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LIVING WITH THE CHEETAHS: Linden graduate travels to South Africa for veterinary program

This summer, Kaelyn Eddins Barkley, 22, of Linden, spent two weeks in South Africa helping animals and learning hands-on what it’s like to be a veterinarian. Traveling with study-abroad organization Loop Abroad, Kaelyn was selected as part of a small team that volunteered at Feracare Wildlife Centre caring for cheetahs and other African animals.

The Veterinary Service program brings students to South Africa for two weeks to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the U.S. and from South African animal experts. Barkley and her team took a course in the anatomy, behavior, and conservation of big cats such as cheetahs so that they could be better equipped to study and help support the animals at Feracare.

A cheetah at Feracare Wildlife Centre awaits a feeding from Kaelyn Barkley.

Cheetahs are engendered and their lack of genetic diversity makes them a very vulnerable species. Because of this, organizations like Feracare work toward breeding cheetahs to increase the genetic diversity of the world cheetah population and to educate the public about cheetah conservation. The center is also home to animals including bat-eared foxes, horses, African wild dogs, porcupines, and other animals in need of care.

Barkley and her team provided care for the animals at the wildlife centre, including feeding the cheetahs and helping to provide enrichment for them. She was also able to travel to Kruger National Park to observe African wildlife, where she was able to see zebras, leopards, African elephants, giraffes, and many other types of African mammals and other wildlife.

Loop Abroad has animal science and veterinary programs for students and young adults age 14 to 30, and offers financial aid and fundraising help. Interested participants can inquire or apply at www.LoopAbroad.com. Admission to veterinary programs is selective and Barkley was selected based on her transcript, admissions essay, and professional references.

By following a study abroad model instead of a voluntourism model, Loop focuses on educating its students so that they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. It also works with locally run animal welfare organizations so that students contribute to long-term improvement on the ground in the countries they visit. With programs in Thailand, South Africa, and Australia, Loop Abroad is able to support animal welfare and conservation around the world because of its students and their dedication to helping animals in need.

The program’s Managing Director Jane Stine said, “Our students are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. They are kind, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working individuals who have big goals and want to make a big impact. It’s amazing to see how eager they are to learn and challenge themselves. Over the last eight years, we’ve seen them go on to do some wonderful things.”

Of her trip, Barkley said, “This trip has made me a better person and given me many tools to take with me on the path to my profession. We learned techniques for structuring and physical examinations. It was awesome to get to work close with the cheetahs and help the Feracare Staff with their conservation efforts.” 

Barkley is a senior at Auburn University, majoring in animal sciences.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, August 9, print edition of the Demopolis Times.)