Sunday was reptile day. Everyone held the snake and I posed next to Stella holding it. Snake demonstration, held spiders. Went to see Jessica but mistake in scheduling, saw a giant Baobab tree instead.
Monday was HELICOPTER DAY. We were working with Andrei again so he came to our came in Swadini to have a “lecture” about darting before we started the day. We ended derailing and comparing American to South African culture, which is always an interesting conversation. Due to how recently apartheid ended, race relation conversations are always intellectually challenging and worthwhile. Even more interesting was comparing our police forces. We started with hearing everyone’s opinion on police brutality in the US, and ended up feeling grateful for our police force after hearing about Louis and Andrei talking about how they easily talk their way out of traffic stops. In a country with above average crime rates, Andrei told us he actually thanked the first cop that gave him a ticket without asking for a bribe or being easily persuaded. Our cops may be on edge, but at least they are on edge from doing their jobs.
Anyway, after lecture we went to try to meet Jessica the hippo again. Today, she was sick. This is how it works when allowing wildlife to maintain autonomy. Fortunately, they have another young hippo, Richie, that washed up on their property like Jessica. He wasn’t as trained as Jessica so we could not get as personal, but we were still able to feed him and kiss his nose. After this, we went to the location for the helicopter rides. Andrei gave us another talk on the types of sedatives and anesthetics that can be used, and how different darting systems can vary. We got two practice shots standing on the ground and shooting at a motionless target. I’ve shot guns twice before and I found it a lot easier to use the dart gun, it was actually kind of fun. After our practice shots, we waited for the helicopter. We had to wait approximately an hour because the pilot got an emergency call to help dart an injured rhino, most likely due to poaching, so we weren’t complaining at all. By the time she arrived, the sun was just starting to set. This made for a fantastic view up in the helicopter. This was my first time flying in one, and it was absolutely fantastic. I was so ecstatic about being in the air that I almost forgot to shoot the dart, and when I did shoot I was so distracted that I barely even hit the target. I’m thankful I had this experience. If I were to get into wildlife medicine, this would be a major part of my day, and I definitely needed this experience to help normalize it all for me.
That night, we had our last group game night around the picnic table. We played the games we all shared with each other throughout the trip, like Spoons and Mafia. It was definitely a little bitter sweet since the following day was our last full day together. We got up before 6am on Tuesday, making it a fitting last morning. Today we put all of our game capture experience into action. We had to go early to set up in the boma, we had to run around the fields to corral the animals in, we had to jump on the animal after it was darted to keep it from hurting itself, we had to load it on the truck, and we had to release it. It was really fantastic getting to synthesize all we did into one full experience, but it was long and exhausting. There were only 3 nyala does in a multi acre area that was split between agriculture and bushy hills. They kept evading us so we had to spend hours running through the bush and exploring bamboo forests to root them out. This day was not ideal at all, which was good to see because that is exactly how life works in this profession. I definitely walked away from this event thinking a little more seriously about my career plans.
Once the game capture finished about eight hours later, we drove back to camp and took our final exam. After the exam, we had a few minutes to try to pack our stuff together and then went to the resort’s restaurant to have our graduation dinner. Louis made us pick one of our fellow student’s name out of a hat when we handed our exam in and we had to go around during the dinner talking about how the person we picked affected our trip. That was a nice and sentimental thing to do, but it only added to the water works. Having been my second time studying abroad, I am shocked how close I got to all these amazing people. Louis helped foster an environment where we could all be ourselves and we really filled into that space. We got very comfortable and shared a lot with each other, I am definitely leaving this experience with 10 new lifelong friends.