’s many wonders, if you ask me.”
Together with Van Zijll Langhout, we walk into the ARTIS Zoo in Amsterdam, where she works as a veterinarian. Whenever possible, she takes the time to walk in the park and look at the animals. Like now, with giraffes. But she also comes to rest in Tropenkas.
Not only the tropical warmth, but also the lush greenery van Zell Langhut reminds of the West African country of Gabon, where for a long time it lived in the vast rainforests. “In a tent with the dwarves,” she says. “I learned there that every living thing is connected.”
She grew up in Gorinchem, but as a child she could be found on her uncle’s and aunt’s farm. “I was in my element among the animals.”
At the age of five she was pretty sure she wanted to be a vet when she grew up. You will never forget how you gave birth to a calf right in front of her nose by Caesarean section. Blood ran down her face but she didn’t care. “I kept watching charmingly.”
Immediately after graduation, she visited her boyfriend in San Francisco. “But he was busy and I was worried. I wanted to have something to do.” She called a wildlife sanctuary to see if she could volunteer. “I was allowed to take care of wild sea lions and elephant seals.”
The moment she was allowed to release the four recovered sea lions into the ocean changed a lot. Then she didn’t want to be a vet, but she wanted to become a wildlife vet. “I realized how important it is for people to actively participate in nature conservation. I wanted to contribute to that.”
Martine van Zijll Langhout in action: rhino horn removal to prevent poaching.
A year later she started studying veterinary medicine in Utrecht and as a third year student she was allowed to do an internship at Kruger Park in South Africa. “This special time has really ignited my love for wildlife and wildlife.”
However, after her studies, Martine van Zijll Langhout began working as a vet and acting vet for pets. The desire to work with wild animals remained strong. After a trip to Namibia where she saw a wild zebra in Etosha National Park for the first time in a long time, she did everything she could to make that long-awaited dream come true. She left her usual job and left for London to get a master’s degree in wildlife health.
Through this training she ended up in Gabon. There she was allowed to participate in a gorilla conservation project. One of her tasks was to conduct research on parasites in western lowland gorillas. Then I became the project manager.
Her first real experience as a wildlife veterinarian was remarkable in many ways. Not only because she lived there with a small group of dwarves in a 5,000 square meter wilderness and was allowed to work with wild animals, but also because she learned to trust her senses.
Because even though she did a beautiful job, it wasn’t always safe. “For example, we walked a lot on elephant trails, so we encountered elephants regularly. To survive each day it was important to rely on my senses and my body. I could die any day. In the wild, you are always here and now, a good place to live” .
Also in South Africa, where she lived for seven years and treated sick rhinos, elephants and giraffes as a self-employed veterinarian, she had to run for her life when she was attacked by a buffalo. “I had to anesthetize the animal because it had to be tested for diseases.”
As she was about to shoot, she saw a buffalo approaching her. She was not afraid. “The interesting thing is, when you are in a situation like this, you don’t have time to be afraid. I just thought: Run, run, run!”
Van Zel Langut felt like a wild animal. “I ran faster than ever. I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my darling.”
It wasn’t until after she reached safety that she realized she was about to be there. “But also that our human brain works just like animals do. When we are under stress, we react the same way. Many of the behaviors we exhibit as humans are actually animal behavior.”
She wrote the book about her adventures in the wild About life in the wild. “Because it would be great for more people to realize that everything in life is connected. We are actually animals too and we are not the most important beings in this world. We need each other.”
As a wildlife doctor in South Africa, she has also seen the damage humans can do to nature. She helped play with bows around the legs or neck and saw how animals have to abandon their habitat because of humans. Many people think: if you leave nature alone, you will be fine. But we are past that stage. Active human input is needed to restore nature.”
Eight years ago, Van Zell Langut returned to the Netherlands, in part because she missed her family. She now lives in Amsterdam near the zoo. “But the wilderness is still in me. It will never come out.”
Of course, the work you do in the Netherlands at the AAP and at ARTIS is very different from the work in the tropics. “I don’t have to lie here on my stomach in the grass with a sedative gun. However I also enjoy my work here.”
Van Zijll Langhout recently put a jaguar under a CT scan because the animal was suffering from back pain. “Something very cool. In the end we helped her by taking painkillers.” Or a pelican that healed a painful wound in its beak sac within a week. “I had to sew that up until it was over. I am happy when I can help an animal.”
In addition, Martine van Zijll Langhout works with people as a life coach. She wants to show others how important it is to get out of your comfort zone now and then. “It makes you less anxious and boosts your confidence. A challenge now and then is good, because it makes you mentally stronger. Same goes for animals.”
In two months, she will be traveling to Botswana as part of this assignment with the Dutch Tempo Foundation. The great thing is that she can combine her passion for nature with this. “I will be spending a week in the wilderness with a small group of people, supported by a team of professional local guides and trackers, so they can come back for themselves and be more connected to everything that lives,” said the wildlife doctor. “We can learn a lot from the wild!”
The Driving Trail over Levine will take place on the Land Driving Trail led by Martin van Zell Langut from June 19-24. During this special week, guests stay at the luxurious five-star Koro River Camp in a vast wilderness area of Central Tulli on the Limpopo River in Botswana.
There are still a few places available. Costs 3750 euros. All proceeds go to the Dutch Timbo Africa Foundation, which is committed to, among other things, creating wildlife corridors and reintroducing endangered species in Botswana.