Anna Katogiritis of Karpathos, Greece, is a fourth-year DVM student pursuing the small animal track at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2015, Katogiritis volunteered at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center and now serves as the country coordinator/president and co-founder of Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Greece, a non-profit organization that empowers youth to initiate and implement service campaigns.
You visited the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo in 2015. How did that experience prepare you for your current work?
Being able to visit and volunteer at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in Congo was both a privilege and an absolute honor. The center takes care of more than 156 orphaned chimpanzees, a number of mandrills, and other animals that may be in need of medical care. During my time there, I was able to learn about chimpanzee behavior and medicine, while at the same time, conduct parasitology testing and training the native staff in laboratory techniques. My mentors there, Rebeca Atencia and Debby Cox, are both authorities in chimpanzee conservation and had a wealth of knowledge to share with me.
This experience allowed me to broaden my knowledge in great ape medicine and rehabilitation, while at the same time, offered me the opportunity to become familiar with the culture of the Congolese people and appreciate their side of the story when it comes to people performing illegal actions, such as wildlife trafficking or bushmeat trading. Through my conversations with the local people, I realized how important it is to always try and understand what drives people into certain actions. If we do not make an effort to solve the matters that societies face, we will not be able to help the animals and the planet overall. When people are going through hard times, animals will be the last thing on their mind! This is the approach that the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) has successfully taken in many African countries. By actively helping the communities, JGI has managed to help the conservation of many wild species, such as the chimpanzees. For these reasons, my experience at Tchimpounga was definitely life changing and has given me the foundation that I need in order to be of help in other countries and sanctuaries. (Read more about Katogiritis’ 2015 experience with JGI.)
Tell us about Jane Goodall’s visit to Greece. How did you participate?
Jane Goodall (or as we call her, “Dr. Jane”) visited Athens, Greece in December 2016. As the country’s Roots & Shoots coordinator, I helped co-organize her visit and was also her personal assistant while she was in Greece. In addition, that summer I had translated two of Dr. Jane’s books into Greek, which had been published and were available during her lecture.
Having Dr. Jane in Athens was a dream come true for many of us, and being her right hand was something that I never even thought of as a possibility. Dr. Jane stayed in Athens for a total of about four days. During that time, she gave a speech at Megaron Plus, where she had the opportunity to share her story and fill the room with hope! There were about one thousand guests who were able to attend, and many more who would have liked to come but were not able to travel to Athens. The following day, Dr. Jane met with volunteers who have helped the refugees that have been arriving in Greece. In addition, she visited ARCHELON, a center that has been actively involved in the conservation of the turtle species Caretta caretta (Loggerhead sea turtle), and also met with Ioanna-Maria Gkertsou, who founded the Lara School for Guide Dogs, through which she is able to train guide dogs for blind people in Greece and offer them to people for free. Being blind herself, Ioanna has been a voice for many people around Greece, as she has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the many issues that people with disabilities face, and also change the current regulations so that guide dogs are allowed everywhere.
What is Roots & Shoots Greece and how are you involved?
Roots & Shoots (R&S) is an educational program that aims to empower youth and, as the motto says, “turn Readers into Leaders.” It was founded in 1991 by Dr. Jane and a group of students in Tanzania. R&S provides tools to educators so that their students can successfully start service campaigns, which can positively impact the environment, the animals, and the people of their local communities. The members of the R&S groups choose projects that they are passionate about and take action. This is one of the many points that make R&S unique as a program. In addition, R&S has more than 15,000 groups in more than 140 countries and therefore, it is a global community of likeminded people. When young people share their projects on the online platform, they have the chance to inspire other people across the globe!
With that said, we wanted to start the program in Greece as well. For that reason, during my 2016 internship at the Jane Goodall Institute’s office in Washington, D.C., we began to create a plan of how we would proceed and also started with the translation of the material that is now used. As of March 2017, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Greece is a registered non-profit. I am the country coordinator/president and co-founder of the organization. We are hoping that this status will allow us to further our collaborations with organizations and also obtain grants and donations that will fund R&S projects in Greece.
How many times have you met Jane Goodall? Tell us about your favorite experience with her.
I have had the honor of meeting Dr. Jane four to five times and also spent the time of her visit in Greece with her. Most of my communication with her and the JGI family is via email, as everyone is in different locations and she travels 300 days a year. Even though I have not spent nearly as much time as others with her, I have many moments that I cherish from our brief time together. One of them is from a taxi ride in Athens, Greece. Among other things, we spoke about how the population of swifts who migrate to Greece has declined. In the past, we would see so many of them in my hometown Karpathos as well as other locations in Greece. Though the conversation was brief, Dr. Jane sent me an email about two weeks later connecting me with a wonderful lady from Belgium, known as Martine SwiftLady, so that we could collaborate and see how we can help the swift population in Greece! Dr. Jane has a phenomenally good memory, especially when it comes to issues that matter.
Another story is from our lunch at the American Community Schools of Athens. We had just finished with the presentations of the Roots & Shoots groups and were having lunch with the school administration. I was too excited to meet everyone and write down the names of those who wanted to keep in touch that I forgot all about the food that was in front of me. Dr. Jane, being the caring person that she is, asked me to start eating and stop having conversations until I was done with my food. She sat next to me the whole time, making sure that I did not leave any food behind. The scene was quite hilarious, as she reminded me a lot of my grandmother, and because she has an incredible sense of humor.
How has your education at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine complemented your interest in primate conservation?
Having come from Greece (I am a dual citizen), where I did not have nearly as many opportunities as I do here, VMCVM has been instrumental in helping me broaden my knowledge. The veterinary medical education in the U.S. is undoubtedly one of the best in the world, and this is something that I have personally witnessed and experienced after working in several countries. As difficult and exhausting as it may be to go through a DVM degree, it is worth it! We don’t often realize how fortunate we are for the education that we are receiving until we have either graduated and we are out in the real world or, in my case, until we have had the opportunity to work in other countries. Not everyone has the privilege of receiving this kind of extensive and well-rounded training.
When I visited Tchimpounga, I received a scholarship from VMCVM which was very helpful in covering part of my expenses. In addition, the administration of the college was extremely supportive of my trip. I would like to thank all of the professors that I have had thus far who devoted countless hours in educating and training us. In regards to wildlife medicine, I am particularly grateful for Stephen Smith who teaches the wildlife courses in our curriculum. He is one of those professors who inspires students to follow their dream in becoming more involved with wildlife and exotic medicine.
For my first clinical rotation, I headed to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone. For this trip, I received another travel scholarship from VMCVM to cover part of the expenses. I am extremely thankful for the support and had an amazing experience during this external internship.
What are your plans after graduation?
This is a hard question to answer because as it turns out my plans change constantly, as more opportunities arise. Day by day, I am becoming more convinced that being actively involved in conservation and rehabilitation of endangered species is one of the areas that makes me very happy. Another area is the medical care of stray animals, which is the reason why I wanted to become a veterinarian since the age of 5. I want to go back to Greece and help not only treat the animals that suffer daily, but also raise awareness regarding animal welfare and cruelty. I am also very interested in the legal aspect of this. With that said, I would definitely like to receive more training after I graduate, and I am hoping that I will be able to combine my work with endangered species with developing and/or participating in programs for stray (domestic) animals. At some point in my life, the big goal is to own a feline practice, which I am very looking forward to!
If you could give a word of advice to an incoming veterinary student, what would it be?
I would like for those that are entering this field to know that even though veterinary school is a difficult program to go through (mentally, emotionally and physically), it is a privilege and an education worth having if one is interested in this field. The biggest advice that I have is to remember that once you are in a classroom, you are in the program together with your classmates, and you should support each other. If vet school is hard for you, it is surely hard for the person sitting next to you.
The other advice that I have is don’t let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big to be achieved, because that is very untrue. If you really want something and you work hard, you can accomplish anything. As Jane Goodall would say, take advantage of the opportunities that come in your way, and I will add to that, but don’t take advantage of those around you. Be kind to others and true to yourself.