Thursday, July 10, 2014

Meaghan Graver - San Diego Zoo Global

Name: Meaghan Graver
Class Year: 2016
Hometown: Enon, OH
Internship: Conservation Education Intern, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Location: Escondido, CA

Palm Oil
So, for this summer I am focusing on the palm oil issue. This is a really big deal! Palm oil is in virtually everything, from shampoo to cookies! Sometimes, you don’t even realize the product you’re using has palm oil in it! (See attached link to 50(!) names for palm oil) It is the most used vegetable oil in the world, and rightfully so. Oil palm, the plant from which palm oil is derived, yields much more oil per acre than any other plant! So what’s the issue? The demand for palm oil is causing an increase in oil palm plantations. It’s where all the money’s at. Unfortunately because of this, loggers are clearing most of the rainforests. They often utilize the “slash and burn” method, where everything viable is taken and the remaining land is burned. Because of oil palm plantations, and roads to access them, much of the natural rainforest is being destroyed. This is not good because it takes away the natural habitat of many endemic species. Many species are now endangered or threatened due to the effects of deforestation; but, there is hope! As a response to this crisis, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established with the vision of ensuring all palm oil on the market is sustainable (e.g. not harming species). Many corporations are members of the RSPO which means they are committed to selling only sustainable products (check out links at the end to find out more).

Picture taken at the Orangutan enclosure at the San Diego Zoo

What Else Have I Been Doing?

In addition to reading, I developed a human behavioral study and have been in the San Diego Zoo observing visitors around the palm oil signage. Now I am gearing up to survey people about their palm oil knowledge! I’ve also had the opportunity to talk with some pretty cool people including the head of the Zoo Education department! I’ve gone behind the scenes with the tigers and learned a lot from the lion and elephant keepers. I hope to get to talk with the Red Panda Keepers sometime before I leave! I've also been sure to spend lots of time just enjoying the Zoo and Safari Park! 

The California Experience
So while in sunny Southern California, I’ve also been sure to do some exploring. From Hellhole Canyon to the beach, weekends are certainly busy. Macie and I have finally narrowed down a beach we think is pretty cool (there’s less kelp) but now that we’re schmoozing with the locals who knows! We’ve tried the highly built up California Burrito – it has French fries in it. It’s pretty good. We’ve also experienced the madness that is the San Diego County Fair. IT’S HUGE!

You can almost see the seals at La Jolla

Fun Facts!
-Some of the tigers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are still young enough that they enjoy being together in pairs. However for the keepers, who need fecal samples from each individual daily, this can be tricky. How do they fix it? GLITTER! The tigers ingest different colored glitter every few days to ensure that their feces are identifiable.
-San Diego County has more biodiversity than any other county in North America!
Check out this site for lots of information including 50 names that palm oil is also called:
Philadelphia Zoo UNLESS project (Personally love this project especially because they make use of my fave quote):

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Conservation Education at the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research

Hi all! It’s hard to believe that Meaghan and I are already over halfway through our internships with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. We have both been busy with our own research projects: hers focusing on the Palm Oil issue and mine focusing on the conservation of Vaquita, the smallest known species of porpoise and most endangered marine mammal in the world. The largest portion of this internship has allowed me to develop student activities to promote education and conservation efforts with the Ridge to Reef curriculum, more specifically for the Vaquita, which may be applied to a teacher workshop series that will take place in San Felipe, Mexico. In addition to this, I have had the opportunity to expand my knowledge on the complexity of changing human conservation behaviors, develop a teacher workshop based on inquiry learning, go behind the scenes of the new Tiger Trail exhibit (which is incredible), learn basic field research techniques, practice surveying guests, and meet some of the most welcoming, inspirational people I have ever been fortunate enough to work with.   
Here are a few pics from around the Zoo and Safari Park:
In the five short weeks since arriving in Escondido, CA I have had the opportunity to not only partake in an amazing internship, but also explore this incredibly diverse area. The beaches and hiking destinations have all been beautiful and I’ve been able to explore places such as the Del Mar Fair, Balboa Park (and museums), downtown San Diego, a Padres game, Birch Aquarium, and of course the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. I look forward to exploring more of the San Diego area and seeing what else I will be able to accomplish through this internship over the upcoming weeks.
Here are a few pics from different beaches, Balboa Park, the Del Mar fair, and Birch Aquarium:

Conservation Camp

This week was quite different for me. Instead of working at the zoo with the keepers, I played camp councilor to 32 Belizian kids ages 12-17. They were here for the week and learned about the conservation efforts and struggles in their country. They had guest speakers about the lionfish issue, scarlet macaw poaching, and problem jaguars. They also watched several documentaries about conservation and what they can do to help, and (partly due to my recommendation) they also watched The Lorax. Although I missed the zoo and caring for the animals, I learned so much about the country through the eyes of these kids, and got a much better understanding of their relationship with the wildlife around them. We also went on many trips, from Mayan ruins to cave systems. I got to see a lot of the country I wouldn't have been able to have under normal circumstances. 
Here are some of the pictures of my week with the campers. 
First zoo tour. 
Feeding jags with Sharon. 
Hiking in the bush. 
Cave exploring. 
Field trip to Lamanai the Mayan ruins. 
I made a lot of great friends at camp and it was a week I won't forget. Everyone here was so incredibly accepting of me, which is something I love about this beautiful place. I'll admit it, I didn't know how to be in charge of kids, but we had fun and we all learned a lot from each other. 

It really made me wish that there were things like this in the states. Something that teaches the importance of water and recycling and conserving species. Children especially are who we are going to rely on, and I think Belize and the zoo are making great strides with this camp and educating its youth. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Tale of Many Water Samples

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

Amazingly, we are now in week 8 out of our 10 weeks here at the Wilds! I cannot believe how quickly time has gone. Our final few weeks will definitely be a sprint to the finish as the time for data collection finishes up and data analysis/Results & Discussion writing/poster & powerpoint making begins. During our last few weekly class sessions we have been learning how to use "R", a code-based statistics program, to analyze data. I found R a little intimidating initially, but I am becoming more comfortable with it. Here is a screenshot of what working in R looks like:

We have also been learning about some of the more advanced multivariate statistical tests, such as principle component analysis, analysis of similarity, etc. A lot of my fellow interns have studies that incorporate multiple environmental variables and call for these more intense, heavy-duty stats. They are a little more challenging to wrap your mind around, but I have read other primary literature papers that use them, so I thought it was really helpful to go over them and gain a better understanding of how they are used.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been collecting and filtering water samples from the lakes we are attempting to detect rhino eDNA in. Because we are trying to filter out any DNA or DNA-containing tissue fragments, the filters we use are quite intense in terms of their ability to catch very small particulate matter-- including any silt or dirt suspended in the water. As such, filtering is a quite time consuming step. This may sound less than thrilling to some, but, I recently discovered that there are a lot of David Attenborough documentaries on Netflix! So, while I am filtering for extended periods of time, I am also learning about humpback whales, wolves, birds of paradise, and much more. What zoology nerd does not love a good David Attenborough wildlife documentary? 

This week I will be collecting and filtering the last of the water samples we need, and then a plethora of DNA extraction and PCR work begins! I am really excited to see how far down the lake system we will be able to detect rhino eDNA. Not much eDNA work has been done with terrestrial mammals yet. 

One of the lakes in the rhino pastures that we sampled.

Here's one of the residents of the rhino pastures-- Sonya the Indian rhino. She was grazing a little distance away, looking over at us occasionally.

Here I am taking water samples from one of the wetlands!

Wading through wetlands in the name of science! I had a sampling site that was beyond this stream. 

The rushes and reeds around the wetlands are so tall! They often tower several feet above us.

PS: It's Mollie's birthday today! Happy Birthday Mollie!
I don't always have eDNA work to do everyday, so when this is the case, I often go out in the field with another intern assisting them with whatever they are surveying/studying. Mollie and I have logged quite a few hours trekking through the wilderness together now in search of the ever elusive terrestrial salamanders. Here's Mollie blazing a trail through some rather dense forest brush! 

My last round of filtering for the day is finishing as I type this, so I will leave you now with a few more facts about the Indian rhino. They are the largest of the three Asian rhino species (the other two species are the Sumatran and Javan rhinos), and are capable of reaching speeds of 30mph when charging. They have fairly poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and a very sharp sense of smell. 

Until next time,