Schluessler gets hands-on experience at cheetah sanctuary

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Aren Schluessler has always loved animals. She would love to have a job where she can help make a difference in their lives. It was that love for animals that recently took her all the way to South Africa at a cheetah sanctuary.

The 2014 Hastings High School graduate is a student at North Dakota State University studying veterinary technology. She spent two weeks at Feracare Wildlife Centre helping animals and learning hands-on what it's like to be a veterinarian through Loop Abroad, a study abroad program for students pursuing a career working with animals.

The program brought students to South Africa to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the United States and South African animal experts. Schluessler volunteered at the cheetah sanctuary where she fed the cheetahs and cleaned their camps. The volunteers also worked on enrichment ideas for the other animals like bat-eared foxes and caracals.

"I got to interact with the ambassador cheetah named Nova, a porcupine, an ostrich, a zebra named Pajamas and a few other animals," she said.

Getting to feed the cheetahs was one of Schluessler's favorite experiences from her trip. Some of the cheetahs are trained to sit on command for their food, so Schluessler went into an enclosure with a cheetah named Lara. She told her to sit and gave her zebra meat to eat.

"There was no barrier in-between us," she said.

The other highlight from her experience was her visit to Kruger National Park where she was able to observe African wildlife. There were zebras, leopards, African elephants, giraffes and many other African mammals and other wildlife. The safari allowed her to see many animals she had only ever seen in a zoo before, she said.

During her two weeks at Feracare, Schluessler learned about how cheetahs breed since they are an endangered species. Cheetahs are engendered and their lack of diversity makes them a vulnerable species. Feracare works toward breeding cheetahs to increase the genetic diversity of the world cheetah population and educates the public about cheetah conservation.

Loop Abroad has several animal science and veterinary programs for students and young adults ages 14 to 30. Loop focuses on educating its students so that they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. There are programs in Thailand, South Africa and Australia.

Jane Stine, the program's managing director, said that the students are amazing people. Many individuals have gone on to do some wonderful things.

"They are kind, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working individuals who have big goals and want to make a big impact," Stine said.