Ryan Weaver, a 2016 Alma graduate, spent a month at the Karongwe Nature Reserve in South Africa. He was a part of a team that used radio telemetry to track the “big five” species in the reserve: lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants and rhinos.
“The radio telemetry was used as a way to find the location of animals we were tracking each day,” says Weaver. “Once we found their location, we could record their behavior, appearance and other vital information in order to assist with ongoing research projects.”
In addition to his research-related work, Ryan also did some community outreach to help educate on the importance of conservation. Overall, the experience helped Ryan realize that conservation “is more than about helping animals, it’s about helping the whole world, including humans.”
“It also helped prepare me for continuing my graduate work in infectious diseases and realizing the connections between humans and animals and how that affects our health, physically and emotionally,” he says.
Weaver learned that Chinese drug lords entice the South African poor to poach rhinos for their horns. He learned firsthand about a neck disease spreading amongst the giraffes when a park ranger had to shoot a one-year-old calf so the disease wouldn’t spread. He also learned about the impact of tourists on the reserve.
“They usually were rich white tourists from America or Britain who had no respect for the wildlife,” he says. “They would ask their drivers to get closer to the lions to get a better picture, even though it would upset the lions.”
The only locals he saw worked as guides, and although the reserve was created by and run by South African farmers, the local communities didn’t have access to it. He could sense the echoes of apartheid; he noticed that most people of color lived in slums.
“After my trip, I have continued to research racial disparities in South Africa, and especially how race relates to the environment and conservation,” says Weaver.
While the realities of race, politics and the environment were ever present, there also were those moments of amusement while observing the behavior of various wildlife species.
“One of the funniest things I saw on the reserve was a baby elephant trying to feed,” says Weaver. “It takes 1-2 years for elephants to develop their trunk muscles, and this little fellow was not getting it. He could grab trunkfuls of grass, but instead of reaching his mouth, he threw it over his head. His mother eventually had to feed him.”
Support from the Posey Global Leadership Scholarship program made it possible for Ryan to have his experience in South Africa. He is currently enrolled in graduate school at Tufts University studying infectious diseases and global health.
Alma encourages its students to look beyond Michigan’s boundaries. The Posey Global Leadership Scholarship provides opportunities for Alma students to travel anywhere in the world and complete a self-designed project. Since 2006, more than 280 Posey Global awards have been granted to students for research and service projects in 47 countries.