Most people can’t imagine what it would be like to live in Africa, let alone interact with exotic animals every day.UW Madison student and zoology major Austin Ronan did just that during his semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. The culture shock, he said, was enormous.“It’s such a different lifestyle. Life is much more laid back, much slower,” Ronan said. “When you go out to eat, there’s no such thing as a quick bite. Going out to eat is somewhat of an event.”Ronan, who was born in Beloit and went to high school in Janesville, said people in Cape Town take more time to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the day. According to Ronan, being back has been somewhat of a shock.“Even in Wisconsin, things are much faster,” Ronan said.But lifestyle differences weren’t all Ronan learned in Africa. He experienced up-close and personal reactions to the death of Cecil the lion, who was killed by an American dentist. Many Americans are angry about the killing of the Zimbabwe lion. Cecil was being studied by Oxford University in a national park when he was killed.“It’s tragic. I had friends in Cape Town who told me that everyone there is just as infuriated as Americans are.” Ronan said.In some of his previous classes, Ronan said he discusses pros and cons of trophy hunting.“One pro is that countries make money from it, and this can benefit the economy and the people,” Ronan said. “But it’s bad if you’re thinking about conservation, and poaching is already a problem.”Ronan said Cecil’s death was particularly tragic because the cat was a research subject, much like Ronan’s own research animals. His subjects consisted mostly of flamingoes, and he studied their feeding patterns for a master’s project.“Every day was really different. If we got done early, we would hike or explore,” Ronan said. “There was this beach, Boulder’s Beach, that was full of penguins.” Ronan said he was also able to take part in a “lion walk,” where humans could walk right next to lions and interact with the big cats. Ronan said big cats are his area of interest.“I want to do zoological medicine with big cats,” Ronan said. “Working in a zoo would be fine, but I’d really like to come back and do more in southern Africa.” He said he plans to return as soon as next January.“The trip was one hundred percent life changing,” Ronan said. “I went alone. I didn’t know anyone on the trip, and I met people I never could have met otherwise.”Twenty-five students from UW Madison came on the trip, but Ronan said over 700 international students studied at Cape Town when he was there.
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