Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Whirlwind of Excitement, Confusion, and Chips

Names: Rachel Wilson and Gabby McDonald 
Years: Classes of 2019 and 2020 
Hometowns: Zanesville, OH and Germantown, MD 
Internship: Veterinary Research Interns 
Location: National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, in Pretoria, South Africa 
Approximate time frame: May 2nd-May 13th  

What a crazy week it has been. Rachel and traveling companions hit some rough patches (to put it lightly) along the way, while Gabby was stranded in Johannesburg alone. A delayed flight, getting rerouted to London, and many hours on several planes later, Rachel finally met up with Gabby in the Johannesburg terminal. We found our "knight in shining armor" (really, he was our driver in khakis and crocs), and made our way to the Zoo! We unloaded at the house, knowing we had business to attend to.
Our B-E-A-UTIFUL home for the next two months!
We headed back to the research center, where we met many people who would be crucial to our first week here... but at that moment, all we could think of was food and sleep (Hey, give us a break! By this point Rachel hasn't really slept in three days). With some help from our new coworkers and housemate, we managed to make it across the street to purchase some instant noodles and a block of cheese. Oh, and oatmeal. Our first weekend was spent sleeping with a bit of wandering around the zoo and a side of Harry Potter.  

Monday morning came around and our jet-lagged selves rolled out of bed to go learn about our project for the next two months. We met up with the Manager of Research and Scientific Services, Prof Antoinette Kotze, hereby referred to as Prof, who introduced us to the three veterinarians we would be working with: Dr. Ian (Head Vet), Dr. Jennie (who has a fantastic sense of humour) and Dr. Rob (who exclaims "Welcome to Africa," anytime anything less-than-ideal happens). They probably have surnames, but didn't tell us what they were.  
Lucky for us, Prof decided it would be best if we worked together. Our project would consist of looking at morphometric data (measurements, lengths, etc.) of pangolins and samples of blood smears to look for hemoparasites.
However, we didn't spend our first week working on our project. Rather, after spending a day reading lots of journal articles, we shadowed the vets for the rest of the week. This included witnessing a cheetah ultrasound at the only South African veterinary college, and unfortunately its post-mortem (also known as a necropsy) later in the week. A road trip to the zoo's breeding center, Mokopane, allowed us to get out of the city for a day! We helped with the blood collection and sampling of African Painted Wild Dogs, and even got to eat at a fresh fruit and veg stand. On a hot day, we were grateful for fresh fruit (and a box of avocados).

Back off boys, this lady's taken!
(For those of you who are wondering, that's Shylo)

One day during the week, we left work a little early to go watch a seal training session. This specific training was to get into the back of the ambulance, so that
 any trips to the vet hospital won't have to be as strenuous. This seems to be only one of many trainings that they receive, and our housemate speaks very highly of their conservator in charge (at home we call them curators), and her passion for her job. She was even recommended the book "Don't Shoot the Dog" which we read in junior year practicum for the Zoo Program.  

After our first full week, we finally made a proper trip to the grocery store. It was a great feeling to finally have some food other than the instant meals we had been living off. And chips. There have been plenty of chips (fries) for us to eat. Saturday morning (#2) rolls around, and Gabby got out of bed to volunteer in the seal house with our housemate while Rachel slept in and began working on her Vet School application. 

The three amigos at Mokopane!
From left to right: Hasita looking cute, Gabby unsure of
what's going on (what else is new), and Rachel being a goob
Time-out. I bet by now you’re wondering about this mysterious housemate. Let me tell you about her. Her name is Hasita. She’s is from London, and has been here since OctoberHasita is in her third year of university studying Bio-Veterinary Science, which she opted to take as a “placement year” here, researching and gaining work experience rather than studying in a classroom. She loves avos (avocados) and Harry Potter (She taught us the London way of pronouncing the name). Our new friend took very good care of us during our week-one-whirlwind-of-excitement-and-confusion-and-chips, and very quickly became our third Partner in Crime. Time-in. 
The morning at the seals was spent cleaning and watching body checks and sorting vitamins. It was a grand old time. I (Gabby) had the opportunity to meet a few school kids who also came to volunteer. It was a lazy afternoon, but then the three of us made pizza—with LOTS of veg! Our bodies were thankful. For dessert we had Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with a side of strawberries. A wonderful end to a crazy but wonderful week. 

Three Americans Out Standing in Our Field

Name: Eileen Connon and Mallory Fox
Hometown: Mandeville, LA and Harrison, OH
Internship: Cape Parrot Project Research Intern
Location: South Africa

Hello from the Southern Hemisphere! Mallory and Eileen here, a little over two weeks into our African adventure and boy, has it been an adventure! From day one, we faced challenges because our original flight to Atlanta was delayed so many times that we were going to miss our connection to Johannesburg. We ended up getting rerouted through Detroit and London before making it down to South Africa a day later than planned, with about two hours to spare before our next connection to East London. Cassie, the research manager for the Project, picked us up at the airport. Dr. Young and Mallory grabbed the rental car and Cassie and Eileen drove in the Project’s “bakkie,” or pick-up truck the two hours to Hogsback. We had a nice, relaxing first night and morning, but no rest for the weary because we helped out with the Cape Parrot Big Birding Day that first afternoon/evening. People all over the country participate in this count annually to help estimate population size. We split up and headed to several different locations around Hogsback. Eileen got the easy spot just up the hill from our house, while Mallory headed out with Craig, one of the owners of the local pub. Dr. Young went with Cassie and took the recording equipment, and Kate, Cassie’s wife and another member of the Project, was supposed to go to another location, but she ended up standing with Eileen after having to save Dr. Young and Cassie from a flat tire. We did the same the next morning. After that, it was time to pack up and get ready for our big trip, because the next day we left for our month of travel around the country, which we’re about halfway through now.
One of the Amapondo backpackers cats!
            On Monday the 7th, Kate, Dr. Young, Mallory, and Eileen all piled into the rental and headed out. Eileen was very uncomfortable for the first hour of the ride, as she had to squish the flat tire between her feet and the seat in front of her until we made it to a tire shop in nearby King William’s Town. By contrast, the leg room for the rest of the trip was much better. That evening we made it to our first stop: Amapondo Backpackers in Port St. Johns. We all shared one big room with a double bed and three single beds and had meals in the communal kitchen next door. We also had three dogs and three cats to befriend, and some interesting people as well.

Of course, this isn’t just a vacation. We’re traveling around to record vocalisations of Cape parrots (and eventually grey-headed parrots) in different parts of the country so that they can then be analyzed to determine whether or not different sub-populations have different dialects. We had a tip about an area with lots of hotels/lodges that would have parrots, so we headed over and met the owner of Bamba Lodge and Purple Indigo, who was very helpful! We saw a couple of late parrots fly overhead that evening as we sat with her and her husky puppy and had tea. The next day we headed out to The Jetty, another lodge, and got a lot of vocals! In addition to parrots, we also saw some cool trumpeter hornbills.
on the beach in Port St. Johns
            Over the next few days, we got a lot of really good recordings and had some fun adventures! We went to the beach and a nature reserve. We had so much success, in fact, that we cut our visit short and headed to a place called Ntafufu Ecolodge where they said they had parrots in their garden. The lovely couple who runs it let us stay a night for free! Before we left Amapondo, we met a backpacker called Keegan- more on him later.
(one of) the views from Ntafufu
            When we got to Ntafufu, we unloaded our stuff and changed into athletic clothers, because we hiked down to the river and canoed to the beach! The river was absolutely gorgeous and so tranquil- it looked like the Disney Jungle Cruise but real. We wanted to be wearing all-khaki outfits and big hats like classic adventure movies. We made it to the beach without any problems, despite Mallory’s threats of capsizing, and ended up being totally alone on the whole stretch. We were in an area of the country called the Wild Coast and you could easily tell. We then had to canoe back to the launch point and hike back up to the lodge, which was harder than hiking down. By the time we made it back, it was just about time to wait for parrots. As we were getting ready, that backpacker Keegan showed up! He had walked from Amapondo to Ntafufu, a drive that took us about an hour, in about 8 hours. He’s apparently walking from South Africa to Morocco! He was also interested to learn about the parrots, so he hung out with us while we got evening recordings. That evening, Sabine and Armin, the owners, hosted us for a “braai”- a South African barbeque. Armin made us this amazing braai flatbread cooked in banana leaves and topped with a tomato butter (tomato paste, butter, and garlic) that was the best bread we’ve ever eaten ever. After several hours of good food and good conversation, we headed to bed in our chalets with paraffin lamps and candles to light our way. We woke up the next morning to get more recordings and then had to head out for our next destination, but not before we said goodbye to the three dogs and one precious puppy that we befriended there!
Ntafufu EcoLodge

Mallory with Grace (in her arms) and Sally (posing)

            Our next drive was pretty long, because we left the Eastern Cape province and headed into Kwa-Zulu Natal. We stayed at the Umzimkhulu River Lodge, which was in fact an hour away from the town of Umzimkhulu and was closer to Bulwer and Underberg. It was pretty cold there- Underberg is just below the Drakensberg mountain range and we could see snow on the peaks! Luckily the lodge had electric blankets for us. We got a lot of recordings around the area, luckily! We went to a sawmill in nearby Creighton and saw close to 100 parrots there, which was super exciting. One morning, we hired a bird guide named Warren to take us to iGxalingenwa Nature Reserve (don’t ask us how to pronounce it), and he took us on some wild four-wheel drive roads in the morning mist. We got some recordings but didn’t end up seeing too many parrots. Luckily, on the drive back, Warren spotted some Southern Ground Hornbills for us! One of Eileen’s goals for the summer was to see them so she was quite chuffed. Kate, Dr. Young, and Eileen headed back to the same forest another day and found easier roads and more parrots!
It's frustrating when we can't find parrots!

Views from the Sani Pass road
With some free time one day, Dr. Young, Eileen, and Mallory headed on the biggest adventure so far: summiting Sani Pass! We went through a guide service and got a ride up 8 kilometers of no-man’s land between South Africa and Lesotho (pronounced Le-soo-too) in the Drakesnberg. We had to hold on tight because the road was bumpy and bendy and turn-y and there were some enormous drops! We made it to the top and saw the rare Drakensberg rockjumper and these tiny little rodents called ice rats. We then got to go to a Basotho (pronounced Ba-soo-too) village where a lovely lady named Belina gave us some fresh-baked bread from her cow dung oven- they don’t have firewood because its too high for trees to grow, so they burn dried cow pats- and sold us some nice souvenirs. We finished the journey at the Highest Pub in Africa-2874 meters above sea level! We had a nice meal and drinks at the top and then headed back down.

Selfie stop with our guide, David

Eileen and Belina, the lovely Basotho woman who welcomed us into her home

At the highest pub in Africa!

After we finished up recordings in Underberg, we drove on to Kate’s parents house for a break before the next leg of our journey, which is where we are now. We stopped in Pietermaritzburg along the way to meet with Professor Colleen Downs, who has done a lot of Cape parrot research, and to get lunch at a curry take-away place called The Curry Pot with one of Kate’s old university friends. Mallory and Dr. Young had cheese and chip roti, which is essentially a wrap with French fries, melted cheese, and gravy. Eileen had a bunny chow, which is a quarter of a loaf of white bread, scooped out and refilled with curry. We then made it all the way to Kate’a parents’ house and have been having a lovely time. We had fish and chips, avocado and butternut salad, and tomato and chickpea salad last night after drinks with Kate’s whole family (sister, brother-in-law, and nephews included). This morning we went to a big farmer’s and craft market for souvenir-buying and snack-eating, and now we’re watching Royal Wedding Coverage before we go to the beach in Durban!
And that's real dirt- not spray-on! 
The whole research crew: (left to right) Cassie, Kate, Dr. Young, Eileen, Mallory

Next up for us is the long drive up to the northernmost campsite in Kruger National Park to look for the grey-headed parrot. Cassie is trading out for Kate so she can head back to Hogsback to handle some stuff at the Project, so he’ll be with us for the remaining two weeks. Look forward to another update from us soon! Lekker!

Eileen and Mallory

Friday, May 18, 2018

China's National Treasure!

Names: Chelsey Butler and Catherine Jenkins
Class Year: 2019 and 2020
Hometown: Williamstown, Wv and Proctorville, Oh
Internship: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Location: Chengdu, Sichuan, China

The entrance into Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

Nî hâo from Catherine and Chelsey at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. As our second week of our ten week stay is coming to a close, we have already fell in love with the Research Base and the people here. Giant Panda's are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The main threats to the panda populations are human encroachment, deforestation, and other negative human interactions. 

This past week we have worked with many volunteers to help educate the public as well as other foreigners visiting the Base about Giant Pandas. It's a great feeling watching the visitors get excited about learning more on giant pandas, red pandas, and what they can do to help. For the past two days we have informed visitors on the various adaptations that pandas have evolved to better suit their diet. Among the many people we have educated was a local school group from Chengdu. They were so excited to learn from the staff from the Panda Base as well as learn the english names to the animals they already love.
Panda program at the metro station 

Not only have we helped educate the public we have helped the staff review the english throughout the Base, as well as many of their articles. Next week we will be moved to the husbandry department for the rest of May.

Panda Question of the Week!
Which skull shown in the picture is a Giant Panda skull? (Can you identify the other two as well?)

Models shown during our interpretive talk 

Exploring the Base has been an adventure on its own but since we are in China we also wanted to explore throughout Chengdu! We have learned that we are not good at figuring out which bus to take to get to a destination but we have successfully mastered the metro station! Last weekend we visited the Wenshu Monastery, Jinli Ancient Street, and Du Fu Thatched Cottage.