As a child, like many others, I had dreams of adventure. I have always been interested in wildlife and wildlife conservation. Watching silly kid movies like ‘The Wild Thornberrys’ and ‘Rio’, I wanted to become those people in the movies. Now I know it was only a little child’s dream, but this past summer I was able to live it. And this meant more to me than I can explain.
Through GLI, this past summer I travelled to Entebbe, Uganda to work at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre. With my GLI theme being Resources and Sustainability, and global challenge being “how to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity in the face of climate change” my experience in Uganda was heavily focused on captive animal care, rehabilitation, and conservation efforts of Uganda as a country.
I cannot even begin to explain how amazing it was to work, hands on, with some of the most amazing animals in the world. My program was split into 4 different sections- birds and reptiles, carnivores and hoofstock, primates, and veterinary care. I had 2 weeks at each section and then several weeks that I jumped between sections that I found particular interest in or where help was most needed. Every section had its own pull so picking a favorite is impossible for me.
Since there was such a wide variety in animal species, I had the opportunity of getting up close and personal with many different types of animals. The keepers walked me through the habitats for every animal, explained their diets, their routine care, and what threatens their population in the wild. For example, the center has two white rhinos, who are now completely extinct in the wild. This is due to their horns being taken for the ivory trade. My job was preparing, transporting and presenting food to these two beautiful rhinos. They were also very big love bugs, very gentle and kind. They are at the center for a breeding program in hopes to boost their population, in turn they are very used to humans and love it when you take a couple minutes of your day to give them some scratches. Petting a rhino is an experience I will probably never be able to relive, and it only made me more invested in wanting to stop illegal ivory trade.
I could go on and on talking about how each and every one of them impacted me differently, like the baby elephant that taught me how to patiently earn the trust of an animal, or the African grey parrots I helped raise from babies. But this experience was about so much more than the animals. Surprisingly, it was also about me.
This was my first-time solo travelling, and having it also be my first time in Africa was a lot. I quickly learned the culture there is completely different to how it is in the USA. At first, I was deeply uncomfortable, it was all very out of my comfort zone. But I learned to find the comfort in discomfort and embrace the fact that I was new and learning. I had people help teach me how to dress, how to correctly wash my clothes by hand, and how to hang them so they dry the quickest. So not only did I learn amazing animal care from experienced professionals, I learned a whole different way of life. A different way of life that I am actually starting to incorporate back into my life back at home.
I also can’t help but smile knowing that 2th grade me would be so proud.