Charlotte from Kenya – Part 2

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After the initial two days of  sampling, I carried on with the rest of my sampling plan for the next ten days.  It mostly went without a hitch.  However, naturally, there were some problems encountered. At first, I ended up taking more samples than I needed. I admit, that’s probably the opposite of a problem. In science, it’s always better to over-sample than to underrepresent whatever species, population or ecosystem you’re trying to investigate. It did mean, however, that we were quickly running out of ethanol which I was using to preserve my samples.  Thankfully, I’d brought a back-up plan. Silica beads are an excellent alternative, and I used them to dry out/preserve the faecal samples I’d taken from giraffe. Most people are familiar with them as the little packets of silica that come with new clothes and shoes, clad with huge warnings saying “DO NOT EAT!”

I collected around 100 samples in total, which I personally think is pretty good going for only 12 days! A week into my trip came the arrival of Dr. Jens Carlsson, the principal investigator for Area 52 and my thesis supervisor. He helped me ensure that I was doing everything correctly, and liaised with John Byrne about the rest of my sampling. The project could not have gone forward without them.

An exciting part of my trip was the memorandum of understanding agreed between UCD and Pwani University, Kenya.  It meant that myself and Dani Shannon (doing her MSc in World Heritage Management and Conservation) were the first students sent over from UCD to Kenya under this memorandum, and it also meant that we had the pleasure of meeting three undergraduate students from Pwani, who came on the trip too. Paul, Robert, and Terry wanted to learn all about eDNA, so helped me with my sampling. They held tubes, passed me pens, had to put up with me stressing about my sampling, but hopefully learned at least one or two things! They were an absolute delight and taught me a lot about Kenyan culture, as well as becoming new friends. Hopefully the students will get over to UCD at some point. Their lecturer, Dr Bernerd Fulanda, was also on camp and was helpful on game drives. He has kindly agreed to help oversee the shipping of my samples back to Ireland.

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An honourable mention also goes to my friends who were volunteering with Friends from Ireland (FFI – the charity which helped to organise my trip). A few of them were asked by me “could you just glove up and help me hold a couple of these tubes?” So cheers to Ann, Dani, and Conall, and also to Sian whose extensive knowledge of the conservancy helped me track down zebra and giraffe. I could probably write a huge list of those involved, but I’d be here all day! So many thanks to all involved, I know that my project couldn’t have gone forward without you. Shout out to Ann Marie for making sure I was alive/feeding me and acting basically as a surrogate parent the whole time I was in Kenya. The trip was overall very successful and I would love to go back as a volunteer for FFI sometime in the very near future.

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So where do I go from here? I am back in rainy Ireland and currently waiting on my samples being shipped from Kenya. I’ve been doing one or two things in the lab -trying more new extraction methods – and will write up my literature review/methodology until the samples arrive. Once they’ve arrived, the eDNA is extracted, ran through a PCR and an agarose gel, sent off for sequencing, and the results are compiled.  The experience has been fantastic and I look forward to getting the results from my samples. We will soon know the extent of DNA degradation in zebra and giraffe poo after it has been left in situ. That’s all from poo patrol for now.

 

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Charlotte from Kenya

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I’ve been assigned a particularly special task for my MSc evolutionary biology thesis. Under the supervision of Dr Jens Carlsson, and John Byrne (conservancy director/wild explorer), my project will examine eDNA in Kenya.

Galana conservancy is a wildlife reserve situated on the boarder with Tsavo East national park, in Southern Kenya. It contains masses of African wildlife. For my thesis, I’ll be focusing on Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) and giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). I’ll be collecting their scat in order to extract DNA. DNA like this is classified as eDNA (environmental DNA). Environmental DNA has the ability to revolutionise genetics.
So, what is it? An animal sloughs off skin cells, saliva, faeces, mucus, blood etc which are left in the environment and which contain traces of DNA. This is eDNA. The DNA can then be extracted and analysed for use in population genetics, management, species barcoding, and species monitoring. Population genetics measures the genetic diversity, richness, and level of inbreeding in a population. It’s essential for the long-term management of an animal population. Environmental DNA using scat has had little study. Therefore, the aim for my study is to develop a technique using eDNA from giraffe and zebra scat. This data could hopefully be used at a later point for population genetics (there has been little pop gen on zebra and giraffe either).
So here in Galana, I am running a sampling programme for collecting giraffe/zebra scat over the next 10 days. I have already carried out 2 days of sampling, which went well (aside from tracking a herd of giraffe for a good 45 minutes without a hint of poo and then watching them disappear off into the distance).
The trip is quite amazing so far. As well as zebra and giraffe, I’ve seen Impala, oryx, baboon, hippos, a lionness, warthogs, water buffalo, secretary bird, gazelle, elephants, gerenuk, crocodiles, as well as the animals I’ve probably forgotten to mention here.
More updates on poo patrol later.

Memorandums of Understanding signed between UCD and Pwani University, Kenya

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December 10th 2015
Venue: Kenyan Embassy Dublin.

It is with great pleasure that we would like to announce that University College Dublin and Pwani University, Kenya have agreed upon Memorandums of Understanding to facilitate academic and student exchanges between our two countries.

The agreements follow an intense period of negotiation and consultation between University College Dublin and Pwani University in Kenya and were facilitated throughout by the NGOs Friends From Ireland, The Galana Wildlife Conservancy Kenya, the Watamu Marine Association Kenya and the Agricultural Development Corporation of Kenya. This initiative has the support of the Irish Ambassador to Kenya Dr. Vincent O Neill, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment in Kenya, Professor Judi Wakhungu, and the M.D. of the Agricultural Development Corporation Kenya, Dr. Andrew Tuimur and has been kindly facilitated over recent months by the Kenyan Ambassador to Ireland Mr. Richard Opembe.

In addition to the announcement of the MOUs we are also announcing the following:

1. The creation of a Scientific Field Research Station at the Galana Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, designed to promote knowledge and open up this critically endangered environment and its endangered wildlife to Kenyan and International students of the Sciences.

2. The commencement, by Friends From Ireland of the Galana Secondary School building project complex adjacent to the Primary and Infant School complexes constructed by FFI over the last three years.

3. The intention to support an application to have the Galana Wildlife Conservancy considered for inclusion as a World Heritage Site.
This is a new approach to community-conservation-education challenges in developing countries and has brought together voluntary National and International community and conservation groups, business groups, state agencies and those in relevant political offices, to ensure that promises are kept and goals are achieved.

This new model of multi-agency partnership, bringing volunteering and education together to tackle community and conservation challenges in Kenya will herald the beginning of a significant scientific study of this crucial eco-system and its endangered species, the development of the community which shares that environment and the development of educational facilities from infancy to third level education. It is a model that works through inclusion, the realistic consideration of community, cultural and conservation concerns, the management of realistic goals based on what can be achieved by listening to the issues on the ground and planning processes that start with real dialogue.

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I would like to thank The Kenyan Ambassador H.E. Mr. Richard Opembe for inviting us to make the announcement from the Embassy. I would also like to thank the representatives of University College Dublin, Friends From Ireland and the Minister, Mr. Damien English for supporting our endeavours. Indeed we wish him well on his visit to Kenya. For more information following this release please contact me at johnab@eircom.net or through the following websites

Information on upcoming community and conservation projects for 2016 will follow through these websites and related Facebook Pages

www.friendsfromireland.ie
www.galanaconservancy.com