Michelle Bacon spent her international internship caring for cheetahs in Namibia in southern Africa–and she loved it.
Imagine putting a piece of meat on a spoon attached to a one-foot-long stick and holding it out for a wild animal to eat. Michelle Bacon did just that and a lot more during her 11-week international internship in Africa.
Michelle, now a senior, discovered during her freshman year that she would have to complete an internship to get her degree in fisheries and wildlife. It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to do an international internship and work with large African predators.
So last summer she was in Namibia working with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, responsible for taking care of 28 cheetahs and 10 Anatolian Shepard puppies.
Each day differed from the previous, Michelle says. “I worked in a clinic with a veterinarian to take blood, skin, and hair samples from wild cheetahs, perform an autopsy, and take organ samples from a cheetah that had been hit by a car. I also picked up captured cheetahs to later release them back into the wild, and performed a medical workup in the bush on a brown hyena and a mother and cub leopard that had been caught by a visiting researcher.”
When large tourist or school groups visited, she says, “we would have a cheetah run, which is when they chase after a mechanical lure system, and when they catch it we reward them by giving them a piece of meat on a short stick. It is incredible to be so close to them and see the fastest land mammal in the world run!”
Michelle also was responsible for taking care of the Anatolian Shepard litter that was born the week after she arrived. The Cheetah Conservation Fund “breeds these dogs as livestock guarding dogs and then gives them to farmers in order to prevent cheetahs and other predators from taking livestock–a significant motivation to shoot cheetahs,” she says. “The hardest part was definitely not getting too attached to the 10 puppies, and keeping my affection to a minimum, as the dogs are supposed to be bonded to livestock and not humans.”
Now back in the U.S., Michelle is doing more normal things, such as finishing her studies and participating on the women’s rowing team, where she is co-captain for 2004-05.
But she won’t forget her summer in Namibia, saying it “was so incredible, and I feel so lucky that I had this opportunity.”