Thursday, April 26, 2012

Time To Go!

Sunday morning I head out the door and back to Africa! My doctoral qualifying exams are finished and I'm now an official PhD candidate! So now I'm really excited to get back out to the field. I'll spend the next 3 months in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and hopefully the Gambia, where I'll be collecting data and samples, doing surveys, and training African colleagues. I'm armed with my camera as well as a new video camera, so I hope to finally be able to get some decent video of our fieldwork to post. So I'm off....once I figure out how to fit it all in my luggage, that is!

New book from Save Our Seas Foundation

Save Our Seas Foundation has published a lovely new book highlighting the work they support, including my West African manatee research. Click here to access a web version, and scroll to page 51 to see the West African manatee section.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Trainee is Now a Trainer!

I am so impressed and proud! Aristide Kamla, who came to Florida for training last November, has already held his own training workshop in Cameroon! Last weekend Kamla provided training in data collection and use of field equipment (including collecting environmental data, looking for signs of manatee feeding, identification of manatee food plants, and of course how to search for the manatees themselves) at Lake Ossa, where he conducted his own Masters research. Four students attended, and all are working on their Masters degrees at University of Dschang and University of Douala (two at each school), and several hope to study manatees. The group was also accompanied by Kamla's advisor from the University of Dschang, a local wildlife officer, and three boat drivers.

Kamla teaching the students how to fill out datasheets and use field equipment befiore setting out on the Lake.
 Kamla and his advisor (middle) with two of the students.

 This is an amazing effort and exactly what I hoped for when I began training African colleagues- that they would use their knowledge not only to research and conserve manatees, but to train others in their countries and increase the capacity of others for conservation. Kudos to Kamla and his team, I think manatees have new hope for long-term survival in Cameroon!

Monday, April 09, 2012


Some of you may recall my joyous posting on January 25, when I received the export permits for the samples from Mali after waiting 13 months. Well, as I predicted, shipping the samples would turn out to be another challenge. I spent several weeks setting up a DHL corporate account so that my African colleagues wouldn't need to pay for shipping and wait for reimbursement, which takes time and would be difficult for them. There were some hoops to jump through to set up the account, but my very own customer service rep, Erik, has been extremely helpful. Then the big day came when my colleague in Mali, Colonel Timbo, was ready to pack up the samples and send them. And that was the day I woke up to find out there had been a coup in Mali. Doesn't it just figure? So the entire capital shut down and everyone waited for the government to work its issues out. Finally, several weeks later businesses re-opened and the samples went out. Lucky thing too, because the day after they left, rebels seized control of the northern part of the country and all businesses closed again. I'm saddened for the people of Mali and the struggles they are going through, and I hope they will find a peaceful resolution.

I eagerly checked tracking updates as the samples flew into the USA, cleared customs, and headed to Florida. Erik told me my paperwork was perfect and that everything was flawless. And today the long-awaited package arrived! I was so excited, but as I opened it, I noticed a hole in the plastic. I barely thought about it as I ripped inside to find a ziplock baggie with the samples in it. But unfortunately, instead of opening the ziplock baggie at the top as any normal person would, the customs people had instead sliced into the center of the baggie, leaving a gaping hole. They had then stuck their stickers on the intact reverse side of the baggie, annoucing that they had "repacked" the samples. Which of course they had not, because the gaping hole was still wide open. And as I looked at the samples, I realized 4 were missing. They were listed on all the forms, but they were not there. Which means they had fallen out of the bag somewhere between customs in Ohio and my house. Out of 9 samples that I had traveled so far to collect and worked so hard to ship (let's not even get into the cost), almost half were gone. It may seem a small thing, but these are the first manatee genetic samples ever to be collected from Mali, and after all the time and effort it is much more than disappointing. Bizarrely, all 4 samples were from the same location, so I now have nothing from that part of the Niger River.

Of course I told DHL, but obviously there's nothing to be done. Their agent did not check to make sure customs had properly re-sealed the packaging, nor did they do so themselves. Sad, sad, sad. I'm very happy to have the samples I do, but I'm depressed about the ones I lost.