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The road to Africa

November 18, 2010
By Katie Boeder

In Colorado, the likely places to find lions, tigers, and elephants are mascots at athletic events or the zoo. So hands-on learning with these exotic animals is rare . . . unless you are Jordan Sedlacek.

Student spends three weeks in South Africa

While at Kruger National Park, graduate student Jordan Sedlacek had the opportunity to assist in the capture and treatment of an injured wildebeest and three subadult lionesses.

Enrolled in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Western Center for Integrated Resource Management Program, a graduate degree designed to teach students about animal agriculture and land management, Sedlacek spent three weeks in South Africa studying veterinary care and learning how to mitigate conflict between wildlife and agriculture. “I am interested in wildlife epidemiology,” explains Sedlacek.

The first week in the Vets-in-the-Wild program consisted of becoming acclimated to her African surroundings by camping in the bush and learning survival skills, such as how to track and identify wildlife. From there, she spent four days at Kruger National Park. “We had the opportunity to assist in the capture and treatment of an injured wildebeest and three subadult lionesses,” she says.

Wildlife, agriculture interconnected

Her experiences in Africa directly relates to her studies at CSU. “Most people don’t realize how interconnected wildlife and agriculture are in the American West. Around 70 percent of wildlife live on agricultural lands,” Sedlacek explains. “In South Africa, ecotourism and game ranching comprised a significant portion of the agricultural land use.”

She goes on to say that wildlife living outside Kruger National Park are on privately owned land, resulting in unique management problems. Landowners must be able to handle issues like grazing patterns of multiple species, grassland ecosystems, and water availability.

What can go wrong when wildlife managed poorly

Sedlacek, a graduate student in the Western Center for Integrated Resource Management Program, spent three weeks in South Africa as part of the Vets-in-the-Wild program.

“The integrated approach to resource management taught by the WCIRM is essential in this kind of system,” says Sedlacek of her education, adding that in Africa she saw what can go wrong when wildlife is managed poorly. “The most surprising thing was the contrast between Kruger National Park and the open spaces in the rest of the country.

"There are animals everywhere [in KNP]: huge herds of elephants and rhinos behind every tree. After a few days in the park, the volume and diversity of plants and animals seems normal, and you forget that it takes a lot of manpower to maintain this sanctuary and protect it from outside forces.

"When we left the park, it was jarring to see the degradation to the surrounding ecosystem, as well as the complete lack of wildlife.”

Valuable lessons, great memories

The invaluable lessons are not the only memories that Sedlacek came back with. Sunrise game hikes, shooting moving targets atop vehicles out of a helicopter, and a close encounter with rhinos all make the list. But not to worry, the close encounter was not as serious as it sounds, according to Sedlacek. “We stumbled upon a group of three female white rhinos guarded by a large bull,” she explains. “Luckily, rhinos are almost blind, so the bull couldn’t find us once we stood behind a termite mound.”

Graduating in December, Sedlacek is interested in wildlife epidemiology.

Sedlacek made a safe journey back to Colorado, with many great stories, pictures, and experiences. As for the WCIRM  program, she says, “If you want to get a holistic bird’s-eye view of food animal agriculture and land management, this is the right program. I had essentially no agricultural experience before the IRM, and now I feel quite confident in talking with producers and managers because I understand the industry. . . and how and why producers make the decisions that they do.”

Fellowship helped fund trip

Growing up in Golden, Colo., Sedlacek is not your traditional agriculturalist but feels her time at CSU has taught her well. Sedlacek received her undergraduate degrees from Dartmouth College in biology and anthropology.

Sedlacek will graduate from Colorado State University’s WCIRM program this December and is a United States Department of Agriculture National Needs Fellow, which allowed her to fund the trip to South Africa.

Originally published in the College of Agricultural Sciences Ag Family newsletter, Fall 2010.