The Lucky Rhino

I learned yesterday that getting mud from a Sumatran rhino on you makes you lucky. In that case, I am very lucky!  The Sumatran rhino I saw is only one of three in captivity in the U.S. and there are only approximately 300 left in the wild in parts of Sumatra and Indonesia. This guy was one of my favorites! He was so friendly and actually came up to the bars to meet us and get his back scratched. Rhinos have very poor eyesight, so we were warned not to put our arms between the bar and their bodies–although they don’t mean to cause harm, they could break an arm (or worse) if caught in the wrong place.

On the tour of the conservation center we also saw zebra, giraffes, antelope, cheetahs with cubs, tigers, and South American wild dogs. We also toured the veterinary hospital, the laboratory used for hematology/serology/hormone assays, and saw a cheetah chase!

After the tour and a quick lunch, we had a lecture by Dr. Heather Eves from the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force. Her initiative aims to reduce the illegal trade and consumption of wild animals, especially those that are endangered or threatened such as many of the primate species. Not only is bushmeat hunting unsustainable, but it also serves as a potential source of emerging zoonotic infectious diseases. Experts suggest that HIV actually mutated from the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) in chimpanzees due to this practice. I found Dr. Eves and this talk to be particularly interesting given my interest in emerging infectious diseases and primatology.

After the day’s lectures we had dinner, and I was joined by two fellow Envirovet students from Africa and Dr. Eves. We began discussing our career paths as well as the continent we were soon to be visiting. It became apparent to me last night that Africa will change my life. As I was listening to Dr. Eves and the others discuss the people, the culture, and the beauty of the continent I actually felt my eyes well up with tears just a bit. What they were describing, a place where it still quite literally takes a village to raise a child and a local person insists that you take their only egg from their only chicken, made me realize that once I see their way of life and their struggles and their spirit, I will forever be changed to my core. I won’t be able to come back to America and not feel more connected to the earth and to its inhabitants. I won’t be able to continue down the path of most consumption, taking up more than my fair share of this planet’s resources. Most of all, I won’t be able to be ignorant.

One of my favorite quotes, and one that I see every night before going to bed, is Ghandi’s “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I want to see a world where compassion prevails over greed, and where you are not judged by how much you have but by how much you give back.

Tonight I share with you an idea told to me by the wise Dr. Eves: teach your children to be selfless and thoughtful inhabitants of this world. For birthdays and Christmas, teach them that it is not about getting “things.” She suggested just 4 presents: something they need, something they want, something to wear, and something to share. How cool is that?!?

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