Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hello from the National Zoo in South Africa (posted for Quentin who has limited internet!)

Name: Quentin VanHoose
Class Year: Senior - Class of 2018
Hometown: Waynesville, Ohio
Internship: National Research Foundation Intern
Location: National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

Hello/Hallo/Sanibonani/Molo/Thobela/Dumela/Dumela/Abusheni/Sanibona/Avuwani/Salibonani from South Africa! My name is Quentin VanHoose, and I am a third-year-senior Zoo and Conservation Science major here in this beautiful country for an internship with the National Research Foundation at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in the country’s capital city of Pretoria. That greeting might seem a little excessive, but South Africa isn’t known as the “Rainbow Nation” for nothing! There are 11 official languages spoken here and so many more cultures.. It has been an incredible experience being able to get glimpses into several of them so far in start of my three-month South African adventure, and it hasn’t been hard to do as every single person I have met so far in South Africa has been so incredibly friendly and so very willing to help me out in any way possible.
That said, it is hard to believe that one month of said adventure has already almost passed! For my first two weeks in the country, I was taking part in an Otterbein “Maymester” course, Large Animal Ecology and Conservation, during which we travelled across this beautiful country visiting many different from places from the fynbos scrub of the Eastern Cape, to the high desert Karoo surrounding the town of Oudtshoorn and the coastal town of Mossel Bay in the Western Cape, all the way up to the world-famous Kruger National Park in Limpopo, learning about the many different wildlife management styles and human-wildlife interactions across this diverse country - of course stopping to admire the magnificent wildlife itself along the way. While I watched the sunset on that portion of my adventure, I since watched it rise over a new adventure when. just a little over a week ago, I arrived here at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in the capital city of Pretoria in the central province of Gauteng for my internship with the National Research Foundation that is based here.
African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) cow and calf in Kruger National Park, Limpopo.

Going into this summer, I knew that I wanted to gain experience and knowledge in fields that I had very little to no previous experience in a new and exciting place, and that is why this internship with the National Research Foundation was a perfect fit! While I have never quite thought that my career path would lead me down a road of extensive laboratory research, I knew that I wanted to at least have the experience of working in such an environment and seeing how such an important part of conservation as a whole functions. For the desires of such experiences, there is no better place than the National Research Foundation! It is a truly impressive and accomplished establishment with some of the world’s top conservation researchers, with an overwhelming number of projects in wildlife forensics, endocrinology, parasitology, and conservation genetics.
For my first two weeks here at the National Research Foundation, I am essentially shadowing as many of the staff members here as I can to get an idea of their projects, what specific types of research entail, and to decide what sort of project I want to take on for the full two month period that I am here afterwards. In just the first week, I have met and learned from so many amazing researchers, phD students, master’s students, and interns (with whom I am quickly making friends!), and I am sure that the coming week will be just the same. I have actually already began to gain some practical experience! In my first week, I have already run a full PCR (polymerase chain reaction - used to isolate and amplify a specific DNA sequence or gene) process from start to finish on a strand of parvovirus under the guidance of a wonderful phD student (Almero) and intern (Doudoune). Having learned quite a bit about the PCR process and gone through some of its steps in my Genetics course at Otterbein with Dr. Lehman, it was very fulfilling to call on that knowledge and put it to practical use.
Creating the “Master Mix” for the PCR process - it contains all of the primers, polymerases, water, and minerals needed to amplify all of your samples.
While my first week and half here at the National Research Foundation has certainly been packed with astounding laboratory research observations and discussions, I have absolutely had the chance to partake in some amazing other experiences as well. The first of which was last Wednesday when I joined one of the zoo’s veterinarians, Jenny, veterinary technician, Sabbath, and two wildlife forensics interns on a sample collection trip to a private bird collection at a business park in Krugersdorp, a town about two hours away from Pretoria. The trafficking of wild-caught blue and South African grey crowned cranes chicks as captive-born progeny is a major problem in South Africa, and the National Research Foundation and the National Zoological Gardens are working to sample captive and wild specimens of both species to build a database to compare individuals being transported to to try and crack down on the problem. To witness the official chain-of-custody sampling process and everything it entails was incredibly interesting! Every single step of the process from unpacking the kit to sealing the sample bag is photographed.

A blue crane (Anthropoides paradisea) at Birds of Eden in Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape.

The very next day, while I was helping to restore the labs after a recent renovation by creating a new booking board for lab equipment and laminating new signs for all of the labs, the veterinary technician, Sabbath, called upon me to go a witness “something cool with an owl” at the veterinary hospital, which is directly across from the research laboratories. When I arrived, I was greeted with a spotted eagle-owl laid out on the table to repair a fracture in its wing! While am, honestly, quite squeamish around such things, I was still very excited to be able to have the opportunity and privilege to observe an entire surgery from start to finish on such a beautiful animal! It was an incredible experience, and fingers crossed that the owl will make a speedy recovery.
A spotted eagle-owl (Bubo africanus) in Kruger National Park, Limpopo.
I just returned this morning from a weekend trip to the zoo’s off-site center in Mokopane, a small town in the Limpopo province, about two-and-a-half hours away. The center is known as the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre, and it serves as a holding and breeding center for the zoo’s collection and includes a 1600-hectare game reserve filled with hoofstock, including a large fenced-in enclosure for a breeding herd of the rare and incredible beautiful roan antelope. I travelled to the center with Professor Antoinette Kotze, the director of the National Research Foundation, Dr. Juan Scheun, a resident phD endocrinologist, Dr. Helen Taylor, a visiting researcher from New Zealand, specializing in inbreeding in small populations of native New Zealand birds, and Warren Spencer, the Curator of Mammals at the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand, and were lead by the incredibly knowledgeable manager of the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre, Mark Howitt. The five of us spent the weekend touring the facilities, going on game drives, having traditional Afrikaner braais (being a vegetarian, I had to sit these South African barbeques out), and sharing stories around the fire late at night and around cups of coffee and tea with rusks (traditional Afrikaner hard biscuits for dunking) in the early morning. It made for an absolutely wonderful weekend - enjoying time in the South African bush and learning so much from some absolute experts in their field with so much knowledge to share.
Two giraffe bulls (Giraffa sp.)  necking at the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre in Mokopane, Limpopo.
While touring the facilities at the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre, I absolutely fell in love with the herd of roan antelope! They are absolutely magnificent creatures, and luckily enough, there are a number of projects that both the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre and the National Research Foundation are wanting to look into with the species, including inter and intraspecific interactions a feeding sites, parentage, parasite-resistance analysis, and hybridization analyses (as West African roan have been brought into South Africa by game ranchers and it is a distinct subspecies from the subspecies found in South Africa). I am absolutely enthralled by the idea of working with the species and gaining both field and laboratory research experience, so if all works out, the roan will be my project!
A southern roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus equinus) at the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre in Mokopane, Limpopo.
            And that brings me up to today! I am so very excited to see what the rest of my two month adventure in South Africa has in store for me, and I cannot wait to share it with you all either!

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