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.
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.
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.