Gap Year Chronicles: Hunter Listwin works with big cats around the world

The Gap Year Chronicles continues with a look into Hunter Listwin's journey working with big cats around the world. Photo courtesy Hunter Listwin.

By Arnav Bhagat 

Many of us on the Menlo Campus know Hunter Listwin; the Whitaker Lab whiz, the man behind the “Steezy Futon” at John’s, the lacrosse stud, and, most notably, the man without shoes.

What many don’t know about, however, is Hunter’s incredible pre-collegiate journey across the world, working with big cats, which has recently come to a close. The Coat of Arms interviewed Hunter and gained an all-access view into his gap year.

Similar to Listgarten, Listwin followed the traditional gap year path; he gained application to a collegiate program, and deferred for year. He described the process as super easy.

Listwin's main rationale for taking a gap year was to enjoy a break from the rigour of an adolescence based around school, before entering the cycle in college. “This was a hiatus from school work. You know, I’ve been in school for at least 12 years in a row, and I was ready to take year off before going into an engineering program where I’d be doing another four-five years,” Listwin said.

What he actually wanted to do was decided by mixing some of his various interests. Listwin traveled around the globe working with big cat conservation organizations and incorporating photography into his work. “I knew I wanted to incorporate photography into it, and I knew I wanted it to be with wildlife, and through that I narrowed down my options to doing big cat conservation work.” Listwin said.

In terms of his actual work, Listwin went on a nine-month journey featuring several different conservation organizations in several regions. For example, he worked with snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan for a month. Then, he worked with tigers, lions, and leopards in Thailand for three months, on and off. “In Africa I was working with an organization called Save the Elephants. It wasn’t lion work like I wanted to, but nonetheless it was a side of conservation work I hadn’t seen before,” Listwin said. “It was research, methodical data analysis and accumulation. Depending on what place I was in, I was doing different things.”

Not only did Listwin enjoy his work across the globe, he walked away with an expanded cultural scope and some incredible stories. “It’s one of the most educational things I could have done,” Listwin said. You can look at pictures and you can think you can understand, but until you’re actually their neighbour for a month, it’s hard to imagine how they live.”

The stories Listwin told really showed his enthusiasm for the outdoors and the fun he had during his journey. He told of his hitchhike back from Bolivia to Chile to recover a camera he had left at a hospital, in which he bonded with the man who gave him a lift, because they both owned Jeeps. “The way I took my gap year, I didn’t have any plans or a timeline, so getting stranded in the desert for six hours wasn’t a problem because I was prepared to be there for a few days,” he said.

Listwin feels that while the general challenge with a gap year is finding something tailored to a certain person’s interests, it could be healthy and beneficial for anyone. “This was the gap year I wanted to do; it was excellent for me. If someone finds a gap year that’s interesting for them, it will be great. If it’s the right one for them, anyone can have fun with it. “

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