Profile: Will Gentry
Will Gentry always knew his future would be in animal agriculture. He also knew he would attend Mississippi State to earn a bachelor's degree in animal and dairy science, then enroll in vet school. Furthermore, Gentry knew he would avail himself of any and every opportunity to work with animals and veterinarians in the field, even if that field happens to be overseas. What Gentry didn't know was that he also has a passion for wildlife preservation, especially for preventing rhinoceros poaching.
He figured it out during summer break, when he and three classmates went to South Africa as part of the two-week African Conservation Experience's South Africa "Vets in the Wild" initiative. "We were part of a game capture team, but I didn't really understand what that meant at first," Gentry said. "In South Africa, most preserves are privately owned. There is a border fence, and animals within that fence are someone's property, so when the owners want to sell those animals, we would come in and mass capture those animals to move them. Game capture facilitates that industry."
Mass capturing animals to move them can protect them from thieves and poachers, and as Gentry learned and discovered more about poachers hunting and killing endangered species and engaging in illegal trade, he realized he should do more to stop them.
"That's why I extended my trip. I partnered with the Rhino Rescue Project," he said. "I hadn't dealt firsthand with this kind of issue before, but the rhino poaching in South Africa is a huge, huge problem."
Rhino Rescue uses safe, though perhaps unconventional, methods to deter poachers. After rescue workers immobilize the rhino with a dart and blindfold it, they infuse indelible dye and ectoparasiticides into the horn. The dye is similar to that used in cash anti-theft systems, and the ectoparasiticides, though they will not kill the poacher, are toxic and can cause severe nausea, vomiting and convulsions. The infusions do not infiltrate the rhino's bloodstream.
"The dye will drastically hurt the chances of the poacher selling the horn on the black market, and the ectoparasiticides would make the poacher physically ill," Gentry explained. "But these reserves are so large, it's almost infeasible to do all the rhinos, so we would bring in the local fire department and local school kids to watch this procedure.
"These poachers get their information from the locals, and they pass on the information that we've poisoned the horn."
Now that he's back in Starkville and about to begin his second year in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Gentry's ready to share his experiences and inspire others to learn more about South Africa.
"As a whole, the country of South Africa is extremely welcoming; it's very diverse, and they're quick to take you in and explain their ways of life," he said.
On campus, Gentry is president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, secretary for the Dentistry Club and a member of the Theriogenology Club. He's also the Elanco student representative for the global animal health company.
Mississippi State is a great place to go to college, he said.
"With MSU being a land-grant university, I love the landscaping here and the fact that we have the space to make this campus as beautiful as it is. North Farm and South Farm are two of my favorite places on campus. They're great for research and enjoyment," Gentry said.Writer: Leah Barbour | Photo: submitted
Next week … Cassandra Kirkland !