Internship provided new career path

Never did I imagine that I’d get the chance to assist a group of people that are actively working to save a species from extinction.

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Published: Thursday, 22 Jun 2023 Author: Elena Sarda

Elena in field with tracking antenna in South AfricaMy internship at the Running Wild Cheetah Conservation (RWCC) reserve was the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had. I’ve always known that I wanted to work with animals and dreamt that I would be able to make a difference in the world in some way. Never did I imagine that I’d get the chance to assist a group of people that are actively working to save a species from extinction. The work we did on a daily basis included cleaning enclosures, preparing meals, feeding the animals (cheetahs, lions, ferrets, and meerkats), and completing projects inside and outside the enclosures such as cleaning, making dens, etc. It was hard work but every second that I was there I was reminded that I’m doing my part, and that I am a part of a project that is much bigger than myself. Being able to help in that way was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever been able to do.

Elena knelling down with another woman and a cheetah with its mouth open in South AfricaFor a long time, I wanted to be a veterinarian. A large part of my decision to attend MSU was because of the Zoology program and the opportunities that I would get to prepare myself for vet school. But this internship opened my eyes to an entirely different, but equally important field working with animals. I’d never really pictured myself in a conservation position, but being in one for two weeks gave me such a large appreciation for the work that conservationists do. The staff at RWCC are the most hard-working, dedicated, passionate people I’ve ever met. They love what they do, and they love sharing what they do with volunteers like me.

This internship is a testament to the fact that you never know how much you could love something until you try it. Before flying to Africa, I was terrified of travelling without my family to a place I’d never been before. But once I was there, I barely even thought about home. My mind was 100% on the work I was doing and how much I loved being there. By the time it came to leave, saying goodbye was so much harder than I imagined it would be. I only got a small glimpse of what it is like to work in wildlife conservation, but those two weeks changed my perspective on life. It’s never too late to change your path or find something you’re passionate about, even if the idea of change is scary. I can only hope that I’m able to take what I learned and make something of it.

Name: Elena (Ellie) Sarda
Status: Junior
Major: Zoology
Hometown: Birmingham, Michigan
Program: Cheetah Conservation Internship in South Africa