A ‘life-changing’ trip to Kenya

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During a recent trip to Kenya, a group of Marymount University students learned firsthand about animal trauma, poaching and how rewarding it can be to put their compassion into action. The students studied chimpanzee behavior, visited a refuge for orphaned elephants and even saved a wild zebra caught in an illegal snare.

"It's amazing the things we encountered, and we were only actually in Kenya for 15 days," said Katie Guajardo, a junior psychology major from Powhatan. "It was completely remarkable and life-changing."

The six-credit program, taught by Stacy Lopresti-Goodman and her husband, Justin Goodman, also included a month of classes at Marymount's campus and field experiences in Washington.

Lopresti-Goodman taught Abnormal Primate Psychology, which focused on the trauma experienced by chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade.

"At Kenya's Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, where I teach the course, almost all of the 39 chimpanzees likely saw their mothers shot and killed in the wild to be sold as an expensive delicacy on the black market," she said. "The babies were then sold to humans and kept in deplorable conditions as 'pets' or used in 'entertainment.'"

Students interviewed caregivers and observed the primates to learn about their individual histories and treatments.

Lorine Margeson, a sophomore from Clifton, was so taken with one chimpanzee, Poco, that she "adopted" him and will give funds to provide him with food and care throughout the year.

Junior Grace Caldwell of Ellicott City, Md., said her perspective on life changed.

"I see animals in the wild and can't help but think what an injustice zoos are," she said.

The second course, taught by Justin Goodman, was Addressing Injustice: Activism and Advocacy. It focused on illegal hunting and human-wildlife conflict.

"Perhaps the most high-profile of these issues right now is the poaching of rhinoceroses and elephants for their horns and tusks," he said.

During a patrol near Lake Naivasha with members of Africa Network for Animal Welfare and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the group found and removed 58 illegal wire snares that were set to trap animals. Snared animals typically die from starvation and dehydration or poachers return to kill them. Each wire can be reused to kill up to 100 animals.

On their way back, the students discovered a limping zebra with a snare on two legs.

"With the guidance and leadership of ANAW and KWS, we encircled the zebra, brought her to the ground, covered her face with a blanket to try and reduce some of her anxiety and carefully removed the embedded snare from her legs," Lopresti-Goodman said. "We slowly backed away from her, and she stood up and trotted away."

The next day the zebra was treated by the veterinarian, who said she had a 99 percent chance of surviving.

The Goodman couple also led the program in 2012. Those students returned to the United States and lobbied for stronger laws to protect wild animals from being kept as pets and held protests against their use in the circus.

Guajardo wants to put off her goal of becoming a crisis counselor for a few years so she can return to Kenya after graduation.

"I need to spend more time there," she said. "I can't wait to go back and make a difference."

This year's Marymount participants also included Nick Bensmiller, Margaret Love, Tatiana Rieloff, Elisabeth Rausch and Kallan Wentworth. They were joined by Rori Kameka of the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus, and Peninah Womboi, a veterinary science student from the University of Nairobi.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014