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Monday 20 November 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Local, National


Vet waves goodbye to the Cooks
Veterinarian Michael Baer assists during a visit to Mangaia School. 23111720

Veterinarian Michael Baer has been a familiar face in the Cook Islands for the past couple of years. He chats to deputy editor Al Williams as he prepares for another chapter in his life.

“I was about three or four and went with dad, who was a vet, on his canoe, to a Kiribati village in the Solomon Islands to castrate pigs, they gave us salted fish.

“I liked the salted fish. I then decided being a vet was a great idea,” he says.

Baer studied in Australia, and worked in Northern Ireland and New Zealand before a stint in the Cook Islands.     

“I didn’t know what I really was interested in and was lucky enough to get a job doing a little bit of everything. Luckily I discovered that was what I wanted to do.”

Baer says being a veterinarian incorporates a “very broad field”.

“It is a very broad field and there is a niche for everyone. But a few things are required, whatever, you want to do. 

“You have to like working with animals and working with people. Good grades at school, to get into the course. Be caring. Be observant. Mostly be curious; if you don’t know, ask why. People may think you are three-years-old, but you may learn something.”

Some of the highlights of his career so far include seeing turtles, kakaia and other wildlife; “and chasing a rhino through the bush with dad… priceless”,

Baer arrived in Rarotonga, mid Covid-19, 2021. 

“I had been in a practice in New Zealand for 15 years, but always wanted to work in the Pacific.

“The time arrived to make a call, Te Are Manu needed a vet and I was arrogant enough to think I could do the job. That was it, and I have loved being here.”

He is proud of the work. 

“I am really proud of the desexing programmes which have neutered 750 plus animals in two years. 

“Equally, I have been lucky to visit the southern Pa Enua, and while I don’t believe that job is done, I know that we are well under way and making progress. 

“Probably my best accomplishment was seeing Sarah and Ellen’s vision of monthly clinics in Aitutaki come to fruition.”

There have been challenges.  

“Supply of drugs and materials is obviously difficult. Managing that required a lot of forward planning. I was lucky everyone had paved the path for me.”

Baer describes the opportunity to live and work in the Cook Islands as lucky.

“I wanted to work in the Pacific Islands, I wanted some control, and I wanted a place to live and work where my wife, Natalie, would be happy. 

“I struck gold, but more than that, I met some people who will be lifelong friends.”

He says there is more work to be done here. 

“Training and teaching. Raising awareness. The Ministry of Agriculture have a great crew, and have great skills. 

“The Paravet training was amazing, but I would love to see them supported by a permanent Ministry of Agriculture vet; that is just my opinion, but I do think it would make support in the Pa Enua, especially the northern group, easier.”

Baer is set to stay in the Pacific, taking up a job in Samoa.  

“I hope to take a position with the Ministry of Agriculture in Samoa in late January. I have a couple of weeks here to enjoy the fun of Rarotonga before I go, and thank my lovely friends for all the effort they put in to keeping me company.”

He has some final words for anyone aspiring to follow the professional pathway of a veterinarian.  

What do people need to possess if they wish to follow a career as a vet? 

“Curiosity, dedication and a sense of fun!”