Monday, October 10, 2011

Coming out of the Black Hole

Sorry for the disappearing act! At the end of July I returned to the USA, and in the end of August I started more classes towards my PhD at the University of Florida. This is my toughest semester yet- I'm taking Phylogenetics, Bio Chemisty, and a Physiology seminar plus continuing my job fulltime. It's challenging to say the least, and I'm really looking forward to finishing the semester in December! This is my last semester of full classes, then in January I start studying for my qualifying exams, which I'll take next April. There are many days where it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I do think this will all help my research for West African manatees in the long run, so it's worth it. The classes I'm taking now will certainly benefit my genetics research for the species.

In other news, as of September 1 the Wildlife Conservation Society in Gabon decided they could no longer care for Victor, the orphan manatee calf there. Those of us directly involved with Victor's care decided we couldn't stand by and watch him be abandoned, so 4 of us (myself, Dr. Rich Parnell, Aimee Sanders, and Dr. Ken Cameron) took over responsibility for Victor's care and fundraising. This has been hard to do on top of everything else we're doing in ourregular jobs, but we quickly put the word out that we needed help and have had very generous responses from Save the Manatee Club, whose donors bought 100 bags of milk formula plus vitamins for Victor, and Georgia Aquarium, who recently gave a $7000 donation for his care!
We thank both organizations for their incredible generosity which is a great start in allowing us to give Victor the extra year of care he needs before he can hopefully be returned to the wild. As of last week Victor weighs 61 kg, so he is continuing to thrive. We are still fundraising because his food, shipping of his supplies to Gabon, paying his Gabonese caretaker staff, veterinary costs and other maintenance costs are over $38,000 per year. If you are able to make a donation, please click here. (Under the Program drop-down menu, please select West African Manatee Research). All donations go directly to Victor! We appreciate the help very much!

I'd also like to thank two of my project funders, the USFWS Wildlife Without Borders program and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, who both recently awarded my project renewal grants! This is the 4th consecutive year Disney has supported my project and the 3rd year for USFWS, so I am very grateful to be able to continue building the African researcher regional network and to continue the genetics and other research that will give us lots of important new information for the species.

The biennial Society of Marine Mammalogy conference is coming up next month, so I'm now preparing my presentations- a talk and two scientific posters, which I'll post here after the conference. I'm also preparing for the arrival in Florida of Cameroonian manatee researcher Aristide Kamla, who was awarded a travel grant to attend the conference and present his Masters research on manatees in the Douala-Edea region of Cameroon. Kamla will also receive 2 additional weeks of training while he's here in Florida- in everything from manatee capture techniques, tracking tagged manatees in the wild to necropsies. I'm grateful to my colleagues at Sea to Shore Alliance, USGS, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for providing so many training opportunities for Kamla.