Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hi from the Wilds! (Again)

My name is Mollie Kemp, and I just finished my junior year at Otterbein where I am a Zoo and Conservation science and Equine Pre-Vet double major. So for those of you have been following this blog, you've probably already read Rachel's intro post- but just in case you did not, I'll give you a quick run through (though you should check out her post too, :) ) Anyway, I am spending 10 weeks at the Wilds as a research intern. The Wilds is an incredible facility, the largest conservation facility in North America that stretches over 10,000 acres. All sorts of animals are managed here -- some native species, some highly endangered. Over my ten weeks at the Wilds, I will be researching terrestrial salamanders and the impact that Autumn Olive trees may have upon them. Autumn Olives are an invasive species that is found widely on reclaimed mine sites, like the Wilds. More about the reclaimed land aspect of the Wilds in a little bit!

Anyway... I'll walk you guys through my first couple days here at the Wilds! Rachel and I both arrived on Friday and were both struck with how beautiful it is out here... and how nice our cabin is! We have a deck that overlooks the lake behind the cabins, I mean, what more can you ask for? One of our roommates, who is an apprentice for the Restoration Ecology department, told us about the beaver dam outback, and we have been frequently checking it to try and catch a glimpse of the beaver family! The birds are also great in number out here- you hear all sorts of new calls. I'm glad Rachel is along on this trip with me, not only is she great in general, but she also knows her bird calls, so she can usually tell me what is what. We found a Baltimore Oriole one morning, which was so cool, especially to me as a native Marylander (it's our state bird.) Rachel and I also spotted a Red Fox one night driving back to our cabin! The wildlife here is just so neat! Rachel and I also went for exploring trip on the Sunday before our internship orientation started and went to the Birding station that sits on the Wilds grounds. It is quite a view up there and it was so neat to look over the property, and see the bison calmly grazing and hear the endless chatter of birds. Beyond cool.

This is the view of my back porch. Pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.
The view from the birding station!

We finally saw our friend the beaver!!! So neat. Can't wait to observe these guys more!
Monday was our first day of orientation, in which went over basic rules, and heard talks from Joe Greathouse, the director of Conservation Science here and Shana Byrd, the director of Restoration Ecology. We learned a lot about the history of the Wilds- which was once a land that looked like the moon- stripped of all life, literally, when it was strip mined from the 1940s-1980s. I think that is one of the things I appreciate most about the Wilds- that it was produced out of such horrible looking circumstances, yet still can have such impact on the world of conservation. Out of a seemingly bad situation, came something so good (cue analogy about life.) The land still presents its own challenges, especially when it comes to growing trees and other plants, as the soil is extremely compacted. Invasive species, like the Autumn Olive, which undergoes nitrogen fixation, was planted during the reclamation before the Wilds existed, and is still a problem today. There is Autumn Olive all over property, which can out compete the native plant species. There are many on going projects that focus on planting native trees, or prairie land restorations, wetland restorations and so on. The goal is not only to create great habitats for the species the Wilds actively manages, but also a great area for native species to thrive as well.

On our second day, we got to go on a pasture tour (!!!!!) where we got to experience what the guest see and all of the great species the Wilds manages. It was beyond exciting, interesting, and beautiful. There are so few places left on this planet where you can watch a herd of rhinos mosey around in a large group, out on acres and acres of land, without having to worry about being poached, or being confined to a small space. I can't even completely put into words how great it is to see animals out in these large areas. Anyway, here's some picture from the tour:

Persian Onagers!

Sichuan Takin!

My new favorite- the Dhole! They were so fun to watch.

Momma giraffe and baby! What a treat it is to look out over the horizon and see giraffes!

Scimitar Oryx. Notice the calves!

Bactrian Camels! They were incredibly close to us.

I'm looking forward to telling you all more about my individual project in future post. On Friday, I will be learning my basic field protocol. Should be interesting! 

Until next time,

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hello from the Wilds!

Rachel Dalton-- The Wilds

Name: Rachel Dalton
Class Year: 2016
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Internship: Conservation Science Research Intern, The Wilds
Location: Cumberland, OH

Hi! My name is Rachel Dalton, I just finished my sophomore year as a Zoo and Conservation Science major at Otterbein, and I am very excited to be a research intern at the Wilds this summer! The Wilds is a ~10,000 acre safari park and conservation center (the largest in the country!), located in Cumberland, OH. It is home to many species, both exotic and native, as well as a diverse array of conservation, restoration ecology, and animal health management research initiatives. I will be working in the conservation science area, examining the potential use of eDNA detection and quantification via qPCR for assessing proximity/distribution of Indian rhino populations! More on that soon J

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be here with my fellow Otterbein student, zoo major, research lab member (shout-out to the Young lab!), and awesome friend, Mollie! There are 8 other conservation science interns, and 3 restoration ecology interns that are participating in the Wilds Scholars intern program as well. 

Mollie and I rocking our awesome uniform shirts! We were also keeping an eye out for beavers-- there is a beaver lodge in the lake right behind our cabin!

We had orientation for the first two days of this week. On Monday, we learned about the Wilds itself, including its history as a former surface mine and the restoration process that followed (and is still very much continuing to this day), logistical matters such as how to access administrative buildings and field work sites, navigating inside and around the perimeter of the grounds, all about the Conservation Science and Restoration Ecology programs here at the Wilds from Directors Joe Greathouse and Shana Byrd, and more. We also received our name badges and uniform shirts!

 Today we had an open air bus tour and got to see all of the animal pastures and such, which was fun. Here are a few pics:

Sichuan takin


African wild dog

Southern white rhinos!

Scimitar horned oryx. Note the babies :)

A dhole, which is an Asiatic wild dog.

Bactrian camels

The Wilds is beautiful.


This afternoon we also had the opportunity to have Rick Dietz, who is Vice President of the Wilds, and Dan Beetem, the Director of Animal Management, come and speak to our group about what they do. I was especially fascinated by the greater detail that Dan provided regarding the Wilds’ involvement in the Sichuan takin project. The Wilds works with a Sichuan takin conservation organization in China to help monitor and promote conservation of populations over there (Sichuan takin are very endangered), and is able to develop techniques for doing so with its Sichuan takin herd here in Ohio. This includes developing tracking collars, anesthesia techniques, herd behavior ethograms, and more. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but it would be problematic if, for example, one were to develop tracking collars, take them over to China, and then discover they are easily removed/destroyed by takin. So, developing and figuring out things like that here first is really helpful. Dan also spoke about how genomics will likely be incorporated into captive breeding programs in the future. Being able to sequence the genomes of breeding individuals would allow those involved in managing breeding programs to get a very accurate picture of the relatedness of individuals. Maximizing and maintaining genetic diversity in captive breeding populations is very important (inbreeding can result in less healthy/less fit offspring), and genomics would contribute significantly to this. 

Tomorrow we will learn about how to care for the larval hellbenders being raised here at the Wilds. Hellbenders are an endangered, stream-dwelling amphibian, and the Wilds is working on a reintroduction project with the goal of reestablishing hellbender populations here in Ohio. The interns will be assigned days to do hellbender care.

I am so excited and thankful for the opportunity to be here, and can't wait to get started on my study! I will post again soon with more info about my project and other adventures. For now, I am off to go hunt for more eDNA journal articles J