Sunday, July 26, 2015

"And at last I see the light"

Name: Kelly Jackson

Class/Year: Class of 2017, Junior
Hometown: Waterford, Wisconsin
Location: Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Internship: Animal Behavior Research
            Our data collection has been very interesting this past week! The keepers put two of the cubs in with the mom, both inside and outside. In the wild, the mother may give birth to two cubs, but will give her care and attention to only one. This is one of the many reasons the giant panda is an endangered animal.  Therefore, I was very intrigued to see how the mother interacted with the two cubs. From what I noticed, she did not sway her attention specifically to one of the two cubs. In fact she would jump up and bite one of pandas, and then the next second come barreling across the enclosure and knock over the other panda! When we look at the data, maybe we will be able to detect a difference.
            Speaking of data, Macie and I have been busy compiling our final sheets. We have been making separate sheets for each panda, but in order to analyze it, we need to put all panda data, both Macie’s and mine into one document. James has told us we will be using SPSS to look at our data. He told us it is what most researchers and scientific papers use when they analyze their data. Essentially, it is like Microsoft Excel, and it with various programs you can look at different aspects. I’ve downloaded a couple sample books (the actual ones are almost $100!) to get a sense of how to use it, and it doesn’t appear too hard to master!
            In addition to SPSS, James’ friend, Jake, also introduced Macie and I to another statistics program, called R. He told us if you can learn R, you will definitely be a high candidate for graduate school. With R, you can design and apply your own programs. If you wanted to look at hormonal levels in correlation with temperature and altitude, you enter in a specific code, and the program will do the rest. However, it is very difficult to use, because you personally have to figure out your own codes and enter them in, and if you don’t know how to code, you’re out of luck. Out of curiosity, I downloaded R to my computer (yes, it is free from the internet) and it is just a blank screen with a box where you input your codes. Basically, I was completely lost on what to do after I downloaded it. James told us R is one, if not the, hardest statistical model to use, and with our project, we will not be using it. Phew! However, I am interested in figuring out R. Like my softball coach always says, “Love the challenge!” ;)
            On Tuesday, Macie and I got to watch a talk by the one and only David Kersey, from Western University. He talked about renal endocrinology and how it relates to the giant panda.  He spoke in English, while another veterinarian and James’ friend, Luo Li, translated for him. His talk had two parts, first about the renin-angiotensin system. During this he told us about how the kidney works dealing with renin and angiotensinogen. Essentially what happens is there are renin and angiotensinogen work together within the kidney, create different hormones, and keep sodium, water reabsorption, as well as blood pressure in check. When the animals has a constant supply of water, it can achieve this balance, and its’ kidneys should function properly. However, it the animal is stressed or does not have proper nutrition, it can lead to kidney problems. A high amount of stress causes low blood pressure, which makes it harder for the panda to function since their glucocorticoids (in this case, cortisol) would not be expressed. Also, if the animal does not reabsorb water, it will lead to an increase in sodium. High amounts of sodium in the blood lead to dehydration, which we all know is not good for any creature. The second part dealt with calcium homeostasis. It is vital for the panda to have calcium homeostasis, because otherwise it can lead to kidney problems. When the blood calcium in the panda is low, hormones will be released, which will convert Vitamin D from its’ inactive form to active. Calcium absorption will then occur, which will lead to an increase in blood calcium, and therefore homeostasis will occur again. However, if not enough Vitamin D is received, it will unable to be converted from inactive to active. In general pandas are prone to having kidney problems, due to their interesting diets. One of the panda workers was talking to David Kersey about how they are in the process of finding various nutrition options for the pandas, but it has been difficult due to the panda’s biology, so his talk to them was helpful in taking the next step. The talk went on for about an hour or so, and was very specific and highly informational. A lot of contextual vocabulary was used, but the graphics were great to have as a guide! I thoroughly enjoyed the talk, and ended up looking up more information about all the various parts of endocrinology later on. Needless to say, I think I’ll stick with the behavioral aspect. :P
            Later that night we went out with everyone to dinner for James’ birthday! It was a restaurant called the Lazy Pug. The food was great, and so was the tiramisu (yum)! Macie and I made James a nice card with cool pictures of cows that we drew, since that was one of the few things we knew how to draw. We also got him a book, and quite possibly the weirdest gift I have ever given anyone. We all talked and ate; it was a nice night out! :)
            The rest of the week went by super quickly, watching the cubs, collecting red panda poop, and entering in data. Before we knew it, it was Friday. Macie and I decided to go back to Jinli Street to get our Chinese teacher, Eldora, a present before our last lesson. We had a man engrave the symbol of “friendship” into a little bead. The bead went on a red string, which Eldora can now hang in her room as a reminder of us. :) After we got Eldora her present, Macie and I ate at the Tibetan restaurant just outside of Jinli. It was the best meal Macie and I have ordered by ourselves thus far. We had a yak meat and noodle soup, buttered crumpets, and delicious tea! 
            The next day at our Chinese lesson we learned a lot of new animals! From gorilla to dolphin to kangaroo, we covered just about every animal at the Columbus zoo. In addition, Eldora told us about the holidays and traditions they have here in China. Instead of celebrating one Valentine’s Day, they actually celebrate it twice, once in February and again in July. They also have the Spring and Autumn Festival, where decorations are hung everywhere, families gather, and celebrate with fireworks and fun! Also, we told Eldora about some of the holidays we celebrate in America. As we talked about our traditions and drank some delicious Chinese tea Eldora gave us, time flew by, and before we knew it our lesson was over. We treated Eldora to lunch and gave her our gift of the decoration, some chocolates, colored animal drawings, and a panda ring! She really enjoyed her gift. Eventually we said goodbye, and we wished Eldora safe travels as she headed out for her own adventure around China with her boyfriend. I am really going to miss Eldora. She is an amazing teacher, and a great friend. Thankfully we have each other on WeChat, and I will definitely be staying in touch with her! I hope I can return to China again soon, and I can visit her in her hometown. :)
      The past few days have truly been an eye opening experience for me, however there is one I will never forget. Walking around Jinli Street at night was one of the most indescribable things I have ever experience. There were so many lights and lanterns, along with soothing music playing in the background. It was exactly what I imagined China to be like, and yet it was so much more. If you have ever seen Tangled, I felt like Rapunzel in the movie when she sees the floating lanterns for the first time, not from her room. It was then I realized how little time Macie and I have left here in Chengdu. We have only two more weeks here at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. :( I am truly going to miss watching all of the little cubs, as well as the people we have gotten to work with. We have done so much here, yet I feel as though we have a lot left to explore! :)

Selfie with Zhenduo :P

Qi Qiao :)

The various birds of China: two female peacocks, male peacock on the left, and an egret on the right!

The floating lanterns of Jinli Street :)

Amazing Tibetan food Macie and I ordered all by ourselves! :D

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