Saturday, June 3, 2017

      Traveling to China

       Miranda Smith and Madison MacElrevey
          Westerville, OH and Lewes, DE
          Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
          Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

Before I get to the good stuff.....      
For those of you who care, I'm actually writing another blog for my family and friends to read!           My posts here may be somewhat similar to the ones on my other blog, however, the ones on my other blog may be a little more in depth about each of our individual adventures. I'm kind of going to condense things on here for the sake of Madison having having her own things to talk about! If you're interested in more, my blog is on word press and is called The Girls Who Stare at Pandas!

          Greeting from China! The first month in China has been quite awesome! But I suppose I should start at the beginning of the story. 
Tuesday, May 9th at 8:30am I boarded a plane for LaGuardia to meet up with my companion Madison so we wouldn’t have to walk into China alone. 
I met up with Madison at the terminal and we flew to Detroit. The only notable thing about Detroit was the tram inside the airport! I definitely made Madison ride it with me!
                                             Our first selfie together!
So, we got on this GIANT plane headed for China! I have never seen, much less been on, a plane as big as that before. It blew my mind! This one had a second level and everything!

Shout out to the dude who gave me the peace sign!  

Two Floors!
From Detroit to Shanghai it ended up being about 13 hours. I was well aware of how hard it was going to be but because it was my first time being on a plane that long, the newness made everything kind of exciting and less crummy! You have a screen in front of you and you can pick from about 50 different movies! You can also keep track of your flight!

Yes, I am watching Moana
How awesome is that! Having a count down really keeps you sane. There was also food! Not great food, but a distraction nonetheless!
Our flight went from Detroit over the Arctic to Shanghai. We actually ended up flying way more west and then south than the original map! Here’s a picture of the Russian tundra! And our actual route!

We went way west of our original route!
We landed in China at about 6:30 pm (China time) so 6:30am (Ohio time). We got in the customs line and once we were cleared, we got our bags, went though bag security, and then rechecked our bags, then went through people security. All of that was easy; most of the airport signs have English underneath the Chinese.

Madison's first step into China! 

Everything has got English on it! Praise!  

We found our terminal just fine and sat down for a 45 min wait till our plane to Chengdu boarded at 9:05. An hour later we were still waiting. And the hour after that. And the hour after that. It was about 11pm now and all we knew was that we couldn’t leave because of “air control”.
That was frustrating because other planes were taking off and coming in this whole time! The airport around us emptied out as all the other planes boarded and left and the shops closed. Everyone was getting impatient and slowly passengers began crowding around the airport employees desk. Finally at 11:15pm they started lining us up to board!

We are happy to finally be boarding!

We got on the plane…and 45 min later we were still sitting at the airport. I think they put us on the plane just to shut everyone up. It was a lot better waiting on the plane though because they gave us food and drinks (a sandwich), the seats were cushioned, and you could just sit back and relax. We finally started moving at 12:17 but I must have fallen asleep right after because next thing I know, I wake up and it’s 2:30am. We landed in Chengdu at 3:30am! We got off the plane and followed everybody else to the baggage claim, because the Chengdu Airport has a lot less English on the signs. 

Now comes my favorite part of that day! While we were waiting for our bags Madison went to the bathroom and when she came back she had a smile on her face and said “Guess what” and I replied “Squatty potties?” and she answered “oh yeah”, and then I grabbed my phone and literally ran to the bathroom. I have been hearing about these toilets for months now and I was dying to try it out.

Judge me if you will, but I think they are kind of fun! Not hard at all!
Anyways, we got our bags and then we called the girl from the college who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Our plane was 3 hours late and it was 3:30 in the morning, so we were pretty positive no one would be there to get us. She didn’t answer the phone and as we walked toward the doors Madison and I chatted about what we would do if we didn’t get a call back. Thankfully, right as we got to the doors we saw a girl standing outside with my name on a sign. It was good knowing after all of that travel, we wouldn’t have to sleep on a bench in the Chengdu airport until morning!

They hired a driver to take us to the University!

We spent the next hour in a car going to Southwest Jiaotong University, our home for the next three months! That’s actually a lie….but we didn’t know that at the time, so you will have to wait for that story! Cliff hanger!!!

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!