Hello, hyena lovers! My name is Erin Person and I will soon be joining the ranks of the new Fisi Camp RAs. I recently graduated with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Michigan. I spent my four years at U of M working for the Gelada Research Project, where I developed an interest in animal behavior and endocrinology. Those interests led me to the Hyena Project, which I’m totally delighted to be taking part in.
I’m set to depart for Kenya on August 9th, which gave me a few months after graduation with nothing to do but pack and twiddle my thumbs. Being the sort of person who goes stir crazy after about two weeks of relaxing, I got in touch with our lab manager Hadley and asked if there was anything I could do to help out at the lab at MSU before I left. She set me a task of Herculean proportions: organizing and inventorying the lab’s -80°C freezers with a couple other members of the lab.
This process involves emptying a shelf at a time into coolers of dry ice (“My hands are so cold”), sorting through the contents (“What’s in that bag?” “It’s…a dead bird.”), and attempting to put everything back in some kind of logical order (“Does hair qualify as a tissue sample?”). Once we had everything sorted into categories, we began the long process of inventorying every single sample into labeled boxes so future students could use our new repository to quickly find the samples they need. Two months, four lab members, and a couple hundred pounds of dry ice later, we emerged with two complete freezer maps and a partial repository database of hyena blood, DNA, and tissue samples.
Besides that deeply cathartic sense of satisfaction from taking something chaotic and making it organized, it’s been a lot of fun getting to know both the lab and its members while working there this summer. Before starting here, my only hints of what my year would be like were from this very blog, so it’s been marvelous to talk to people who have been there and done that and lived to tell about it. I’ve gotten a lot of great packing advice, but perhaps more importantly I’ve found that learning how the samples collected in the field will be used in the lab can help inform how I will collect said samples. For one thing, I can tell you right now my handwriting in the field is going to be spectacular after attempting to read and record the labels on hundreds of tubes (“Is that a 5? A 3?” “I think it’s an 8?”).
For a slightly more serious example: when blood is collected from darted hyenas in the field, it’s separated into many small tubes instead of one big one. One reason this is done is that blood can be affected by freeze/thaw cycles; if a member of the lab wants to study blood taken from a particular hyena, they can thaw one of the small tubes and leave the rest frozen and therefore unaffected for future use. Understanding the logic behind some of the protocols will (hopefully) make the mountain of new things to learn when I arrive in camp a little more manageable.
After a summer of talking about nothing but hyenas, I can’t wait to begin my year as an RA. I look forward to writing my next post from a tent in the Mara. Kenya, here I come!
|A photo of yours truly on my last epic journey. The stunning Greek background is soon to be replaced by a stunning Kenyan background when I start my newest adventure!|