Out of Africa
Scott Radke, a senior at Buena Vista University, is planning on being a veterinarian someday. He will have a decision to make as to what types of animals he will treat - small animals, medium size animals such as those he grew up with on the farm or the large animals he had the opportunity to experience during a recent trip to South Africa.
Well, seriously, he probably got as close to those wild animals as he ever will get; farm animals are the largest he will work with.
But what a grand opportunity for a biology major - a lover of animals - to take part in.
The trip is offered every other summer, headed by Dr. Rick Lampe. Dr. Melinda Coogan and Mark Kirkholm accompanied the group of students.
While the mission of the trip was to observe the animals, they also learned of the culture, visited battle sites and witnessed how the apartheid has effected the economy.
The group visited a school which educates 300-600 students, though they had to be early risers to get there as the school day is 6 a.m.-noon. The BVU group received a wonderful welcome from the students who shared songs and dances.
They also visited a sugar cane farm and had the chance to taste sugar cane. "It's a good source of energy!" Scott commented.
The group traveled in standard mini vans along the designated routes. They did not feel like they were in danger as they came across the animals that made their home in the wild.
One of their first stops to look for animals was at the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park, the only park under formal conservation in KwaZulu Natal where the "big five" (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros) stalk the flourishing savannah.
This is the oldest game park in South Africa, established in 1895. It is located along with nearby St Lucia Reserve.
As the home of Operation Rhino in the 1950s and '60s, the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park became world renowned for its white rhino conservation.
"You want to give them quite a bit of distance!" Scott said of the animals, not realizing their true size until he saw them so up close.
Giraffes, zebras, monkeys, large cats and many deer-like animals were sighted throughout the experience.
The group stopped at Ithala game reserve for a day. Scott and a couple others ventured out, enjoying the unique land. They climbed five miles nearly to the top of a small mountain, completing their climb at sunset. It was a quicker climb down as they only had a short time to get back to their starting spot before the gates closed for the night. They didn't think they wanted to be on the other side of the gates rather than where they had safe sleeping quarters!
They upped their speed when they heard hissing in the grass. "No one wanted to go see figure out what it was - we just ran!"
Kruger National Park was the next stop. This is a five million acre park and the group only saw a small fraction of it.
Visitors to the parks are able to drive at their leisure on the provided roads and are often stopped for several minutes at a time while animals take their time crossing the roads. No need for road rage - it became a time for observing and of course picture taking no matter how long it took.
Their final stop before starting home was Johannesburg where they ate a restaurant called Carnivore. Featured on the menu were many of the animals they had recently viewed in the wild. Scott introduced his taste buds to crocodile, wildebeest, zebra and fish.
"It was a neat experience," he concluded. He someday hopes to return.
Scott is the son of Mike and Suzette Radke.