GREENWICH, Conn. — Even though Axel Hunnicutt grew up in suburban Greenwich, he was always drawn to wildlife.
He enjoyed visiting Audubon and the Bronx Zoo as a kid. But when the opportunity arose, he decide to move to the wilderness.
“I’ve never wanted to be an armchair ecologist,” Hunnicutt said from a coffee shop in Cos Cob on Tuesday.
So he did something not many University of Connecticut grads do: He packed up his bags and moved to study grizzly bears in the Canadian Rockies.
When Hunnicutt was admitted to the University of Pretoria, he moved across the world to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The experience, Hunnicutt said, stretched him.
“Like they say,” Hunnicutt told The Daily Voice, “when you leave your comfort zone, that’s when you start living.”
And live he has. Since graduating from UConn, Hunnicutt has been chased by grizzly bears and charged by lions.
He recently returned home after working for the University of Pretoria on wildlife conservation issues at a national park in Africa.
“You fall asleep to leopards and hyenas calling,” Hunnicutt said of his experience living in a farmhouse inside of the park. “It’s truly wild.”
No task was too big or too small for Hunnicutt and his team. He relocated wild animals, helped wounded creatures and even fought brush fires with rubber brooms.
When asked about the shocking killing of Cecil The Lion, Hunnicutt said trophy hunting is a complicated issue.
Although he said he doesn’t know why some people like to kill majestic creatures, he understands that eradicating trophy hunting would not be beneficial to the species, either.
Much of the land where lions roam in Africa is held for the purposes of hunting, he said. If hunters couldn’t hunt big game anymore, the land might be converted to agriculture or other uses. Some lions could lose their habitat as a result.
Hunnicutt helped start The Wild Tomorrow Fund to combat the problem of poaching. He is in town writing his master’s thesis and speaking at the fund’s events.
But Hunnicutt has never forgotten the western black rhino, which was declared extinct while he was a student at Greenwich High. He remembers wondering why someone didn’t prevent the animal from disappearing from the Earth.
He then had a profound realization.
“One day you wake up and realize you are someone, you can do something. And the second you realize that, taking a leap is a hell of a lot of more exciting.”
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