Recent Graduate Puts Job Search On-hold to Take the Trip of a LifetimeJuly 1, 2013

Kelsey Bennett, '13, with four-month-old lion cub Igor.

 

In the midst of job searching, biology major Kelsey Bennett, ’13, decided to follow her heart and pursue the adventure of a lifetime.

“I was beginning to get discouraged so I started looking for opportunities outside the United States,” said Bennett.

An online search led her to GoEco, the volunteer program she would eventually work with to plan her trip.

“The idea of a spontaneous trip was completely out of character for me, as I’m usually a diligent plan-ahead-of-time kind of person," said Bennett. "But, as I scrolled through the wide variety of volunteer opportunities offered, one caught my eye."

It was an opportunity at the Seaview Predator Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The park, which focuses on saving, rehabilitating and then releasing animals back into the wild, was calling for volunteers to help with their Tiger and Lion Project which is dedicated to combat the declining lion population in Africa.

“As I read more and more about this unique project, the wheels in my head were turning and I was hooked,” she said.

Just one week following her Rockhurst graduation, Bennett boarded a plane and headed across the Atlantic for what turned out to be a life-changing experience.

“Throughout three jam-packed weeks, I met people from all over the world and was able to work with so many different animals, large and small,” she said. “From meerkats to lions to baby crocodiles to giraffes, I not only learned about these animals but was able to interact with them.”

Bennett with two three-year-old tigers, Sho Sho and Faye.Bennett learned about the biology of safaris, including tracking, plant life, conservation and wild animal behavior.

“I was able to apply and expand my biology knowledge every day,” said Bennett, whose typical day included feeding the animals and walking lion cubs in the early morning, followed by general park maintenance.

The afternoons were her favorite – animal time.

“I was able to work directly with animals that are unable to return to the wild due to injuries, offering them time to familiarize themselves with humans,” she said. “It was exhilarating.”

Bennett also volunteered as a park tour guide for children on field trips, and represented the park on school visits each Thursday.

“Educating the public is one of Seaview’s most important goals,” she said. “With education comes appreciation and conservation.”

Bennett credits her Rockhurst education for giving her the courage to do something so out of her comfort zone.

“I would have never considered doing something so spontaneous had it not been for my time at Rockhurst,” she said. “It just felt right to take a few weeks and give back.”

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