Friday, July 30, 2010

Two Types of Giraffes in Ruaha: Affected and Unaffected

July 30, 2010
Life in Ruaha has been exciting, hot, and has allowed for a look into the “real” Africa. We’ve had tsetse flies, flat tires, and barely successful immobilizations of free-ranging wild animals. Our first full day in the park was spent conducting a health surveillance for giraffe skin disease. This exercise consisted of 3 sets of vehicles heading out into the African bush to observe skin lesions on affected giraffes via binoculars. Little is known about this condition but it consists of hyperkeratosis of the skin around the carpal joint, typically on the forelimbs. While the condition rarely leads to mortality, it can become severe enough to affect an animal’s gait, making it vulnerable to predation.

I was the data recorder for our team, and it was very exciting taking part in real wildlife veterinarian activities. We spent the whole day out in the field, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Afterwards, Sukuman and I compiled the teams’ data and presented our findings to the whole group. In sum, the prevalence of affected giraffes within the park was 80%, a rise from the 61% prevalence the prior year. The hope is that this and similar research efforts will shed some light on the etiology and pathogenesis of this disease.

Posing for a giraffe surveillance shot with Sean

Today was also exciting as we got to do an immobilization of two adult male giraffes. We darted the animals from the vehicles and then a team of men approached the animal with a rope. Theoretically the men work together to entrap the giraffe and pull tight across all four legs. I will just say this is easier said than done. With an experienced team this technique is very effective, but it was not without its challenges today! For the first animal I was data recorder and with this duty came the privilege of riding in the first vehicle with all of the important people! I got to see how they selected the animal, how they loaded the dart gun with the anesthetic agent, how they shot the dart gun, and how the animal responded to the initial shot. It was an exciting view and an experience I won’t soon forget. The first male was recumbent for 15 minutes, and in that time we collected blood samples, took biopsies from affected and unaffected sites on the fore leg, collected ectoparasites (ticks), and sampled the feces. We also took vital signs such as heart rate, respiration rate, oxygen saturation, and temperature.

The second animal was not quite as straight forward as this bull decided to not respond to the initial 20 mg of anesthetic. After waiting about 35 minutes for the effect, the dart team made the decision to administer another 16 mg which quickly resulted in the classic “star gazing” behavior and stiff gait associated with a light plane of anesthesia. On the second giraffe I was monitoring temperature and oxygen saturation. It was really great getting our hands on the animals and seeing firsthand the challenges of field immobilization of a free-ranging wild animal. Few people can say they anesthetized a wild giraffe in Africa!

Observing the darted giraffe from the "pop top" vehicle

Tomorrow we start our day with a friendly game of “football” (as they call it in these parts). I need my rest to be competitive, so I will say ‘lala salama’ and goodnight.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Falling in Love with Ruaha

July 28, 2010

I am writing from my banda within Ruaha National Park. We arrived this morning, shortly before lunch. Just from our short drive to our housing we already saw giraffes, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, waterbuck, warthog, and impala. After lunch we had an introductory discussion with the Chief Park Warden, the head veterinarian, and a park ecologist regarding the current issues and challenges within the park, namely human-wildlife-livestock conflict, drought, fire, poaching, and infectious disease. After our discussion we loaded our Land Rovers for a game drive.

Beware of crocs in Ruaha!

The vehicles headed out into different directions so as to not disturb the wildlife for the others. My vehicle had the fortune to see many elephants up close, zebras, giraffes, kudu, and even lions! The elephants were probably the most “exciting” because we found ourselves a bit too close to a few elephants that were especially aggressive due to the presence of young in the herd. Elephants can be quite territorial and will charge intruders with intimidating speed and force. The elephants that we crossed paths with were definitely intimidating. In captive situations, elephants appear docile and friendly towards humans; however, this behavior is highly unnatural. In the wild, elephants pose a definite risk to humans even within the security of a SUV.

After our game drive we came back to our “home base” for dinner and another discussion. This time, our discussion was more specifically about the veterinary interventions within the park. There is relatively little human intervention in Ruaha National Park which is becoming increasingly rare in so-called “wild areas.” The veterinarians mainly assess herd health by performing necropsies and monitoring population numbers. They also prevent disease by vaccinating against common infectious diseases (i.e. rabies). The lead vet also shared with us his research on the emerging disease issue of giraffes known as “giraffe skin disease.” This condition leads to eroded and ulcerated skin near the carpus and genital region of adult animals. Little is known about its etiology, transmission, and prevalence, but early estimates indicate a prevalence of over 80% of giraffes within Ruaha National Park.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure. Again we are loading the Land Rovers, but this time to assess giraffe health from a distance. We will be surveying groups of giraffes with our binoculars and then recording the presence or absence of skin disease, the severity of such disease, and body condition. We will be recording our findings and then pooling our data with that from the other groups to establish surveillance data for 2010.

I’m still very much enjoying my time in Tanzania. I am meeting very interesting people and making valuable contacts. I am also having the time of my life! Last night to say goodbye to Chogela Camp we had a BBQ with some folks from Wildlife Conservation Society, the Ruaha Carnivore Project, and the U.S. Department of Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service. After we ate dinner we were treated to a song and dance around the campfire by a village singing troupe. It was awesome…drums beating, people dancing, music playing! Afterwards we took our party to the dining banda for a Tanzanian dance party “club style.” I have made such great friends here – they truly are an extended family. We joke, laugh, sing, dance, learn, and live together. It will be hard to say goodbye in only 2 short weeks.

Feeling the music at the Chogela Camp BBQ

Monday, July 26, 2010

Life in the African Bush

July 26, 2010

Blogging is definitely more difficult in the African bush – limited electricity and busy schedules! We left our beautiful bandas at Riverside Campground for Chogela Camps (our most “rugged” accommodations thus far) in Tungamalenga. I am sharing a tent with Jocelyn and Sukuman and two toilets and one warm shower with over 20 women. Despite this, I am having the time of my life! I love life in the bush! Our first full day at the campsite we had a discussion around the smoking campfire about our previous day visiting the Maasai village. In the village we were treated to chai and flatbread, a song and dance with the women, and beautiful jewelry available to purchase. We were invited to come into their homes and visit with their women and children. We asked questions about their animals, their lifestyles, and their challenges. They were very willing to share with us and open their doors to all of us “mzungu.” I felt very humbled to be able to see life through their eyes for a day. I asked Mzee about his attitude towards the nearby Ruaha National Park, to which responded “It is my property.” The Maasai are pastoralists who migrate with their animals to wherever they can find food and water. Sometimes this means into buffer zones called “Wildlife Management Areas” intended to reduce human-animal-wildlife conflict and disease transmission. With the increasing human populations, the protected wildlife areas are feeling intense pressure from the local people. The animals can easily become nuisances and are then subject to poaching. These challenges will become increasingly common and more difficult to manage in the future. This is one of the primary reasons we are here in Tanzania.

Getting to know the Maasai children

During our morning discussion with Dr. David Mutekanga, Assistant Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Ruaha Landscape, we summarized the challenges and brainstormed potential solutions for the Maasai people. My contribution to the group was a final thought: I kept hearing from my colleagues from developing countries about the local tribes in their countries and I realized that the U.S. has a history of extirpating those of a different culture (i.e. Native Americans). Development should not equal loss of biological and cultural diversity. The Maasai should be able to maintain their culture, but compromise will be required if there is to be peaceful relationships with minimal disease.

After our morning of discussion we divided into groups and mine was off to test Maasai cattle for bovine tuberculosis. It was so great! I got to draw blood from the jugular vein, shave spots for the PPD injection along the neck, and measure the initial skin thickness with calipers. We knocked down 4 animals and tested to get an idea of the health of the herd. After the testing we headed to the Maasai household to have a more intimate discussion with the family. They were so candid with us and even asked us a few questions of their own. The women, for example, wanted to know how old women are when they get married in developed countries. They also wanted to know how we all came together from different countries. It was great hearing what questions they had, and it started feeling like a real “Oprah moment.”

Tb Testing of Maasai Cattle with Chuma and Annette

The Maasai are very generous by letting a group of students use their animals for learning. It is very important that we honor their generosity by giving back to them in a measurable way. The Mzee requested things like dip tanks for their cattle, a veterinary pharmacy to get drugs for their animals, and money for their children to go to school. They want us to help them solve their problems and not just come and tell them what problems they have. Lesson learned: in research it is so important to maintain relationships with those who help you do your work. Don’t just arrive and collect samples and leave. This has been done in the past and it leaves bitterness and reduces the likeliness that these people will allow for additional research in the future. Give back in a way that is meaningful to the people you are working with and who your research affects. Take the time to learn what they need and how they are gaining from your presence.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Iringa: Poultry, Crafts, and Shopping!

July 23, 2010

Day 4 in Tanzania started with a breakfast of French toast, a fried egg, hot tea, and papaya. We then boarded the coaster and headed towards a poultry farm about 30 minutes away. When we got to the farm we were greeted by a group of young kids who were so cute and friendly. They are still a bit scared of “mzungu” and are hesitant to talk even when you speak Swahili. I asked Wilson, one of our locals, what he said to the kids because when he approached them they acted like old friends. Wilson said he only asked their names, whether they went to school, and how old they were. I tried the same strategy and got a little better success.

The poultry farm was interesting. It actually reminded me a little of Grant Family Farms – free range chickens feeding on fresh cabbage and maize, rolling in the dust and just being a chicken. The owner of the farm was so proud of his accomplishments – he started with 10 hens and one cock and now they have over 200 hens. He sells the eggs and meat to the locals and has been able to make a decent living for himself and his family. He has plans to grow the farm to over 3,000 chickens and serve even more Tanzanians. I asked him what his biggest disease concern was, to which he replied infectious coryza. I was surprised to hear that avian influenza, salmonellosis, and Mareks disease isn’t more of a concern in Tanzania. Currently there have been no documented cases of AI in Tanzania, but there are surveillance strategies and prevention efforts taking place. It was really interesting having the many animal health professionals weighing in on the farm owner’s operations and how he can improve his disease prevention and disease surveillance. Simple techniques such as separating animals by age and isolating diseased animals could really make a difference for this farm’s production.

Sukuman and me touring the poultry farm

After the poultry farm we headed towards the Veterinary Investigation Center of Tanzania. The VIC essentially plays the role of the USDA within Tanzania. They perform post-mortem exams and respond to disease outbreaks for the region surrounding Iringa. They try to educate local livestock owners about disease risks including zoonotic diseases such as Anthrax. It was amazing for me to see how much work they do and the challenges they face. For example, their facility was a simple building with a serology laboratory with one ELISA analyzer. They do necropsies “in house” only on small animals (piglets, cats, and chickens) and have to do larger animals in the field. Many times the facility loses electricity and has to postpone important surveillance work. Still, the VIC aims to report animal diseases within Tanzania based on the OIE classification.

From the VIC we headed towards Neema Café where we had lunch and got the story and a tour of this amazing place. Neema Café was started by a person from the U.K., and it provides disabled Tanzanians with a decent living by making crafts such as beads, elephant dung paper, and fabrics. The employees were so happy and, again, welcoming to our group of visitors. Many of the employees were deaf, so we learned a few expressions in sign language to communicate our appreciation and admiration for their work. Some of the other employees were victims of polio and were trained to use a hand looms because of their leg disfigurement. Neema Café was such a special place. It was heartwarming to see the positivity that radiated from this place. The workers were happy to be earning a wage, the guests loved the handicrafts and ambience, and the city has benefited from the tourism.

Mother and child busy at work at Neema Crafts, Iringa

After our lunch and tour of Neema, we had an opportunity to explore the markets of Iringa on our own. I was a little nervous at first to be set free in a town so foreign, but I quickly found my way and soon couldn’t get enough! I went into the food market where there was an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, and dagaa (sardines). I met a nice young man named Alex who allowed me to practice my Swahili. He was 20 years old and had learned English in secondary school, and he was very wiling to let me say my new phrases. I explained that I was there with a group of veterinarians to learn about the animals and ecosystem of his country. I introduced my friends Amelie and Sukuman to him as well. I purchased two tomatoes from him and even practiced my bargaining Swahili (Punguza bei?) to get him down to 150 Tsh. I ended up giving him 200 and leaving with a smile. Apparently Iringa is known for their fantastic tomatoes and onions – we’ll see if they live up to their reputation!

Tomorrow we leave the Riverside Campsite, and I am excited to enter the bush and be off the grid (no electricity, no wireless, limited access to a warm shower). I will continue to write even though my updates are less frequent. Goodnight!

Water for Life

July 22, 2010

I had a perfect day in Tanzania. It started with a hot shower in our beautiful 2 bedroom banda at the Riverside Campground. We then had breakfast of crepes, hardboiled eggs, hot tea, and fresh fruit (mango and papaya). From there we loaded the coaster and headed for the Uhambingeto village, home to 5,600 residents and 700 students in the primary school newly equipped with a rainwater harvesting system built by Emmanuel International (EI). The system was a simple construction of corrugated zinc roofs, gutters, and pipes leading to a holding tank. The rainy season creates enough water to last through the year for all water needs of the school (drinking, sanitation) – assuming they stick to a strict budget. We then had chai and donuts at the church and were entertained by a few members of the choir – what a treat! Andrew (electrical engineer) and Andy (water engineer) from EI gave us a great look into village life and introduced us to many of the locals. They were so appreciative of our visit and so kind to us. I have never experienced hospitality like this before. After our visit we loaded our vehicles and headed for the Kibebe Farm, a dairy in Iringa. They are currently trying to become organic and have many challenges with trying to be a sustainable operation within a developing country. For example, the technology does not exist to do nutrient analysis on the feed. The livestock managers do not have a good idea what trace minerals the animals are receiving, and it is possible that the animals are deficient in nutrients that could be valuable to their production. Simple things like known feed rations and parasite burdens are a difficult science with no laboratory or trained technicians. Despite their challenges, the Kibebe Farm produces high quality dairy products that are in demand throughout the region. Though their animals may have reduced fertility and their milk production may taper as their cows reach 16 years of age, the family farm is making it and they are growing as their demands change.

All in all, this day was heartwarming, educational, and a bit unexpected. I got my picture with Tanzanian children and my song and dance from the African chorus. But I also got a sense of responsibility to the communities that share these delicate ecosystems that just want clean water and a safe place for their children to go to school. It is so imperative that if we are to protect wildlife and precious landscapes, we must start with the people. A better life, a better world must start with us. Lala salama.

 Signing the guest book of the village school on behalf of the Envirovet students 2010

Swahili lesson for today:

Punguza bei – Please lower the price

Naangalia tu – I am just looking

Una watoka wangapi? – How many children do you have?

Daktali ya wayama – veterinarian (doctor of animals)

Lala salama – sleep well

Tafadhali – please

Bei gani – how much?

Napapenda hapa – I love it here

Nakunpenda – I love you

Kuku – chicken

Tembo – elephant

Jina langu ni Amanda – My name is Amanda

Jina lako nani – What is your name?

Samahani – Excuse me

Maji ya chupa – bottled water

Ninasema kiswhaili kidogo sana – I speak very little Swahili

Habari za asubuhi – How is your morning?

Pole – Sorry

Wapi choo? – Where are the toilets?

Wanawake/wanaume – women /men

Karibu Tanzania!

July 21, 2010

Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it! I am in Tanzania! What a beautiful place I am in right now…mountains, trees, goats, and friendly faces. The air is cool and dry – what a welcome change from Florida. We had a crazy few days of travel, leaving Ft. Pierce at 3 a.m. Monday morning and arriving in Dar Es Salaam Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. Our travels were relatively easy. We had a smooth flight from West Palm Beach to JFK and all but one of us got our bags on the Emirates flight to Dubai. It was raining “cats and dogs” in New York and we had to walk outside with all of our luggage from the baggage claim to our terminal. By the time we got to the check-in we were mostly drenched and some of us had the time to change our clothes to dry ones. The flight to Dubai was nearly 13 hours, but somehow it went pretty quickly. There were so many movies and games to choose from I almost wished I had more time! We had a quick layover in Dubai which was an interesting experience – women dressed in black from head to toe, bathrooms with just a hole in the ground, and shopping! The airport was quite elaborate, but I didn’t get to see much of the city. We soon boarded a plane to Dar and 5 hours later I was stepping on African soil.

Dar Es Salaam was basically a big city in a developing country. Lots of cars, vendors on the street, and markets for fruit, calling cards, and tools. Our hotel was a pleasant surprise and the bed was a beautiful sight. After 18 hours in a sitting position it was really nice to be horizontal. We checked into the hotel and chose our roomies for the night. Sukuman and I dropped off our luggage and went downstairs for a dinner of rice, chicken, fish, and beans. The food was good – I think I am African! I took a shower and was asleep before Sukuman was out of hers. The room was nice – and fewer bugs than Florida! We woke up at 6:30 and cleaned up before breakfast and departing to begin our journey across Tanzania. We are headed west towards Iringa. Right now we are stopped in Morogoro at Sokoine University. We have met Harrison and Professor Rudovick Kazwala who will accompany us for the remainder of the trip. They are both Envirovet alumni and are so welcoming and friendly. Africa is about what I expected – maybe even a little better. I love being here and I am looking forward to meeting more people, taking more pictures, and learning more Swahili!

Karibu Tanzania!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Journey of a Lifetime

July 18, 2010

  Today is our last at Harbor Branch.  On the schedule we have "Global Research and Conservation Programs at the Georgia Aquarium" with Dr. Greg Bossart and "Threats and Management of Manatees" from Dr. Martine de Wit from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  After the morning of lectures we will perform a marine mammal necropsy.  We will get into groups and either necropsy a manatee, a dolphin, a sperm whale, or a sea lion.  Pictures to come!
  Once the final classes are taught, we will head back to the hotel and begin the packing process for a journey of a lifetime.  We will leave for the West Palm Beach airport at 3 a.m., arriving at JFK after 9 a.m.  From there we will board a plane for Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, with a quick layover in Dubai, UAE.
  I can't believe within a few days I will be stepping foot on African soil.  I have wanted to go to Africa for as long as I can remember - it has always been top on my "travel priority list."  It is definitely surreal.  I feel like since I've started Envirovet I have been neither here nor there.  We travel everywhere together and are rarely iinteractive with the "outside world."  With the exception of the bugs and the humidity, I could barely tell I was even in Florida!  In Tanzania the structure of our learning will be much different.  We will be visiting national parks and interacting with locals.  We will be hands-on with African wildlife and livestock.  We will have chai in the villages and shop at the markets.  This part will definitely be the highlight of Envirovet for me.
  Hopefully I will have access to internet at least sporadically while I am in Tanzania. If so, expect a flood of blog entries all at once.  Regardless, I will be documenting every moment of this journey.  It will be one that I will treasure.  Thanks for following Envirovet Part 1!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

3D Chad Comes to Envirovet!

I was fortunate to have a visit by Chad on Sunday, and he accompanied the group on the tour of the Billie Swamp Safari in the Florida Everglades.  My friends at E-vet have gotten to know Flat Chad, my laminated fiance who lives in my camera pouch.  At opportune times, Flat Chad makes an experience in my pictures.  When I told the gang that Chad was coming to Florida for a visit, they were beyond enthusiastic to meet "3D Chad." 

This picture makes me smile - notice the "3" in honor of Chad...

The Grass is Always Greener...

July 15, 2010

  Envirovet has taken a turn towards the feathered.  Today our schedule reads "Avian Influenza Workshop" and a lecture on "Flamingo Die-offs in East Africa."  We have 3 days of lectures left after today and then we board a plane for Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.  It's hard to believe this family will soon be making the journey across the Atlantic to our classroom in the African landscape. 
  I'm still having such a good time and learning so much about wildlife and ecosystem health.  I continue to have thought-provoking conversations with my colleagues and faculty.  Just last night I was joined by an Envirovet lecturer in the lobby of the hotel and we proceeded to have a discussion on land use and sustainable development.  As Americans, the world's top consumers, we have set a precedent for developing countries.  They look to us as role models, whether we are fit for that title or not.  Indonesian women want to buy Hermes bags like they see on "Sex and the City."  Nigerians want to drive their personal vehicles even though they have adequate public transporation.  And even though they prefer open windows, people in Thailand keep the air conditioning running because it is a sign of wealth.
  Everyone wants their "fair share" and unfortunately, if Americans are used as the barometer for what is fair, life on Earth simply isn't sustainable.  What is it going to take to convince Americans that we must desire less?  Is our overabundance really all that it's cracked up to be?  Is the American lifestyle the key to happiness?  Well, ironically, in a study on the world's happiest places, the U.S. doesn't even make the top 10. 
  Saving the planet may require reprogramming human nature.  We are designed to always want more and to want what we can't have....the ol' "grass is always greener on the other side" mentality.  This became humorously clear when I discovered the beauty products of my Thai roommate.  All of her creams and lotions contain "whitening agents" to make her skin more like mine.  Cruise down the aisle of any American drugstore and you will see lotions with added tint and bronzing agents, promising the slimming effects of tanned skin.  We are all suckers!  If we could get marketing executives to come up with a pitch for eco-friendly living, we might just have a chance!

Me with Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, wildlife goddess and a true role model

The Inspiration for 'Crocodile Eyes'

I had to share this adorable video made for me by Chad.  Thanks to the girls, Josie and Alayna, for making my day with this video - I can't wait to see you guys!  Thank you to Chad for the effort and patience to make this wonderful gift!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Things Are Getting Fishy Around Here!

July 10, 2010

  We wrapped up our training on aquatic invertebrates last week.  We visited a coral hatchery, performed core samples on marine sediment, and used seines to collect shrimp and horseshoe crabs.  Admittedly, many of the terminologies, anatomies, and concepts are new to me.  I've learned a lot about the complexity of aquatic ecosystems, but I don't think a career on the sea is in my future.  We also visited a landfill and wastewater treatment facility.  This kind of stuff is more in my niche, as human waste production has a direct impact on environmental health and, in turn, public health.  We also collected water samples from two different sites and tested for pH, salinity, and dissolved oxgen.  I was excited to dust off my environmental health cap and use these skills again!

Sifting through core samples of benthic sediment in Taylor Creek, HBOI

  This week we transitioned to vertebrates, mainly fishes.  Yes, more than one species of fish is appropriately referred to as "fishes."  We got our water shoes wet and did a fish collection lab this morning.  We used bag seines and recovered hundreds of animals ranging from bait fish to blue crabs and even a sting ray!   
  We placed the desirable animals in aerated tubs and brought them back to the laboratory for gill/fin biopsies, skin scrapes, and physical exams. 

Venipuncture technique on a sedated fish

  In the afternoon we toured an aquaculture facility on the grounds of Florida Atlantic Universiy.  Because they are a research facility, this facility does not sell fish for the food market; rather, they are studying how to raise new fish species (i.e. the Florida Pompano) in a more cost-effective and sustainable manner. 

Aquaculture facility at FAU

  After our tour we got into a really good discussion about aquaculture (fish farming) versus marine capture (wild).  As far as sustainability, farm-raised seafood is the best choice.  Oceans, in general, are overharvested, leaving scarce populations of popular fish such as tuna, Atlantic salmon, and Chilean seabass.  However, the public is recognizing the health benefits of wild-caught seafood (such as Wild Alaskan salmon) due to its rich Omega-3 fatty acid content.  Wild, ocean fish are high in fatty acids because of their diets.  They are carnivorous, meaning they eat other small fishes such as herring.  While this is desirable for human health, these carnivorous fish are resource hogs!  It is difficult to farm carnivorous fish because it is not cost-effective.  Their diet alone will account for up to 70% of expenses.  Not to mention, it is difficult and expensive to maintain saltwater production tanks.  Farm-raised fish are often fed alternative protein sources, reducing their Omega-3 content. 
  Seafood is a bit of a conundrum in the "healthy living" schematic.  Generally, what is good for the environment is good for the body.  For example, organic food with its basis in pesticide-free production is beneficial not only for human health but also for environmental health.  So what do we do in the case of fish?  If farm-raising fish is a more sustainable practice, do we sacrifice the health benefit of wild-caught seafood?  Well, the answer is simple - educated consumerism!  Buy and eat fish from well-managed marine and freshwater environments.  Eat seafood that is abundant in the wild such as catfish, mackerel, cobia, crab (Dungeness, stone, Alaska snow), and mussels.  Consume farm-raised seafood such as tilapia, a herbivorous, freshwater fish that is nutritious, delicious, cost-efficient to raise, and sustainable.
  Being a conscious consumer is difficult, even for a group of conservationists, veterinarians, and ecologists.  Consider your footprint - the future depends on all of us...

Taking a break from "saving the world" to have some fun with a tree swing into the water

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Fourth

July 6, 2010

I watched the fireworks on the fourth of July with two women: one from Indonesia and one from Canada. We overlooked the Indian River Lagoon in Ft. Pierce, FL, hearing “American Soldier” in the background. They were captivated by the fireworks and grandiosity of this American holiday. They asked me how I typically spent this day, and I described a tradition that included picnics, BBQ, and family.

Fourth of July in Ft. Pierce, FL

We are settling into phase two of Envirovet: Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. It has been a bit of an adjustment since we just came off the island. Nothing can compare to St. Catherine’s Island. The format of learning was so unlike the classroom back home that consumes all of my time. We only spent an hour at a time in the classroom which was a simple one-roomed building with a small projector screen and an easel. The other times were in the field, literally. We spent time in the forest tracking lemurs and orienteering. We trapped amphibians and reptiles in Gator Pond. We performed health assessments on gopher tortoises under a tent that served as our makeshift hospital. On our last day we relocated sea turtle eggs on the south beach of the island. Our free time was spent at the beach and eating meals as a group buffet style. The kitchen staff consisted of one “Life is Good”-wearing chef whose 14-year old lab sprawled out on the floor beneath her hoping for a spill.

Day one at Harbor Branch was spent in lectures – freshwater and marine ecology, water quality, and ecological restoration and ecosystem management. Our classroom is freezing cold but students are still falling asleep! The fatigue is starting to set in and a little bit of the Envirovet novelty is starting to wear off. I have confidence that things will pick up here. Yesterday we saw our first manatee right outside the area we have our meals, and today we visited a coral hatchery. I had no idea how complex corals are and how important they are to the marine ecosystem! In the Caribbean, 70% of corals have died off due to environmental changes (temperature increases) and disease. Loss of corals leads to loss of habitat for fish and decreased biodiversity. As we have learned well, loss of biodiversity decreases the overall health of the ecosystem leading to animal and public health consequences.

Manatee taking a drink outside the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

While I am not a marine chemist or oceanographer, I recognize the importance of Envirovet Session II. I hope to use my background in environmental health to determine how changes in ecosystems (air/ water pollution, land use, temperature) impact the health of humans and animal species. So much of health relies on water and it truly links all species. Whether it be freshwater contaminated by agricultural run-off or ocean acidification due to excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, man has altered the earth’s water sources. Water is required for all life and a certain quality is required for health. We only get one life and one Earth – to protect them both, think “One Health.”

I miss you Chad!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Turtles, gators, and frogs, oh my!

July 3, 2010

Tomorrow is the fourth of July which means a “free day” on the busy Envirovet schedule. We’ll be arriving tonight at our third location on this 8-week journey: Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) in Ft. Pierce, FL. We’ll choose our roomies and get comfortable in a hotel which will become home for the next two weeks. We left St. Catherine’s Island this afternoon and with it we left behind the lemurs, gopher tortoises, and alligators. It was an adventure-filled 3 days and it went all too fast. On day 2 we checked the traps we set out the day before. Our traps must have been well placed because we collected 3 juvenile alligators, several newts, and a leopard frog. We learned about the species and passed them around for pictures – what a way to learn!

Holding a juvenile alligator that couldn’t resist the sardines in our trap

Later that day we performed health assessments on gopher tortoises. These guys are so cute and friendly. We did physical exams, measurements, identification tagging, and blood draws for PCV and total protein. I got to learn two different locations for blood collection: brachial vein and subcarapacial vein. Both were difficult because it requires a “blind stick” which means you can’t visualize the vessel prior to penetration. You basically just have to know the anatomy and practice, practice, practice! Sukuman and I got enough blood to run the necessary tests but we definitely need to perfect our technique.

Me and gopher tortoise #103 (adult male)

A few of us went to the ocean for a few hours before dinner – the water was warm but the wind was strong. We played in the water, splashing and laughing until the dinner bell was rung. Our last day on the island was spent on the beach relocating eggs from a female loggerhead sea turtle. These turtles are considered threatened on the Atlantic coast primarily because of predation and habitat disruption. The new hatchlings, once they climb their way from underneath their sand-covered nest, scurry to the ocean’s shore to hopefully get picked up by a current and start their journey into the deep blue. Unfortunately, many of the babies will not make it to the water. They are predated on by large sea birds and carnivorous mammals. If that wasn’t enough, their journey’s can also be disrupted by artificial light. Sea turtle hatchlings use the light of the moon to guide their quest to the ocean’s edge. Artificial light from nearby housing, flashlights, and street lamps can confuse the young turtles, leaving them lost and without the security of the ocean. The staff on St. Catherine’s Island is working diligently to secure the nests of sea turtles so they are safe from predators, light, and erosion of the shore. Sometimes this means locating new nests and moving them to safer ground.

Uncovering a sea turtle nest on the South Beach of St. Catherine’s Island

More than 100 eggs relocated to safer ground

The island was another great adventure and it was sad to say goodbye. But the journey must continue because the best is yet to come. For now, Harbor Branch here I come!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

St. Catherine's My Home

July 1, 2010
  The Envirovet group landed on St. Catherine's Island yesterday.  It is a barrier island off the coast of southern Georgia, and it is home to deer, frogs, many birds, alligators, and lemurs - a wildlife veterinarian-to-be's mecca!  We got a quick introduction to the island yesterday and had a family-style dinner with the whole staff.  I love this kind of place - reminds me of Catalina Island.  Dozens of outdoorsy people running towards the kitchen at the sound of the dinner bell; lining up with plates in hand for burgers, hot dogs, salad, and sweet tea.  What is it about eating like this that makes it taste so good?! 
  Today we started with an orientation to bird sampling and surveillance.  We set up mist nets to catch small birds (cow birds, cardinals) and then we each got to practice our handling techniques.  Once we learned the basics we practiced removing the trapped birds from the mist nets - a tedious task!

Mastering the banding hold on a cow bird

  After lunch we learned a critical skill to any field researcher - orienteering!  We learned how to read maps, how to use GPS to identify your location, and how to use a compass to find your way to your destination.  An hour later we were headed into the depth of the forest to find our way to a secret destination - Wamassee Pond (home to a female alligator and her new babies).  My team was Amelie, Kemi, Ademola, Maya and Tricia.  When we arrived at our drop-off we found our coordinates on the GPS.  The team found our location on the map and used a few sophisticated tools (protractor, ruler) to find our direction (47 degrees - northeast!)  We made our way through the dense forest, passing intricate spiderwebs and toads under our feet.  Luckily no snakes or other large wildlife!  Before long our destination was in sight - and we were the first group to finish!  Go team!

Ademola, Tricia, me, Maya, Amelie, and Kemi at our destination - Wamassee Pond

  When we returned home we ate lunch and headed out into the field again.  This time we set traps for alligators, turtles, and frogs.  We will check our traps tomorrow and hopefully get to practice our reptile and amphibian sampling techniques.  Also tomorrow is radiotelemetry of the resident lemurs on St. Catherine's Island and health assessments of gopher tortoises.  Doesn't that sound like fun!?