South Africa 2019

For my STEP signature project I went on an Education Abroad to South Africa studying exotic animal welfare and behavior. During my trip I spent most of my time observing the behavior of exotic animals such as elephants, lions, giraffe, hippos and more! It was truly an experience that I will never forget, and will forever cherish.

Before I left for my Education Abroad, I thought I had a plan for what I wanted to do with my life and career. After I graduate, I want to travel abroad and study and research exotic animals in their natural habitat. Once I stepped foot in South Africa and saw an elephant roaming by the side of the road, it gave me affirmation that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Seeing elephants, lions, zebra and cape buffalo just roaming by the dirt roads we were driving on was breath taking but at the same time, sad. It was breath taking to see these majestic creatures up close and personal, almost close enough to touch at some points. But it was sad when you start to think about the fact that us as humans have taken over so much of their natural habitat that they are starting to roam the streets people drive on in the search for food, water, shelter and mates. Seeing these things, and many others sealed my fate on what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

During my 17 days in South Africa, I saw and learned so many things that I will never forget. The first memorable event that happened while I was there was when we were driving on the second day and we all saw an elephant for the first time in its natural habitat. Seeing how big and majestic she was, was breathtaking. She gracefully moved around the trees, picking the greenery she wanted to eat. I would go on to see that seen a hundred or more times, but yet every time I saw it was like I was seeing it again for the first time.

Another thing that I saw that was unforgettable in a different way, was on the first day we were driving around, we would see people in the middle of four lanes of traffic selling a random assortment of items to help support their family. This was one of the moments that really hit me that I was not in America anymore. As we were driving around we would see houses made of pieces of scrap metal, wooden boards, mud, or anything they could get their hands on to build a small house for to house their family. Seeing the living conditions that these people lived in was a sad sight to see, and something that I will never forget. Seeing those made me and everyone else in my group really appreciate our living conditions and want to do more to help those who are less fortunate than us.

One of the things that really sealed my fate in what I want to do for the rest of my life was when we went on hikes outside of Kruger National Park in the wilderness surrounded by elephants, cape buffalo and lions. We got within 15 yards of two big female elephants who were not happy with us because we got too close to some babies in the herd. That was the first time in the trip that I, and the rest of my group actually got scared for our lives. Looking back on it now, it was a memorable experience that I’m glad that I had the opportunity of having. The next day we went on another hike and saw some lion tracks, our guide decided that we were going to track these lions down with the hope of seeing them. After about two or so hours of hiking we stumbled onto a herd of cape buffalo, we decided to go in the opposite direction of where they were headed. As we were walking away from them, we saw two lionesses leap onto a buffalo and we realized we were in the middle of a lion hunt. What happened after that was a blur. We had the opportunity to get within 50 yards of a lion hunt while on foot. It was insane. These two moments that happened only a day apart, made me want to have the opportunity to one day go back to South Africa and experience so many more things.

The experiences that I had while I was in South Africa were lifechanging. The reinforced in me that I want to work with exotic animals to some degree with my life. I want to travel abroad more and see these animals in their natural habitat and study their behaviors and environments and hopefully be able to help save at least one species in my life. The experiences I had and things that I learned I will continue to share with my family, friends or anyone that will listen to me talk about my experiences. And hopefully be able to educate others about wildlife conservation.