By Anna Carmichael '18
During spring semester, Daniela Leuthold ’16 heard a presentation from the African Conservation Society about an opportunity to volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center over the summer. A few months later, she was working alongside ten other volunteers from around the world at Khlula Care for Wild in Nelspruit, South Africa.
“Many of the animals are brought to the rehabilitation center because they are in critical condition. Some of them have suffered the loss of their mothers, are injured, or have been attacked by poachers,” she said. “Poaching is a serious problem there: we were told that a white rhino is poached approximately every seven minutes.”
The volunteers were split into teams when they arrived at the rehabilitation center and assigned different jobs. As a member of the “baby team,” Leuthold was responsible for taking care of four baby rhinos and two hippos.
In addition to helping during examinations, checking their temperature and other vital signs to assure their overall health, and inspecting their enclosures, she prepared the milk for the six daily feedings. She became an expert in preparing the baby rhino’s special feed, composed of milk formula, probiotics, glucose and ulcer medication to protect their stomachs from gastric ulcers and prevent them from getting severely sick.
“Rhinos are very inclined to getting ulcers because small changes can stress them out easily,” said Leuthold. “As they were still in the process of adapting to their new surrounding, it was especially important to keep an eye on their overall behavior throughout the day.”
She also got the chance to spend the night with one of the baby rhinos because the youngster had to be fed every three and a half hours.
“It was an incredible and tiring experience, but entirely worth every minute,” she said. “While they were some volunteers that opted out of this opportunity, I was willing to sleep in his night pen as many times as they needed me to, because I didn’t know when I would have this same opportunity to sleep in the same pen as a rhino again, and it was all a part of the bonding experience with little Warren.”
“It was very cool to work with wildlife,” she continued. “Since they were wild animals it took some adjusting to be able to understand their behavior and health signs—and that we couldn’t interact with them as much as one might hope, because human imprinting can be an issue. Due to the dangerous situation these wild animals have been brought into because of poaching, we were reminded that they were wild animals, not domestic. But watching them interact with each other was so fun: they were like puppies.”
Riding horses as a child sparked her interest in veterinary and equine science, but her experiences with African wildlife has broadened her point of view.
“This has definitely opened my eyes to the broader field of veterinary science, and it allowed me to think more about the area I want to focus on,” she said. “Since day one, I have always thought I wanted to be an equine vet, but the incredible and life-changing experience I had in Africa definitely changed my perspective, especially towards working with wild animals.”