Friday, June 13, 2014

Wild Encounters at the Wilds

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

Hello again from beautiful Cumberland, OH! It’s been warmer here over the last couple of weeks, interspersed with the occasional monsoon (when it rains here, it rains pretty impressively!). I just came back inside from standing on our deck and listening to the wood thrushes sing. They are very abundant in the treed areas around here, and I love hearing them in the evenings. The other night I also heard a barred owl hooting, which was neat.

 One of the things I have been working on this week is finishing/proofreading the Intro section of my paper. All of the interns are required to write a full scientific paper about their project, which if you are not already familiar with this, includes Introduction, Methods & Materials, Results, and Discussion/Conclusions sections, as well as an abstract, works cited, etc.  We also have to format our paper according to the requirements of a primary literature journal that publishes work similar to our project. I decided to write mine with the formatting requirements of the Journal of Wildlife Management, as there are several papers about eDNA monitoring published in it. We will also be responsible for making a scientific poster and PowerPoint presentation to share the results of our studies. The 8 students with the best posters as selected by the Chief Science Officer at the Wilds, Dr. Barbara Wolfe, will present them at the Columbus Zoo on the last day of our internship. 

I have also been perfecting my DNA extraction skills as of late, and am now to the point where I can do it independently (woohoo!). I recently did a DNA extraction from Indian rhino tissue! I am also learning how to do qPCR right now, which I am excited about. Looking forward to applying these skills with Indian rhino eDNA very soon!

Speaking of some of favorite perissodactylids…  Last week, fellow interns Katie and Evan and I had the opportunity to visit the rhino barn and spend some time with Julia the white rhino! 

Needless to say, I was more than a little excited about this! Julia is a beauty, and seemed quite content to receive some pats and scratches behind the ears from interns who were all too happy to give them. It was a really neat experience. 

Something I have been realizing more and more is just how much I am learning during my time here. I’m learning a lot about eDNA and rhinos of course through my research, but I have also had opportunities to  learn from quite a few people here at the Wilds who are not only extremely knowledgeable, but also very willing to share their knowledge (something I am very thankful for and have benefited greatly from!). 

A hellbender!
 Image courtesy of the Wilds' Facebook page.
As an example of this, last Friday after completing  hellbender morning care I had the opportunity to observe Dr. Don Neiffer, who is a veterinarian here at the Wilds, do physical exams on four adult hellbenders. I am very interested in pursuing a career in zoo veterinary medicine, so I was excited about this. I was expecting to simply observe quietly in the background, but Dr. Neiffer was really great about making it into a fantastic, interactive learning experience for the other interns and I. He taught us about various aspects of amphibian biology, common problems in amphibian medicine, etc by asking us questions. He would ask us things like “What can you tell me about the ammonia cycle?” or “What are the names of the major groups of amphibians?” or “Do any mammals have cloacas? Which ones?” I really appreciated that he took the time to do this, as it kept me on my toes and I learned a lot!

As another example of learning cool things from really neat people, 
Mollie and I had the opportunity to tag along with our supervisor/instructor, Joe Greathouse, and fellow intern Katie on a trip to the giraffe barn later that same day. Katie is working on a project that involves developing alternative browse sources for the giraffes. On our way there, Joe told us all about different diet-related health issues that can occur in giraffes, previous experiences he has had in caring for them during his time as a zoo keeper, different nutritional aspects of different browse sources, etc. I was fascinated. And getting to feed two of the giraffes was a lot of fun, too J It is truly hard to appreciate just how tall they are until you are on ground level right next to them! 

One of the Indian rhinos residing at the Wilds.
I've decided for the remainder of my posts I will close with a fun fact or two that I have learned related to the biology of rhinos! Many people assume that all species of rhinos have essentially the same diets, but this is actually not the case. The two species of rhinos that live at the Wilds are a great example of this. The southern white rhino is a strictly grazing species, whereas the Indian rhino is both a grazer and a browser (able to eat leaves off of trees). This is because the Indian rhino has a skeletal build that allows it to lift its head higher than the southern white rhino, as well as a prehensile upper lip that is very handy for stripping leaves off of branches.