I returned home from South Africa on the morning of the 23rd, and I already miss it like crazy. I want to eventually become a veterinarian that works with zoo animals or wildlife, so the experience that I got in South Africa with Dr. Rogers was just amazing. I got to learn from and work with the best veterinarian in South Africa, talk to experts and important conservationists, and interact with anti-poaching teams while participating in cases involving the protection and conservation of rhinos. There is no where else in the world where that is possible, and getting so much hands-on experience with these animals undoubtedly has educated and prepared me for working with them in the future. Not many people can say that they are confident working with a three ton rhino, or know the combination of drugs used to immobilize a leopard. My ACE program in South Africa did much more though than give me experience and confidence working with African animals and wildlife; it taught me tons about the culture in South Africa and about myself. South Africa is a beautiful country, but it does have its problems. Corruption in the government is widespread, racism is still prevalent since the dissolution of apartheid, and poverty and poaching are rampant. But there are a ton of good people that live there, people that consistently fight the odds and manage to make a difference even though the deck always seems to be stacked against them. The wildlife industry in South Africa is improving everyday, and many working within it are doing a great job of preserving and protecting one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Rhino conservation is a clear example of that; even though rhinos are losing the battle and numbers continue to dwindle, people like Dr. Rogers work painstakingly to help those that are still alive and think of new solutions to combat poaching. It would be delusional to say that rhino are not in danger of becoming extinct in the next ten years, but with people like Dr. Rogers, his team at Provet Wildlife Services, and the various conservationists that I have listened to, I think the species may still have a chance of making it.
Before this trip, I was unsure what direction I wanted my veterinary career to go in. I was confident that I wanted to become a vet, but I honestly had no idea what field or specialty I wanted to pursue. Studying wildlife and zoo animals was always something that interested me, but I had a lot of doubts about working with them and did not know if I had what it took to be successful in the field. After seeing Dr. Rogers work though, I’m one hundred percent convinced that working with these animal is the job for me. I have done a lot of studying over the course of college so far, but I hadn’t ever had a eureka moment where everything clicked and I was able to interconnect my coursework in order to apply my studies to real life scenarios. That changed this trip though, and for the first time I finally feel like I have a greater understanding of how physiology and disease relate along with the confidence to suggest diagnoses and treatments based on the symptoms that I see.
I would like to thanks SEBS for helping me make this trip to South Africa possible, and Dr. Rogers, the entire team at Provet, the Burns family, and ACE for providing me with the experience of a lifetime. Words can’t describe how amazing my month in South Africa was.