Group of ACE volunteers relaxing around the campfire
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Melany Melkonyan: injecting a sedated elephant

Melany Melkonyan

🇺🇸 United States

Length of Trip
13 Nights

Project Year

I found out about ACE through a friend of mine who is studying to be a vet. She told me about this programme in Africa and so I immediately went online to look it up and came across ACE. I was very nervous to send in my application because I was worried about how my parents would react, but once I did and actually spoke to the ACE team my fears disappeared. I told them about my goal of becoming a vet and what animals I would be interested in working with and they gave me two different project options within the Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience. The first option would be working alongside an experienced wildlife vet and the second choice was with a specialist veterinary team who focused on relocation work. They went over each project in detail and I was able to decide which project matched my interests the most. I wanted to be working directly with wildlife like big cats, elephants, and lots of different species and so the fact that the project worked with a huge variety of species really caught my interest. The Shimongwe project absolutely fit my needs and I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

This was my first time travelling alone, and the first time anyone in my family has travelled alone and on top of that it was to Africa! Most people think that this is one of the most dangerous places you can travel to but I’ve quickly realised that it’s not.

It is all thanks to ACE who were able to reassure me and my parents who were very concerned that I would be safe. They went over the entire process of how they would pick me up at the airport as soon as I landed. They also gave me their full support by providing 24/7 support from the team in country and so I felt 100% safe, and this was enough to convince my parents to let me go.

I was immediately thrown into the thick of it on my first day when the veterinary team went to do a rhino dehorning. They worked on 3 rhinos, and it was wonderful to see them up close. It wasn’t pleasant to see a rhino being dehorned but at the same time it was an amazing, educational experience. Another special moment was when the team sterilised three lionesses, I learnt how this was extremely important to manage and control the populations to prevent inbreeding. It was interesting to hear how there is overpopulation of lions in South Africa on certain reserves as opposed to the rest of Africa.

Aside from the amazing veterinary experience I also got to explore a lot of different amazing natural habitats of Africa. I’m a big naturalist and I appreciated every little tree and plant I saw. We went up into the mountains and the cliffs and I was able to appreciate every colour and all the different animals running around. I went to a bunch of different waterfalls and swam in crystal clear waters, which was beautiful. I went to Kruger and luckily I got to see a lot of different animals including 3 of the big 5! This experience has made me want to return to Africa and spend more time exploring to see what else I can find.

My host family were also absolutely wonderful, right from the very beginning they included me as a part of their family. They are a very social family who like to tell jokes and they cooked me the nicest food I could have asked for, which made me feel very welcome and like I was at home. Being in such a social environment was a shock after the last two years of COVID, and so I felt very reserved at first but seeing how the family interact with each other allowed me to open up and join in.

This experience has been very eye opening, I have learned about the many different fields I could go into as of a vet and I feel like I have a lot more options now. I’m very excited to explore and figure out what my future might hold!