Although CHS senior Alyssa Knapp spent the summer in an African savannah among the lions and elephants, it wasn’t all “Hakuna Matata.”
Knapp volunteered at the iMfolozi Park in South Africa tracking wild dog populations. She got this opportunity after meeting the director of the program the year before while volunteering at the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
“I was monitoring wild dog populations…African wild dogs, not terriers. I’m really afraid that people might think that I was counting labs.”
Every morning the senior would wake up at four and bundle up for the long African winter day in the bed of a truck. The research group would drive from hill top to hill top with a GPS searching for the dog packs, a difficult and time-consuming job.
“That was kind of frustrating because you’d go around all morning and wouldn’t find anything because they’d be in a ditch or hiding where the GPS couldn’t get there. Finally you’d find a weak beep and drive like a maniac, like, ‘Quick! Before they move! God, get to them!’”
After locating the pack, Knapp’s research group would then set up a trap in order to collar one of the dogs. To do so they would shoot an impala, tie it to a tree, then on a stereo play the sound the dogs make after a kill.
“You would do that for half an hour, listening to the sound. Just about when you think you’re going to go crazy, [the dog pack] shows up.”
When the CHS mock trial member wasn’t tracking down wild dogs, Knapp spent time visiting a local Zulu tribe.
“We visited a Zulu village because one of the women helping us was part of the village. They didn’t speak very much English …but we would talk a little. They were all really friendly and would dance around.”
The CHS senior did have to face some of the hardships of living in a wildlife reserve in Africa such as giant insects and getting charged by a lion. Knapp was sitting in the bed of a truck when her group came upon mating lions on the side of the road. As they tried to get by, one lion charged the car, but the driver got away just in time.
“It was kind of terrifying, but afterwards it was kind of awesome because I was on an adrenaline high for the rest of the day.”
Although most people in Carmel probably can’t imagine spending their summer doing work in the African savannah, Knapp sees herself doing more work like this somewhere down the line.
“I love conservation. It has been something I’ve been really interested in and passionate about for years, and I really want to do it again.”