When he’s not flitting the globe doing his bit for animal conservation, Dr Evan Antin is a practicing veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital near Los Angeles. With a large social media following, he keeps fans abreast of his humane work whilst raising awareness for endangered species around the world.
Evan, tell us about your formative years.
I grew up in Overland Park, Kansas and had a creek in my backyard as a young boy. Every day, weather permitting, I would go flip rocks looking for snakes, frogs or cool insects. I have been passionate about wildlife and working with animals for as long as I can remember and now I do pretty much the same thing, but in exotic corners of the world instead of my backyard. That being said, any time I go visit friends and family in Kansas, I always make time to stroll my favorite creeks to find snapping turtles and snakes.
When did you foray into the world of becoming a wildlife veterinarian for small and exotic creatures?
I always knew animals would be a big part of my life, but it wasn’t until college that I realized the veterinary profession was the one for me. I was taking science courses, realizing how much I actually loved to learn, and always had an appreciation for medicine and everything clicked pretty quickly that this was where I belong. Once the decision was made, I never looked back and given that I love working with exotics and wildlife, I made sure to get as much hands-on experience with them and take every elective I could with them during vet school.
You came to Tanzania in 2007 to study wildlife conservation and ecology. What was that experience like for you?
Eye opening. The people and the culture gave me every bit as much and more than the animals regarding new perspectives in my life. I was 22 at the time and had never been to a developing country. No joke, I still appreciate the fact that I have safe drinking water and warm water in my home every single day. Sounds silly because most Americans have that but trust me, it’s not something to take for granted. That’s just the start of it too.
And seeing some of our planets’ most iconic wildlife was everything to me. Coming face to face with hippos, elephants, crocodiles and some of my favorite animals was my underlying motivation for going.
Ncarsis, the elephant from Tanzania, had a profound effect on your life.
She sure did. Spending time with a wild animal (technically wild, although she was a bit habituated to being around people) was crazy and magical. I wasn’t feeding her or giving her any other motivation to spend time with me every day that I stayed in the Ndarakwe Reserve where she lived. She was curious about me and enjoyed my company. She is probably not aware that I enjoyed hers much, much more. Making a connection with a sub-adult member of the largest land animal was indescribable. Elephants can be extremely dangerous, but I can tell you from personal experience they can also be incredibly gentle and sweet. They are remarkably emotional creatures and seeing this first hand was very influential for a young vet-to-be.
Let’s run through your bucket list experiences and start with trekking with gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Hiking with Gorillas in Rwanda was epic to say the least. A silverback literally walked right up to me and laid down belly-up (a real sign of total comfort), an arm’s length away from me! He and his little gorilla family were so anthropomorphic it’s not even funny. If you don’t see how humans are related to apes after an experience like that then I don’t know what to tell you lol.
What other incredible wildlife encounters have you had that have been unforgettable?
I’ve got quite the list, so I’ll try to keep it short. I’m extremely blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had over the years and always tried to make the most of them when I had just enough time and money to do so. I have been to seven continents and visited over 40 countries now, seeking out and working with wildlife. My favorites are:
- Swimming and scuba diving with tiger sharks at Tiger beach, Bahamas last Fall. I’ve always loved sharks, so getting to dive with and even touch these massive, misunderstood predatory fish was everything. They actually don’t view people as food and once you’re submerged, it’s obvious that you’re not a desirable meal. However, they are very curious and swim right up to you. Literally, I was gently pushing Tiger Shark noses away from my head and it was the best thing EVER!
- Working with the rhino in South Africa in 2017 and 2018. This iconic species is disappearing and getting to help them was extremely rewarding as a vet.
- Seeing wild orangutans in Borneo – another disappearing species. They’re remarkably anthropomorphic, making them so relatable to us.
- Taking a road trip in Western Australia for three weeks. I was 21 and literally lived in my rental car, ate canned food every day, and explored the outback. This was the first time I had ever travelled alone, and it was seriously epic. I learned a lot about myself too and that I could in fact travel solo and be quite content with it as well.
- Catching my first cobra on Komodo Island, Indonesia in 2013. These were spitting cobras too which made it a little more exciting. Cobras have been one of my favorite animals since I knew what animals were. My goal is to see a king cobra in the wild one day …
- Working with crocodilians (crocodiles, alligators, caimans, gharials, etc). My other favorite group of animals and I’ve been lucky to work with them all over the world. I actually just saw my first wild Gharial in Nepal last month!
- Visiting the Pantanal, Brazil in 2011 – tons of wildlife, the Pantanal is a massive wetland in the middle of Brazil.
- Seeing loads of amazing sub Saharan African wildlife while visiting the Okavango Delta in 2007.
You have been to South Africa a number of times. During your last visit, you partook in a C.S.I. operation in Kruger National Park, assisting with combating illegal rhino poaching. You are passionate and vocal about putting a stop to the illegal trade in rhino horn.
The rhino is such an iconic African wildlife representative. We’re losing five to eight rhino a day in Africa and 80% of Africa’s rhino are in South Africa. Many people don’t realize the poaching crisis that goes on every day. It is a legitimate war. Several thousand anti-poaching rangers have lost their lives in firefights with poachers. And the first step to making a change is bringing awareness. I’m fortunate to have a decent following on social media and that affords me to reach out to the public. If people don’t know there’s a problem to begin with then how can they help?
Elephants seem to be a favorite – you have met some special ones in various corners of the world – Namal in Sri Lanka, Bupa in Kenya, Lundi of the Camp Jabulani herd in South Africa and Mopane at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in South Africa.
Yes! I love working with elies! They have big bodies and even bigger personalities. They’re one of those species you have to be extra respectful with because they are wild animals. A very subtle movement from a 10,000 lb animal can easily be the end of me. I don’t want to jinx myself, but overall I’ve gotten along quite well with elephants and they generally seem to like me. And oh my goodness, little Mopane with his big tough-guy act, he’s the cutest darn thing. He loves to bully me and push me around. He would never admit it, but I know he likes being my buddy. I could quite literally spend all day everyday just playing, getting bullied and pushed around by that 1 year old, 500lb elie baby. And that little trunk of his!
What it is like to trim an elephant’s toenails?
In many ways the most challenging nail trim I have ever done. Just a slight flick of their wrist sends me flying so my proprioception is on high alert. Every second I’m working and trimming I’m thinking about where my body is, where my feet are, where I can move to get out of the way of a swinging foot/leg. You have to be a ninja to trim elephant nails!
You have had your fair share of rhino interactions – being rolled over by Mickey the orphaned black rhino and feeding him a bottle of milk at the Rhino Pride Foundation in South Africa. It must be an intense experience to spend time amongst such critically endangered species.
I don’t know what it is about African megafauna wanting to bully me, haha. Mickey stole my heart. That little munchkin was so playful, vocal and perfect. He is a southern black rhino and there are so few of them left in the wild, maybe a couple thousand. The interactions I had with him were unforgettable and extremely special. Getting to play with a baby version of such a critically endangered animal tugs at your heart strings even more, too. That was certainly a special experience and I’m so thankful for it.
You have assisted in horn trimming a rhino.
Yes, always a thrill too, especially if it’s wild rhino. Better protecting them from poachers is extremely rewarding and watching them wake up from the sedation after the trim and knowing they’re less likely to get poached feeds my soul. There’s been some new advancements with protecting the rhino and we may actually be able to inject the horn with toxins. It hasn’t worked in the past, but some conservationists are starting to have luck with it!
What was your experience like in the Philippines working with wild animals?
Some of my favorites! The Philippine crocodile is THE most endangered croc in the world, with less than 200 left in the wild. As you know, crocs are my favorite and getting to help these guys medically and participate in their conservation research was a dream come true!
Why should one NOT feed wildlife?
We don’t want wild animals being dependent on people for food or even associating people with food. That makes wild animals more bold and this can be extremely dangerous for people. We also don’t want them to become dependent on us when they should be finding their food in the wild. They are a part of the ecosystem and food chain where they’re native and we don’t want to disrupt that. And certain foods may not be safe for wildlife as well.
That Slender Loris in Sri Lanka though, what a cutie!
Indeed! Sad to see them in the illegal pet trade so often but you can see why. They’re painfully adorable. But trust me, they are not good pets and should not be kept in most captive situations.
I can’t for that Mountain Lion cub! Misses Robinson!
Such a trouble maker! If she was much bigger when I met her, she would’ve ripped me to shreds, lol.
I don’t think anyone understands your fascination with snakes, let alone the venomous ones!
To be honest, I can’t say I fully understand it either. From a practical standpoint, why would one be so interested in something so deadly!? But I find them absolutely stunning – vipers, cobras, all of them. The venom, nature’s deadly toxins, is also fascinating to me. Evolution has fine-tuned these specialized adaptations and created something so gnarly, I think it’s so cool. And I also think part of my love for snakes comes from sympathy for them. They’re highly misunderstood around the world and in my experience, most cultures fear snakes, don’t like them, and kill them indiscriminately. It breaks my heart because they’re special animals too and also play a valuable role in the ecosystem they’re native to. It’s interesting to note that snakes are more afraid of us than we are them. They want to avoid interactions with us every bit as most people do them. This goes for most wildlife but something I want to make clear about snakes.
Are there any animals that scare you?
I would say no. But, I have the healthiest respect for primates especially. They can be quite unpredictable, and I’ve heard the gnarliest horror stories from vets and caretakers getting injured by primates, especially greater apes. Like the kind of stuff that would give people nightmares; arms getting ripped off clean, face getting eaten, genitals ripped off, bones broken, nasty stuff. I would say chimps specifically are the scariest.
You launched Happy Pet Brand in 2018, your own line of products for furry friends. What goes into establishing something like this? It’s surely not, I like it, let me put my name on it?
Well maybe for some people, but I was heavily involved in the ingredients and formulas for the products. I’m very selective with any brand I work with and even more so with my personal product line.
Each product has features that make it unique and beneficial for your pet dogs from the veterinary perspective too. And I’m proud to say almost all the ingredients are natural, produced at solar powered facilities and 100% cruelty free.
You have some adorable rescue pets at home. You first got Willy, then Henry and lastly Blue.
I love my special little gentlemen to bits! I rescued Henry and Willy at the Boulder Humane Society when I was living there, and Blue was found in the attic of my fiancé’s mom’s house! Nathalie found him, and it was love at first sight for her. He was a singleton from a street cat in the neighborhood and fortunately she was spayed shortly after we found little Blue.
Everyone gets along great and Willy has been the best influence for young Blue. Blue had no social skills since he didn’t have littermates and that’s really not ideal, because the first 6 weeks is a critical period for those interactions with siblings and has a massive influence on a cat’s social interactions. The same goes for dogs and most mammals.
Do you believe in the ‘adopt don’t shop’ philosophy?
There are so many amazing adoptable pets out there that need homes and sadly so many sweet souls are euthanized simply because they haven’t been adopted. I don’t see how you couldn’t have an adopt-don’t-shop mentality. Many of my patients are pure breeds from breeders and I love working with those kiddos too. And I don’t look down on the breeders or those pet owners, but I personally will never acquire a pet in that fashion. The same goes for many exotics! For anyone interested in finding an exotic pet, definitely look into your local exotic pet rescue if there is one before buying from a breeder or pet shop. There are tons of great reptiles, guinea pigs, bunnies, etc. that need homes too.
You obviously work out.
Lol, yes. I’ve been passionate about weight lifting and fitness since I was 13 years old and I’ve been training on/off since then. Other than animals, it’s my longest lived hobby! I grew up idolizing Arnold Schwarzenegger, not just because of his physique but because this guy would set a goal and do everything in his power to attain it. I thought that was so cool and realized there’s no reason I can’t do the same. I use the same mindset to get where I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of good fortune and I’m very thankful for my blessings and opportunities, but it’s not all luck. It took a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifices to get where I am today.
You traveled to Granada, Spain last year and seemed to really enjoy the architecture. Which other leisure destinations have been a favorite and why?
Southern Spain, aka Andalusia, was gorgeous, and we visited Seville and Córdoba too. My other favorite destination in recent years was Turkey. The historical structures there were mind-blowing, like carved out cave dwellings that dated 2,000-5,000 B.C. I love middle eastern and Mediterranean food too. If you go to Turkey, you must definitely visit Capadocchia, trust me.
You’ve just been to Peru shooting another insert for Animal Planet.
Yes! My first time in Peru but my fourth time in the Amazon rainforest. The jungle there is epic and full of super neat wildlife. We also visited the South to see Machu Picchu and work with llamas, bears and condors.
Exciting projects on the horizon?
This is by far the most exciting news I can share – I’ve been dreaming and seriously working towards having a TV show on a network like Animal Planet where I can share wildlife conservation and veterinary medicine around the world ever since I was 21 years old. ‘Evan Goes Wild’ premieres on Animal Planet on Sunday 24 February at 9pm ET/PT. You’ll see me in four different continents working with my favorite animals in this first season and hopefully many more to come!
I also thoroughly enjoy being a practicing vet at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital near LA, working on wildlife around the world, and promoting my Happy Pet brand!
| Cover photo by Diana Ragland. Groomer: Lindsey Bergfalk
| All other photos provided by Evan Antin