Six FFA members from Kalamazoo County, Mich., got up close and personal with elusive wild African animals last August. The students came from four schools but were all enrolled in the Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency’s Veterinary Science program of the KRESA South FFA Chapter. Together they embarked on a two-week journey to Hoedspruit, South Africa, to study with wildlife veterinarians at the Vets and Wildlife/Selati Vet Experience. Students assisted veterinarians in performing health checks, preparing animals for transport, administering dewormers and antibiotics, applying parasite medications, injecting microchips and treating wounds.
“Because the animals are wild, this involved darting them with tranquilizers first, then quickly accomplishing the tasks before the animals awoke,” says Noreen Heikes, a veterinarian, FFA advisor and veterinary science teacher who accompanied the students on the trip. “We had hands-on experiences with lions, a cheetah, elephants, giraffes, a rhino and a hippo (which is the deadliest animal in Africa).”
James Porter, a graduate of Gull Lake High School, says the trip boosted his interest in working toward becoming a licensed veterinary technician.
“Every experience left me in pure amazement,” he says. “I would go back in a heartbeat.” For Brooklyn Joslyn, a 2018 graduate of Portage Central High School, the best part of the trip was the realization that she was meant to pursue a career helping wildlife.
“Nothing about vaccinating a wild sable in South Africa should be normal,” Joslyn says. “But after a day or two, doing that vet work just felt right. It proves I am meant to put this career in my life.”