push a species in South Africa to the brink of extinction. One TCU professor is determined to stop that from happening.
Environmental science professor Michael Slattery has been at TCU for 20 years. He is also the director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, creating the TCU Rhino Initiative in 2013. This program allows students to work in his home country to help save the rhinos from being poached for their horns at a rate that could result in their extinction.
Through the TCU Rhino Initiative, Slattery realized he was in a position where he could make a difference back home. He said the opportunity just happened to fall right into place.
The same year the TCU Rhino Initiative was created, the TCU Global Innovators and Discovering Global Citizenship program was focusing on South Africa. That’s when he said “the lightbulb flashed.”
He contacted wildlife veterinarian Dr. William Fowlds and was able to get him to visit the university to speak about the rhinos and the poaching crisis. He said that’s where they started their relationship to begin work more than 9,200 miles away from Fort Worth.
“I’m not a wildlife expert, but I have a passion for wildlife,” he said. “If I can use my passion and leverage the resources of this university to make a difference on the ground in South Africa then that’s been a great thing.”
Not only does the trip provide an “extraordinary and immersive” experience for students working directly with wildlife, Slattery said the trip is a very personal experience for him because of his time growing up in the region.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s during the height of apartheid, Slattery said it was difficult understanding how his life compared to others.
“I grew up in a very middle class, white family with all the privilege– as warped as it was– with all the privilege of being a white person in a country where the vast majority of the population were black and catastrophically disenfranchised,” he said.
Slattery added that the power and color structure was evident, and it wasn’t until he left his parent’s home when he realized how wrong it was.
The first time he experienced going to school with blacks came when he made it to university in 1985, as his prior schooling was segregated. He said when he made friends that didn’t look like him, it was equally difficult for him and them because even though they didn’t see it as wrong, they couldn’t be together to study or hang out.
“I stopped and thought: Hang on a second, something’s drastically wrong with this situation,” he said. “I had 18 years of sort of oblivion of growing up in a very insular, privileged society, and so that has deeply impacted me.”
Slattery said this important part of history should never be forgotten and is actually built into the South African study abroad curriculum.
“The course in South Africa is a wildlife course. It’s a course on biodiversity, but it’s also a course that’s also very tied to human development,” he said. “In the South African context, you cannot really get to the complexity of wildlife management until you understand and appreciate what the legacy of apartheid in the country actually means.”