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Written By

Mykala Wright

College

College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

13 October 2021

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Veterinary care beyond borders

From rhinos in Africa to horses in Mongolia, JCU Alumni Dr Campbell Costello has worked with animals all across the globe. Now, he’s back on Australian soil treating animals in the outback.

Campbell grew up on his family’s cattle station near Charters Towers and graduated from JCU’s first cohort of the Bachelor of Veterinary Science in 2010.

“I’ve been a bush kid from the start. We’d get our mail once or twice a week, we’d go into town monthly, and I did school on the station. I didn’t have friends in the classroom per se, but I had ponies, puppies and chickens,” Campbell says. “Being constantly surrounded by animals made choosing a career in veterinary science straightforward for me.”

Since graduating, Campbell has made the most of his degree: he has trekked across the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan; worked as an airborne vet for the Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska; attended the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan; performed as an equine vet for the Gaucho Derby in Patagonia; treated wildlife and game in Africa; and, ridden one thousand kilometers across Mongolia in the world’s longest horse race — returning yearly as one of the race’s lead veterinarians.

Campbell has also been heavily involved in the livestock sector. He has helped to set up farms in places like Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Russia, and Israel, as well as working with beef cattle in Kazakhstan and dairy cattle in Victoria.

“I’ve had a fairly random career, and the skills I learnt at JCU have definitely helped me throughout it,” he says. “University not only prepped me with the clinical skills I need as a vet, but also with the ability to perform in different kinds of roles. For example, at the age of 28, I was running a 30-person team in Kazakhstan without being able to speak much Russian — it’s in part due to the communications skills I developed during my time at JCU.”

	Dr Campbell Costello riding a horse across Patagonia for the Gaucho Derby.
Dr Campbell Costello holding a puppy.
Left: Campbell riding in the Gaucho Derby in Patagonia. Right: Campbell holding a puppy. Supplied by Dr Campbell Costello

The flying vet

After years of working in different countries and practices, Campbell has returned to Australia where he currently runs his own business, Outback and Airborne Veterinary Services.

With his business, Campbell provides veterinary treatment to animals in remote locations across the Top End of Australia. Communities throughout the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland have limited access to animal care, so Campbell’s business offers fly-in fly-out services.

“I don’t have a brick-and-mortar clinic, I operate entirely out of an airplane or a car,” he says. “I believe that anywhere in the world, people have the right to education, medicine and veterinary medicine. If you’ve got an airstrip or a road, all you’ve got to do is contact me and I will be there.”

Part of the work that Outback and Airborne does involves Indigenous Community Animal Health Programs, which aim to improve the wellbeing of communities through animal health education and management.

“Over the last couple of years my career has focused on working with Indigenous communities, doing things like spay and neuter drives, parasite control and public health work. It all fits into the One Health paradigm, which is an approach that recognises the connection between animals, people and their environment,” Campbell says.

“If your dog population gets out of control, you’re probably going to see more parasites, worms and disease in your human population. And out here, you have people with chronic health problems such as diabetes, tuberculosis, overcrowding or poor nutrition. So these people are already compromised and living on the edge, and then you throw in something like a tick disease, its death by a thousand cuts,” he says.

Campbell delivers emergency treatment to a dog.
Dr Campbell Costello piloting his plane.
Left: Campbell and one of his students performing surgery on a local dog in the NT. Right: Campbell in his plane for Outback and Airborne Veterinary Services. Supplied by Dr Campbell Costello

Protecting your pet against deadly diseases

At the moment, there is one disease in particular that is of concern to Campbell. Ehrlichiosis, or E. canis, is a deadly dog disease that is transmitted through the bite of the brown dog tick.

E. canis occurs worldwide, but it was not diagnosed within Australia until last year. It was originally detected in Western Australia and has since spread to the Northern Territory and South Australia. More recently, a dog in Queensland tested positive for the disease after travelling through WA and the NT.

Outback and Airborne are working to control the spread of E. canis across Australia, but Campbell says more public awareness of the disease is crucial.

“We’ve been dealing with this disease for less than 12 months, and it’s already spread across the entirety of the Northern Territory. That’s an area twice the size of France! It takes longer for a human fetus to develop. This disease, it’s just exploded,” he says.

“All it takes is tourists travelling across the country with their dog in their caravan to unknowingly break the law and spread the disease, and it’s because there’s just no awareness.”

E. canis is characterized by fever, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory distress, decreased appetite and weight loss. It attacks bone marrow, which hinders a dog’s ability to form blood clots and as a result can lead to uncontrollable bleeding.

“When it was first observed during the Vietnam War, the Americans bomb dogs were becoming very sick and dying. Vets and doctors were looking at it, and they were saying it looked like radiation sickness. Thankfully, after some blood work, they eventually diagnosed it as bacteria. But that’s the severity of this disease,” Campbell says.

“When I was working in Arnhem Land last year we had maybe 700 dogs in the community, and now that would be less than 100. 70 per cent would die post-surgery.”

Campbell says that common tick prevention methods, such as chewable tables, do not offer enough protection from E. canis on their own.

“Monthly Nexgard or Bravecto tablets only offer about 70 per cent protection. These tablets need to be combined with a repellent therapy, like a Seresto tick collar – changed every four months – or a monthly application of Advantix,” he says. “This combination gives about 98 per cent protection.”

E. canis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be spread to humans through the bite of a tick. When it comes to facing difficult situations like these, Campbell says he is grateful for his time at JCU.

“When I was at James Cook University they did bang home about zoonotic and exotic diseases with their focus on tropical Australia. It’s one of the most northern vet colleges in Australia so it’s producing vets that will be on the frontlines of these kinds of issues,” he says.

“JCU gives students a great introduction to regional and mixed animal medicine and a realistic taste of a variety of vet roles. If you’re considering a career in regional or bush veterinary medicine, it’s hands down the best; it prepared me for that, and has a great network of alumni that will help students into that field as well.”

Dr Campbell Costello

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