Powered by Internships – Playing with the big cats in Namibia

Rhianna Johnson decided to become a veterinarian while living in Punta Gorda, Belize as a high school student. She found a cat that had been hit by a car and was suffering from dehydration. Johnson brought the cat to a local veterinarian named Ludwig, knowing that if anyone could save the cat, he could. Still, she didn’t have high hopes for the animal.

But Ludwig resuscitated the cat – who by the next day was healthy and active. And Johnson was inspired.

Ultimately that inspiration led Johnson to Namibia, and an internship studying slightly larger felines at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). Here, we got to know what life in the Namibian bush was like.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m studying pre-veterinary medicine and have recently finished my second travel abroad internship at the Cheetah Conservation Fund. I’ve always liked big cats.

How did you decide to go to the CCF in Namibia?
I learned about the CCF when I was a junior in high school. My mom was on an IE3 Global internship working with the Toledo Ecotourism Office in Belize and it was there I found out about opportunities to go to the CCF. And I wanted to ever since.

What was it like in Namibia?
We lived out in the bush in a small compound of less than 100 people, the nearest town was 40 minutes away. You get to know everybody in there very well.

You also don’t get too much alone time. I didn’t go out at night because there were black mambas, leopards and wild cheetahs. In our spare time we relaxed, watched movies and played volleyball.

I started a volleyball team while I was there. A local saw that we had a volleyball but no net and cleared an area the size of a volleyball court one night, put up two poles and some shade net and we started a volleyball team the next day.

What did you do for the CCF and in your spare time?
In regards to the CCF, the project that I was assigned was a hair analysis from collected cheetah scat to see what kind of animals they’d been eating in the wild. Farmers in the area claimed the cheetahs were eating animals like cattle, but after my research it turned out cattle and goats weren’t a large part of the cheetah’s diet.

Have you done previous internships?
I’ve worked in the oceanography lab researching sea mussels, a study on the correlation between mangroves and soil runoff and the bleaching of coral reefs, and in Dr. Kathy Magnusson’s lab researching the NMDA receptors in memory formation.

I’ve also studied abroad in the Cook Islands with the Esther Honey Foundation. I did everything there. Sometimes there would be no vets there and I’d actually be able to perform checkups on animals.

Do you have any advice to those wanting an internship abroad?
Don’t go abroad with too many expectations. I saw my roommate get homesick, especially moving from a big city to a less than 100 person compound. Have fun and enjoy the little things. Boredom was one of the hardest things to overcome during my time in Namibia, but enjoying the little things really helped.

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