Kate Stuart, a Furman University junior and Greenville resident, spent two weeks this summer in South Africa studying wildlife at Lory Park Zoo in Johannesburg, and through the experience, came closer to shaping her eventual vocation in the field of conservation.
She was part of a small group of volunteers selected to participate in a zoo medicine program through Loop Abroad, a study away organization that also operates in Thailand, Ecuador and Australia.
Working alongside conservationists and veterinarians at the accredited Lory Park Zoo, volunteers studied a variety of African animals, from lions and tigers to primates such as lemurs and gibbons, to understand how the animals’ diets, enclosures and enrichments are designed to keep them physically and mentally healthy.
Stuart, a sociology major at Furman, originally planned to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, but through hands-on experiences in South Africa, her focus has shifted to conservation.
“I fell in love with the exotic flora and fauna of South Africa when I first went in 2017 following high school graduation,” she said. “Since then, I’ve gone back two more times, and each year my passion for conservation deepens.”
Stuart’s first trips to South Africa took her to Limpopo province and Feracare Wildlife Centre, a facility mainly involved in the conservation of cheetahs, but which also houses impalas, kudus, blue wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, sables, antelopes, ostriches and various smaller species.
It was at Feracare that Stuart’s fondness for big cats developed, and when she heard about the zoo medicine program through Loop Abroad, she jumped at the chance.
“Because this specific program was held at a zoo, I was able to encounter even more species than I had been exposed to before. My time spent there gave me such a respect for accredited zoos and animal sanctuaries,” said Stuart. “There certainly are bad facilities out there that are not concerned for the well-being of the animals, but places like Lory Park and Feracare are the reason why so many species still survive.”
The Lory Park Zoo is one of only six zoos in Africa accredited by the Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria. Lory Park Zoo leads conservation efforts, such as research in black-footed cats and education programs in local schools, and the zoo has recently appeared in the news for providing radiation skin cancer treatment for a resident lion named Chaos.
“This is our tenth summer of providing engaging field courses around the globe, and we continue to be so impressed by our students and their eagerness to learn about the world around them and have a lasting, positive impact,” said Loop Abroad Managing Director Jane Stine.
“By partnering with locally-run, leading conservation organizations, we help our students learn from the experts and understand the connection of conservation and culture, and we’re always so proud to see what they go on to do after their study abroad experience.”
For more information, visit www.LoopAbroad.com, or contact the Furman News and Media Strategy office at 864-294-3107.