Sarah Chapman ’13 doesn’t believe in wasting a single minute – especially when it comes to fulfilling her dreams. Just two days after completing her final exams last May, the environmental studies major was on a plane bound for Bela-Bela, South Africa, where she is now working at Loebies Guest Farm, an animal preserve owned by her mentor and boss, Annel Snyman. The preserve has been home to numerous predators native to South Africa, including leopards, lions and caracals. Chapman is currently helping to raise a one-month-old lion cub and a three-month-old leopard cub.
In short, she is living the life she has imagined since she was a child.
“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with lions and tigers and big cats,” she recalls. “My parents (Dyke and Ronnee Chapman) took me all over the place to different zoos to see them. It’s been kind of a lifelong obsession.”
Chapman grew up in Fayetteville, N.Y., but, in many respects South Africa is home to her. Prior to enrolling in Le Moyne, she spent time at the Predator Relocation Program at the Kwantu Game Reserve in Grahamstown. The moment she returned to the U.S from South Africa was the moment she thought, “Let’s get me back there.” She has described the reserves in Africa as “Jurassic Park-like,” with a lot of the land cordoned off into privately and government-owned game reserves.
Since arriving at Loebies Guest Farm, Chapman has found that there is no such thing as a “typical day.” A recent afternoon found her assisting with the location of eight giraffes. However, much of her time is spent caring for big cats, feeding, monitoring and interacting with them. The animals at the park serve as “ambassadors of their species” and contribute to the further understanding of their behaviors.
“The most rewarding part of the job is being able to raise these amazing predators by hand and watch them grow and develop,” she says. “In turn, it is also the biggest challenge. You must be mindful of behaviors at all times and keep the best interests of the cubs first. It's much like having children; it's all consuming.”
Chapman says that her time at Le Moyne helped prepare her for this work by teaching her to persevere and to integrate what she learned into the tasks assigned to her. For instance, as the preserve continues to expand, she is helping to develop a volunteer program open to people from around the world so that they can learn about its programs are like and work hands on with what Chapman calls “these amazing creatures.”
“I am living my dream,” she says. “I only hope to pass it on to all who visit.”