Traveling to Africa this summer was enlightening for biology student Dylan McGlone. As a pre-professional veterinary science student, it was the opportunity to work with large and exotic animals in their natural habitat, but it also was a chance to view African wildlife from its people's perspective.
McGlone went as a study abroad student as part of the EcoLife program in South Africa. For his experience, he and fellow students traveled around to different parts of South Africa learning about various aspects of animal care.
Some of the things McGlone and his peers were involved with included vaccinating dogs and cattle in a village, witnessing the necropsies (animal autopsies) of an impala and rock python, the capture and relocation of a tower (herd) of giraffes, petting cheetahs and listening to lectures from animal experts on animal care.
"We spent a week at a disease pathology center," McGlone said.
Providing vaccinations is something to be expected with this type of study abroad experience, but the animal necropsies were a surprise.
McGlone said the impala necropsy was planned as part of a selective kill for the study of the herd and its health but the snake necropsy was by chance because the snake had been hit by a car.
"I had never before seen a snake anatomy," he said.
The group also spent time at a reptile park where an expert discussed non-venomous and venomous snakes and worked with a cobra. McGlone said snakes are greatly misunderstood, especially venomous snakes. It takes a lot of effort for snakes to create venom, so it's not worth it for a snake to bite you and release its venom, McGlone explained.
Often snakes are just trying to get away from any threats and will make mock strikes, but not release any venom, he said. McGlone likes how snakes live and act solely on their instincts since they don't possess the frontal lobe to act sneaky or mean as they are portrayed in films or TV shows.
"Most people have an inherent fear of snakes, especially venomous ones," he said.
Part of the work at the reptile center is focused on educating the general public on the true nature of snakes and appropriate behavior around them.
While he was in South Africa, he also was part of a giraffe capture and relocation. In South Africa, 45 percent of the land is protected, but 75 to 80 percent of that protected land is privately owned. So in the case of the giraffe relocation, someone bought the land for agricultural purposes and needed the giraffes to be moved to another protected area.
Capturing giraffes involves tranquilizing them, moving and then releasing them into their new habitat.
To learn what it's like to tranquilize an animal "we shot a blank out of a helicopter at a moving truck," McGlone said.
The whole process can be dangerous, and, while McGlone didn't have any close calls with the giraffes, he said one person "came close to being kicked, which would be fatal."
Relocating animals is one way to ensure the protection of exotic animals, but there's one animal that can't be relocated because of its size – the elephant. The elephant is thriving in South Africa but is considered to be an endangered species elsewhere.
To put the issue into perspective, McGlone said Kruger National Park in South Africa has a capacity for about 8,000 elephants, but now has a population of more than 20,000.
Pressure from outside countries has made it so the herds can't be culled, which is what needs to happen in that part of Africa. When elephants are overpopulated, they decrease land resources, upturn trees and negatively impact other animal populations, he said.
The situation taught McGlone that "you can't look at an issue from a broad perspective."
It's the same with the rhinoceros issue. Right now, about three rhinos are poached daily in Kruger National Park, all for the black market sale of rhino horn. Rhino horn sells for $100,000 per kilogram with each horn weight up to three to four kilograms.
The desire for rhino horn is for twofold: medicinal superstition and a symbol of wealth.
In that part of the world, witch doctors are common and they prize rhino horn for their medicinal value, of which there is none. McGlone equates the properties of rhino horn to grinding up one's own fingernails.
Others use it as symbol of wealth by putting it into their alcoholic drinks.
With this demand, there is a growing movement to raise rhinos to harvest the horn, McGlone said. The horn can be extracted without hurting the rhino and it can grow back.
Harvesting tackles the problem of poaching. By removing the black market value, poaching will no longer be worth the risk, McGlone explained.
It's one of the reasons why McGlone is now in favor of big game hunting. When he first
arrived in Africa he was of a different mindset, but now he sees what hunting can
do for wildlife populations and the local economy.
South Africa is the only country in Africa to offer trophy hunting, and they are the only country seeing growth in wildlife populations, he said.
"It's allowing them to put more into conservation."
For one, trophy hunting is expensive, costing between $40,000 and $50,000 per hunt. That money boosts the local economy and conservation efforts, with most of the money going back into conservation. Second, the animals in trophy hunts are usually bred for these hunts. Because of this, hunters leave wild game alone, helping wildlife populations flourish.
"It's hard to understand different outlooks without being there and learning it from their perspective," McGlone said.
It's one of the reasons the trip was worthwhile to him, as well as seeing animals in their natural domain.
"It was really nice seeing animals interact in their habitat. It was a 'how it's supposed to be kind of thing,'" he said.
He saw lions in their natural habitat and even got to pet a cheetah. Most rehab centers have an animal ambassador and it's usually a cheetah, McGlone said.
"It was basically like petting a large house cat," McGlone said.
Students witnessed a cheetah running at full speed and McGlone recorded a video of the sight.
These types of experiences are invaluable to McGlone, who wishes to become a veterinarian who works with exotic animals and wildlife. He believes the connections he made in Africa will help him in his future career.
Right now, McGlone, a senior, is applying to veterinary schools, which are highly competitive. But he isn't worried, because he believes Clarion and his study abroad experience have prepared him for the next step.