blood on plane #fieldworkfail

mini-interview fieldworkfail

A few questions to Carrie :

Where were you at this time and why did you need to collect elephant blood ?

I was working in Etosha National Park, Namibia, on a large, collaborative project investigating the ecology of anthrax. Anthrax is an ancient disease (caused by a bacterium) found in endemic pockets worldwide, though the ecology behind anthrax outbreaks has been really poorly understood. There are yearly outbreaks of anthrax in Etosha, primarily in the wet season in plains ungulates such as zebra (my primary study animal). Elephants also experience anthrax outbreaks in Etosha, though typically during the dry season. While I primarily examined how zebra susceptibility to anthrax changed seasonally in this system, in conjunction with changes in things like stress, reproduction, and gut parasite loads, I also did some collaborative work on elephants.

elephant and zebra with anthrax

A few other researchers in my group were putting tracking collars on elephants to figure out where they went during different seasons (they can travel really far!), where they were when plains ungulates were experiencing anthrax outbreaks, and how they were using resources. When these animals were anesthetized, I collected several other samples, including feces to look at parasite loads, and blood to look at basic immune functions and to look for anti-anthrax antibodies.

elephant-tracking with laptop

What happenned after the blood explosion?

I found the problem after I went to take my samples out of my luggage and put them in the lab. Quite a mess, but there was enough left over to do my work.

You never have security issues in the airplane ? We can’t bring shampoo but you have a suitcase full of blood packs ?

Ha, well, it’s common to carry samples back (with permits of course!) in checked luggage – the samples were in my checked bags, so I didn’t have to adhere to the 3oz rule going through security!

blood case illustration

A story to tell ?

I’ve worked with a lot of different species thus far, so I could tell a lot of ridiculous stories. A recent one involves my current study animals, non-human primates in Kenya. There’s a small vervet monkey group that lives in the camp there (which I also try to sample from), which has been getting bolder and cheekier with time. The last time I was in the field, my then 3.5-year-old son was with me (he’s now four), and he often played in the outdoor dining area during the afternoon while I worked. One afternoon, my son was drawing on the floor with sidewalk chalk, when one of the monkeys made a dash for it and stole his purple chalk nearly out of his hand. The monkey brought it to the top of the nearby tree, where it proceeded to eat it – not just sample it, thinking it was a purple fruit, but sample it and then chomp down and eat the rest (while handing samples out to its group members). My son was SO angry, and from then on, berated my colleague Laura who had tracking collars on these monkeys, scolding her, “YOUR monkeys stole my art!”
monkey and kid drawing