Archive for October, 2010

50 years at Gombe

Posted on October 30, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

Sunday, October 24, Jackson and I got the privilege to hear Dr. Jane Goodall speak.  I was so excited that Jackson wanted to go with me.  She had been on campus visiting with the anthropology department (there’s a large primate lab there), however, given that I am in Biological Sciences, I couldn’t attend that session.  I would say that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I guess it depends on being at the right place at the right time.  I was fortunate enough to be in College Station when she came to Aggieland (WHOOP!) to give  a lecture.  She gave a phenomenal talk, so I expected the same here in Calgary.  She did not disappoint.

Jackson went and found our seats while I was in line for a book.  I got Zachary one of her children’s books.  I also picked me up a t-shirt – I have an irrational weakness for t-shirts.  I was thrilled when I got to our seats – they were really good (I’ll have to remember that section when buying tickets for a show).  The theatre was packed.  A slide show featuring a 26 year old Jane and various chimpanzees was playing on a loop while we waited.  Jackson told me that one of the slides stated that she would be signing books afterwards.  I was skeptical.  We didn’t pay the $$ for the special tickets that included a reception with Jane before the lecture.  Those that could afford it were able to get books signed by her and their picture taken with her.  As the slide show looped back around I realized that Jackson was right – as usual.  Thankfully, I had brought one of her books from home on the off chance that I could corner her until she signed it.

Blah, blah, blah – the man that introduced her talked forever.  Jackson was getting squirmy and I was getting bored.  The chatter in the theatre had started to increase, so we weren’t the only ones that were ready for this guy to get off the stage.  Finally we heard the magic words… “It is my pleasure to present Dr. Jane Goodall.”  You could have heard a pin drop.  With the hush that fell over the crowd, one would have thought royalty entered the room.  As far as ecologists are concerned – that is exactly what happened.

The 76 year old looked so small on the big stage, but she had such a huge presence.  She opened up with a chimp greeting and said “Hello”.

Since 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Jane’s first steps into Gombe National Park, her talk focused on chimpanzees.  She discussed her life – how she overcame so much to get to Africa, how her mom went with her for the first four months, and her life with the chimps.  By knowing the right people, she landed a job with Dr. Leakey.  He was the one that decided to send her out into the park to study chimps.  A wealthy American funded her research for the first six months.  It was during this time that she discovered that chimpanzees not only used tools, but made them as well.  With this discovery, her funding was secured by by National Geographic.

Her findings changed the way people saw animals – chimpanzees in particular.  They were more like humans than we had thought.  The chimps shared the same emotions we did – happiness, anger, sadness, jealousy… the list goes on.  One of her best days was when David Greybeard entered her camp looking for food.  Once she gained his trust, he introduced her to the rest of the troop.

Jane Goodall has led an incredible life – and she hasn’t stopped yet.  She went to Africa at age 23 with the formal education from a secretarial school.  At 26, she set up camp in Gombe and changed the world.  Five years later she obtained her PhD from Cambridge – amazing since she never received an undergraduate degree.  She started the Jane Goodall Institute that is found worldwide as well as the Roots and Shoots program (which is a program designed to get today’s youth involved).  Not only is the focus for these programs conservation, but also involving the local people so they can learn how to benefit from keeping the area natural (as opposed to clear cutting forests or extensive agriculture).  One project was with the villages around Gombe.  The forest was disappearing and something had to be done.  JGI gave out micro loans to the native women.  Jane said that women are more likely to start a business and pay back the loan so they can get a larger loan and expand their business.  However, men are more likely to spend their loan money on “booze”.  She still travels 300 days/year as an ambassador for the natural world.  I found this scrapbook that gives the highlights of her fascinating life.

After her talk, there was a question session.  Jackson was in line to ask a question but the moderator cut the session off before they got to him.  When it was all over, we followed the crowd out to the lobby and got in line to meet Jane.  She would sign one book per person.  So cool! I had my book from home and I bought one there so Jackson and I could each have something signed.  They were taking pictures with her (no personal photos please) – I wonder how much we will have to pay to get a polaroid…  They actually uploaded the pictures to the JGI Canada website and we could download our pictures for free.  I was not expecting a photo opp, remember we did not pay the $$ for the reception, so I was not dressed for one.  That said – who could possibly turn down a chance to get a picture with one of the leading conservationists of all time?

The line went fairly quickly (we were still in it for an hour).  The volunteers that worked the event did a good job of herding you in and out at an unbelievable pace.  Then it was our turn.  I had mixed emotions as I stood next to her and said “Cheese”. On one hand I was so excited to be here, standing next to The Dr. Jane Goodall… on the other hand, here was a 76 year old who was obviously exhausted.  She had a full day (year would be more like it), it was 10pm and she was tired.  Jackson and I both thanked her – she responded – and we were quickly herded out so that the next group of cattle could come in.

I felt like I could do anything after hearing her story.  I was ready to conquer the world.  I hope that all the young people that attended the lecture had the same feeling… if so, then maybe there’s hope for us yet.

“We do not inherit the earth from our Ancestors.  We borrow it from our Children.”  – Native American Proverb

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Swimming with the fishes…

Posted on October 10, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

Last weekend I took the opportunity to go on the retreat with the ecology/evolutionary biology (EEB) group at the university.  They were heading to Adam’s River in BC for the salmon run.  I am not technically in this group.  My interests have me straddling the fence between physiology and ecology and not really fitting into either one.  I emailed the EEB coordinator and she was kind enough to invite me along.

I knew it was going to be an interesting weekend.  I didn’t really know anyone going.  I had met a few at the TA workshop and Biology Grad Student Orientation, so at least I could recognize a few faces.  I was riding with three girls that I had never met (Lisa, Madison, and Cecilia).  As I waited for my travel companions to converge on the loading dock, I thought “Oh man, I don’t know how well this is going to turn out… either way there will be some bonding going on.”  We had a six hour car ride ahead of us.  As it turned out, the girls I rode with were great.  They are all in their second year of their Masters.

We took our time getting there.  One stop was at Dutchman’s Dairy for milkshakes – not as good as the ones I used to get on West Campus at A&M, but still pretty good.  They have some strange flavors of ice cream up here, one being black licorice (it looked like it had tar oozing out of it).  I took the safe route and stuck with chocolate.  Dinner was at a fantastic little pub in Salmon Arm. We arrived at the hostel around 8pm.  Had I mentioned we were staying at a hostel?  Did you see that movie??

We turned onto a dirt road next to a dilapidated general store.  There were no street lights so anything that was beyond the scope of Lisa’s headlights was in complete darkness.  There was a rusty stop sign and a rope stretching across the road.  Not sure if this was the right place we turned around and went back to the store.  Cecilia drew the short straw and got to go in to ask if we were where we were supposed to be.  Since the other girls had not seen the movie “Hostel”, I quickly filled them in.  It made a sketchy scene even more sinister.  We were in the right place so we drove down the dirt road until we saw some cars.  People had already gathered around the camp fire and tents were popping up everywhere.

I chose to stay in one of the “dorms”.  Essentially they were real cabooses that had been brought in. The beds were at one end and a kitchen/desk were at the other.  There were even two robber chairs so that the people on the train could keep an eye out for pesky desperadoes that might try a heist.  The hostel had a sauna as well, which was pretty cool.  We were right there at the water so there were some amazing views (especially in the morning).  A canoe was available to take out on the water.  There was also a beaver lodge just down the shore.  I met a lot of people that first night. We had a group of about 30 people.

As the sun rose Saturday morning the jumping salmon were seen everywhere.  However they weren’t the only wildlife moving around.  I saw a couple of beavers cruising down the river in search of new materials for their lodge renovations.  A pack of six coyotes was also seen on the other side of the river.  I’m sure they feasted that weekend – there were a lot of dead salmon along the banks. I know it’s hard to see the critters in the photos below – but they are there — I promise!  Maybe Santa Claus can team up with the Easter Bunny and bring me a new telephoto lens (hint, hint).

Saturday morning we heard a talk from a salmon expert then we loaded up and headed to the Adam’s River to see some fish.  We were a couple of weeks ahead of the predicted peak time, but it was still pretty amazing. The interactions between the fish were fascinating to watch.  A male picked a female and guarded her.  If another male came along there would be a fight.  The female is guarding her nest site (even before a nest has been dug) and will fight other females that get too close.  Normally salmon have a lot of small teeth, but when getting ready to “run”, the front teeth enlarge for the sole purpose of fighting.  I had never given that much thought to the journey a salmon takes.  They spend the first year of life in freshwater and then make their way to the ocean.  After spending three years cruising the oceanic currents, they make their way back to the area they originated from so they can spawn.  Once these fish leave the ocean and start their difficult trip upstream, they stop eating.  So here are these bright red fish who haven’t eaten in several days and have to have enough resources to not only swim upstream, but to also fight off competitors and reproduce.

Saturday afternoon we were able to explore more of the area around the hostel.  I wanted to go to the beaver lodge and was told to follow the trail of creepy Barbies.  Okay.  This should be interesting…  Four of us headed off to find the random door that led to the Barbie trail.  I don’t know what purpose the Barbies originally had, but for us it felt like we were wandering down a path that was frequented by a sociopath.  The dolls all had fairy wings so I guess they were “flying”.  In reality they were hanging from tree limbs with fishing line.  We followed the path deeper into the woods, not knowing what we would see next.  The path led to an odd shaped building (like an upside down cone) which we had to explore.  It was an old building that hadn’t been used in awhile (at least we hoped not).  There were even more toys inside.  Now we have the image of the psychopathic children using the trail and the “playhouse”.  We moved on – not sure what would be waiting for us around the next bend.  Finally we reached the beaver lodge without further incident.  It was decided that those who had not seen the creepy dolls would have to go down the trail at night.  We even had a couple of people hiding in the woods to scare them.  I must admit, the pictures I took do not give the dolls their homicidal due.  They were freakier in person and even more so at night.  Many people felt like they were in a scene from The Blair Witch Project.  It definitely fit the evening – people in tents out in the woods, dolls hanging from trees, and the creepy house where the witch could have lived.  Goes to show you never can tell – one night I’m in the movie “Hostel” and then next I’m in “The Blair Witch Project”…

Saturday evening we did some EEB activities and had s’mores at the campfire.  The next morning we did another EEB activity and then loaded up to head back to Calgary.  As we left Salmon Arm, my co-travelers and I stopped off at a local winery for a tasting.  We make a quick stop at Lake Louise. One of Lisa’s field sites is there and she wanted to grab some samples while we were in the area.

I had a great weekend – saw some beautiful country, played outdoors, and met new people (all for about $80 – gas, food, and lodging).  The EEB group is discussing traveling to Waterton next year to observe the elk rut.  Hopefully I can tag along again.

As a side note – most of the scenery pictures were taken on the way to and from BC so they were taken out the window of a speeding car.  My apologies for the poorer quality…

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