During the five weeks Savannah Lundgren spent in South Africa, the Ball State junior saw more than 240 species of animals.

“It was everything you’d see in ‘The Lion King’ — ostriches, hippos, leopards, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, lions  … .”

Her favorites, though, were the spotted hyenas.

At Mkuse Game Reserve, Lundgren studied how to track animals. Here she’s learning about how to tell the age, diet, and problems of an animal from its droppings.

At a South African game reserve, Lundgren (crouching at left) studied the tracking of animals. Here, she’s learning how to determine the age and diet of an animal from its droppings.

“They’re such a misunderstood animal,” said Lundgren, who’s studying zoology and wildlife biology through the Department of Biology. “They’re mischievous, like raccoons, but incredibly dangerous, too.”

Lundgren visited South Africa for three weeks in May as part of a field study program coordinated by Ball State. She remained there an extra two weeks, completing an independent research project at a private game reserve, thanks to a national Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship.

Awarded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Gilman Scholarship provides up to $5,000 to undergraduates for study abroad.

“It was such a thrilling, insightful experience,” said Lundgren, who spent some of her time at Welgedacht Game Reserve setting up and checking on motion sensor cameras around the park to study waterholes as predator magnets.

“My goal is to travel the world studying animals’ natural habitats. This trip confirmed my passion, letting me know I’m on the right course for my life.”

Among the more interesting lessons she learned? That there are too many elephants in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, one of the continent’s largest game reserves.

“Considering the average elephant can knock down two trees a day, they can wreak havoc on the balance of the ecosystem in a park. Part of conservation is figuring out how to control animal populations, even endangered ones like the elephant.”

‘She never says no to an opportunity’

Lundgren and others nursed this dehydrated fruit bat back to health after finding it on the edges of Crocodile River in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

Lundgren and others nursed this dehydrated fruit bat back to health after finding it on the edges of Crocodile River in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

Lundgren’s African trip is the latest in a series of distinctive experiences she’s had while at Ball State. The university was the sole school she applied to upon winning a scholarship that provides up to four years of in-state tuition.

“I’ve always wanted to work with animals. In high school, I decided it wasn’t going to be as a veterinarian. Ball State is the only school in Indiana that offers a zoology concentration, so it’s where I knew I wanted to come.”

Professionals who use zoology, the study of animal species, include ecologists, conservation officers and research scientists, which Lundgren hopes to become.

“I want to be the leading researcher in a team of scientists studying animals in their natural habitat,” said Lundgren, who grew up in Crawford County with the Hoosier National Forest nearby. “I want to create conservation plans that are going to protect their lives and the ecosystem.”

Timothy Carter said the experiences Lundgren’s seeking out — field studies like the one she took to Africa and her first, to Costa Rica as a freshman — give her an advantage in her goal of becoming a wild-animal researcher.

“She never says no to an opportunity,” said the associate professor of biology.

That includes assisting him this fall in an independent research project at Cooper Farm. “We’re studying the effects of prairie burns on small mammals, so I’m checking traps for mice, seeing what gender they are and if they come back,” Lundgren said.

As part of her volunteer work to promote environment sustainability, Lundgren injected herbicide into invasive cacti out-competing native plants at Tsakane Park.

As part of her volunteer work to promote environmental sustainability, Lundgren injected herbicide into invasive cacti that were crowding out native plants.

Taking in every detail

Along with her studies, Lundgren is also involved in student organizations including Excellence in Leadership and The Wildlife Society. She’s also volunteered as part of an alternative spring break at an exotic feline rescue in Center Point, Indiana.

“Savannah’s aspirations have had a positive impact on me,” said Sarah Clark, president of the Wildlife Society chapter at Ball State and fellow participant in the South African field study course. “Being around her, seeing her enthusiasm for conservation, is encouraging.”

During the overseas trip, the two drew close enough for Clark to observe just how much Lundgren appreciates the opportunities that come her way.

“Savannah values everything in life. … She’s always wanting to take the time to experience every detail to the fullest. In Africa, she’d be the last person on the bus because she was talking to a local we just met, or looking at a beautiful plant. She’ll literally stop to smell a flower because she cares so much and it makes her happy.”