The Travelling Vet

At the first mention of Argentina, Campbell Costello’s eyes light up. ‘Ah, Argentina,’ he sighs, gazing dreamily intospace. ‘I’ve got a romance with that country like no other.’

Tango Dancers in Argentina

Coming from this most peripatetic of vets, that is really saying something. It is obvious to anyone listening to Dr Campbell Costello BVSc – more commonly known as Cozzy – that his first passion is veterinary science and its community, but a very close second is travel.

A boy from the bush, originally hailing from remote north Queensland, Campbell has since ranged far and wide in his capacity as veterinarian. His experiences include riding one thousand kilometres across Mongolia in the world’s longest horse race, the Mongol Derby, trekking across the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan, working in the Highveldt of South Africa, living with the nomadic Tsaatan reindeer herders in the Khövsgöl province on the Russian border, working as an airborne veterinarian for the Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska, being stationed in South-Eastern Kazakhstan as the head veterinarian and farm manager of a Angus Beef Cattle farm (where he also had the rare honour of attending the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan as a veterinarian to offer assistance to the local animals and training to local veterinarians and para-veterinarians). He has also worked with several overseas governments importing breeding animals, taking him to countries including Russia, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Kuwait, Oman, Israel, the UAE, and Sri Lanka - to name but a few.

But even amongst such a dazzling travelling vet resume, there is one experience that stands out for Campbell - being the mounted veterinarian for the Gaucho Derby recce mission in Argentina. This involved riding across Patagonia for several days, mapping a basic route for the inaugural Gaucho Derby race in 2020, while monitoring the local Criollo horses’ physiological parameters as a response to the terrain and conditions.

‘There’s just something about Argentina,’ continues Campbell, ‘whether it’s wearing the gaucho beret (called a boina), drinking Malbec around an open fire, or cooking an asado steak on the barbeque, horses tethered beside you in amazing landscapes such as Patagonia – there is truly nothing like it.’ He goes on to say that while the Aussie and American cowboy culture is culturally familiar, it is the gaucho tradition of Argentina that is still truly respected. ‘And there’s something very cool about a guy galloping around the countryside on a horse, wearing a beret, knee-high riding boots, bombachas pants and poncho, with an assortment of knives stuck into his belt. ’He grins. ‘It just resonates with a bush kid from Queensland.’

But it’s not just gaucho culture and incredible landscapes like the glaciers and the lake district of Bariloche, says Campbell – there is the stylish hub of Buenos Aires, the product of Spanish and Italian colonisation alongside local culture, reflected in its distinctive fashion, language, music, dance, food and approach to life.

Campbell has returned to be based in his home state, but he still travels widely as a locum and more recently, as a tour leader for veterinary study tours with Jon Baines Tours. He’s led two tours to South Africa and Malaysia and is returning to his beloved Argentina for his third tour from 4 – 17 November 2024. He is a keen advocate of this type of travel for veterinary practitioners.

‘In Australia, we’re very lucky that we’re an island locked away at the bottom of the globe, which means we can be very insulated from things other countries have to face,’ says Campbell. ‘Travelling as a vet can give you a whole new perspective. It’s a great opportunity to see first-hand what other countries have to face - exotic disease, zoonotic disease, sometimes struggles to get healthcare, let alone veterinary care.’

Campbell cites a case study his group learnt about when they were travelling in South Africa last year and visited Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, at the base of the majestic Drakensburg Mountains. Poaching has been a big problem in South Africa for decades, with a recent spike partly due to increased demand for rhino horn, which is a coveted ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

A tell-tale sign of a carcass in South Africa are a plume of black bodies. Circling vultures always spark an interestin rangers; is it a natural death, or poaching? To prevent attracting attention, poachers learned to steal organophosphates from nearby farms to lace the carcass, killing the vultures. The worst case was 150 vultures down at one time. Moholoholo sent emergency triage out in the field with vets and nursing staff assessing which were dead, which were dying, and which ones could pull through with treatment.

Which begs the question – why all this bother about vultures?

‘They are the environment’s vacuum cleaner,’ says Campbell. ‘Vultures are immune to anthrax and rabies – vulture saliva disables anthrax spores – which means that they can clean up infected bodies and they don’t get sick. In turn, other animals don’t get infected.’

With the mass killing of vultures came disease outbreaks in areas that they hadn’t seen before, all because Mother Nature’s vacuum cleaner could not do its essential job.

‘Vets are very aware of the symbioticnature of environments,’ says Campbell. ‘To see the full scope of the problem you need to look at both the causes and knock-on effects. We see this with weather changes causing repercussions in our herds and livestock.’

When Covid kicked off, many of the epidemiologists were vets. ‘We’re used to looking at things as herds,’ says Campbell. ‘We step back and look at the whole. I see this pattern over and over again.’ He cites a case of Japanese encephalitis which affected southern Australia over the last couple of years. It was the vets that first raised the alarm and let the medical fraternity know.

Another interesting example is a recent outbreak of leptospirosis in companion animals, resulting in human infection, in Sydney. This was traced back to tunnelling work being done at the time. The disturbance to the bedrock caused vermin to flee to the surface, urinating on surfaces and spreading lepto in outbreaks that were unprecedented in their scale.

‘Vets have such a variety of skills and fulfil many different roles,’ says Campbell. ‘It’s not just hugging cats on Bondi Vet.’ He grins. ‘We can be very underappreciated for our holistic approach – we look at not only the animals, but society, human health and environmental equilibrium.’

Which is another reason that travelling as a vet is particularly enlightening. Being on tour in another destination allows for immersion and insight into local society and culture, as well as veterinary science.

Campbell sees four major benefits of travelling on a veterinary study tour.

‘The first and biggest benefit is the networks you make,’ he says. ‘I love seeing a big mob of mismatched people who have never met before gel into a close group over a few days. We can isolate ourselves in the hustle and bustle of life, so that’s really important. It’s great to see them having a beer at the end of the day, having a chat about what would you have done differently, what are your challenges? Professional mediation and the lifelong friendships are number one for me.’

The second benefit is connected to this. ‘We need to be hyper vigilant and aware of the importance of mental health in veterinary science,’ says Campbell. ‘Having someone to share experiences with, like having the grievance of euthanising an animal or going through the process with an distraught owner. Such things can really take a toll and every time I do a JBT tour I see that this sharing aspect is really important for people.’

Number three is the cultural insight.

‘I might be a horse practitioner in Australia, but how does that transfer into Argentina?’ asks Campbell. ‘It’s a way of finding common ground with others, bringing us together.’

Finally, this cultural immersion gives a snapshot of other peoples’ lives and the challenges of day-to-day life.

‘For example, I would never have considered the challenge of rolling blackouts until I worked in South Africa,’ explains Campbell. ‘How this impacts not only charging your phone, getting mobile reception or internet, trying to keep food cold - but also, what do I do when I need my anaesthetic machine? How do I run a high-quality practice when the power grid goes down? These are challenges that most Aussies don’t truly understand.’

Even the wet market in in Georgetown in Malaysia was an eye opener, chuckles Campbell. ‘Newly slaughtered chickens hanging ready to buy was confronting for some – but if you don’t own a fridge, you buy what you need fresh each day, rather than something wrapped in plastic from Coles. It’s simply the way things are.’

In the same way that he says Patagonia is a bit like the Northern Territory - but colder and with snow-capped mountains, and small ruminants called guanacos running around. It’s both the differences and the connections that bring a journey to life.

Campbell will lead Jon Baines Tours ‘Veterinary Study Tour to Argentina’ from 4 - 17 Nov 2024. To book or find out more call 03 9343 6367, email or visit

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Karen Ginnane
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