On her second day in South Africa, University of Delaware student Melissa Volpone found herself doing something out of the ordinary: petting a lion. That seemed appropriate because, after all, one of the main reasons that she was wanted to go to Africa was because of a lion, albeit a cartoon one.
“I’ve wanted to go to Africa since The Lion King came out,” said Volpone, a sophomore pre-veterinary major in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, adding that the lion she petted didn’t even seem to notice. “The lion didn’t even care, he just swiped at me with his claws in and it was awesome. It was so cool.”
The lion that she was able to pet was not just a random wild lion, but rather a lion that was raised in Moholoholo, a wildlife rehabilitation center that Volpone was able to work with through an organization called Go Eco. Volpone said that she learned about Go Eco during her time interning at the Philadelphia Zoo, and before she knew it, she was in Hoedspruit, South Africa, taking care of animals.
Volpone explained her day-to-day routine involved mostly general animal care rather than veterinary care. “I would get up at 6 a.m., seven days a week and feed and clean animals until 8:30 a.m., and then get breakfast,” explained Volpone. She said that all of the volunteers got together to clean the big animal cages and the big water bowls, as well as go on the occasional hike.
Another aspect of her job involved playing with or feeding the baby animals. In particular, there was one baby rhino that needed constant attention.
“We had this 11-month-old baby rhino that needed babysitting because it had to be with its human mom all day long, and every once in a while the mom needed a break. So we just stayed with this baby rhino for awhile, who was sometimes sweet and sometimes not,” explained Volpone.
The baby rhino was not the only infant on the site either, as Volpone said that she arrived “during baby season so there were babies all the time. I helped feed some lion cubs and I raised my own baby bird.”
Besides petting a lion and babysitting a rhino, Volpone was also able to do something else out of the ordinary: take a cheetah for a walk. “We walked with these cheetahs and they weren’t babies, they were full grown cheetahs and we just chilled with them,” she said.
Volpone encourages those interested in volunteering at Moholoholo to do so, as she said the experience was absolutely incredible.
As for her, she now has the travel bug and said that she would like to explore everywhere. “I can see myself as an adult just taking trips back to Africa to work at places like this, but now I want to go somewhere else. There’s a World Vets trip to Cambodia next winter that I’m looking at and I’d love to see New Zealand and Fiji. My friends and I are planning on going to Europe before we graduate. I want many different experiences.”
Now that she is back in Delaware, Volpone, who is an Ag Ambassador in CANR, said that she is looking forward to giving tours as an Ag Ambassador and helping students see the opportunities afforded to them by the college.
Volpone explained that when she was trying to make her decision about which University to attend, it was an Ag Ambassador tour that ultimately swayed her to come to UD. “I went on a Ag Ambassador tour and it was very informative. The ambassador drove me out on the farm, she answered all my questions, and that’s when I decided to come here.”
She added that she enjoys having the opportunity to show off the perks of UD to potential students now that she is an Ag Ambassador. “I love helping students. I had a student last semester and this place was so far from her home but she wanted to go here so badly because she saw the farm, and so that’s what I love about it.”
Article by Adam Thomas
Video by Adam Thomas and Christy Mannering
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