Collection Trip #1

Phew, just got back from a week of trapping out in a nearby-ish (about 3 hours away) Maasai settlement, Koija.  It was a long week, and a lot of packing- Mtoto might need a check-up after the beating it went through carrying all of my equipment…

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Mtoto, carrying a bit more than it was made to carry.

Thankfully, the car made it out to the field, carrying all of my supplies (I took out all of the processing supplies, my behavioral testing supplies, rodent cages- the plastic things hanging off the side of the car, camping stuff for my RA and me, and a big canvas tent that I was using as a mobile lab- since I couldn’t bring rodents back to the research property where I’m working).  Anyway- SPOILER ALERT- that ended with a busted tire and some other much needed repairs from carrying way too much stuff.  It was a hassle, but it proved enough to convince me that maybe my “mobile” lab might not be quite as mobile as I thought…

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My "mobile" lab

Anyway, Koija was a good exercise in finding out just how much work I could cram into a week in the field (and in how much weight I could load into my car).  Lesson learned: a.) everything takes longer than you expect it to take, and b.) working from 6am to midnight everyday is no way to run a sustainable research project. I’m now going to be partitioning my work into field collection/processing days, and behavior/diet processing days (or, more aptly, nights, since pretty much all of these animals are nocturnal).  Hopefully, this will help to keep both me, and my research assistant, in high spirits and energetic enough to finish each set of collections.

Finally, while we were out at Koija, the rainy season officially took off in full-swing:

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This is good for two reasons.  First, my samples taken during the first “rainy” season will actually be taken while it is raining.  But secondly, and more importantly, the rains mark an end to a very long drought that the region has been experiencing; this means more growth for crops and more food for livestock, but also, perhaps, more food for rodents.

Til next time,
Collin

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Been in the field for about a month-ish…

Wow, pole (sorry)*- that was a long break between my first post and my second one- hopefully it won’t be the norm.  Anyways, I’ve gotten back out to Kenya, with my feet back under me, and have started working with a field assistant/Maasai-Swahili-etc translator, who has been pretty awesome in terms of making connections at local villages with the wazee (elders).  “Drogba,” as he’s known around here (because of, so I’ve heard, his football finesse) has also been instrumental in getting our equipment together and prepped for trapping and camping out in each of the 6 villages that we’ll be visiting.  I also owe a huge thanks to my main collaborator/mentor in rodent trapping and handling at the research centre, and also an ex-Nunn lab member, Hillary Young, for helping me out with a car for transport to villages, traps for catching animals, various other essential resources, and lots of great advice and connections for this project.

Over the past month here, I’ve been to quite a few Kenyan offices for permits, passes, affiliations, etc (something that rarely gets mentioned when people are describing their field work, although it involves quite a major investment in terms of time and money), and things are moving along with all of these.  I also visited the National Museums of Kenya with Drogba so that we could both become (re)-familiarized with the local rodent species in my research area.  I think we are both pretty ready for the field- and so is the car, fondly named Mtoto (child; little one), perhaps because of its diminutive size, its target consumer, or both.  I got some new spark plugs thrown in, an undercarriage stone/water guard to protect against puddles/pools/lakes that may show up on the roads during the rainy season, and a pretty rugged rack on the top of the car for carrying our new field lab!  Our field lab is really just a repurposed safari-esque canvas tent that has had a few big improvements, one of which is a full length divider down the center of the tent, so that one side can be used for rodent housing, while the other is used for behavioral and diet preference testing (more on these in later posts).  Finally, I’m finalizing the work on some miniature steel tents made to protect my traps from the rain, because a.) from an animal rights-view of things, being in a cold, wet, metal box for hours through the night can be taxing on any mammal, but especially the small ones, and b.) from an experimental design-view of things, raindrops hitting a trap can cause false-triggerings; hopefully these tents will eliminate the under-estimation that would arise from these events.

I just got the car back from the mechanic in town a couple days ago, the tent repairs were done the next day, and the mini trap tents are almost done.  Between stocking up on all the research and living supplies for working out in the villages (e.g. car battery, power inverter, and lighting for the field lab, among many other necessities) and getting other must-haves, like phones and office supplies, I’ve been into town much more than I’d have liked to have been, but come this Monday, this will all change.  That’s because on Monday, Drogba and I will be heading out to our first village, Koija, for about a week to do all of the trapping and behavior/diet analyses.  More updates on these as they come…

Tutaonana baadaye (We’ll meet again later),
Collin

* – Every now and then, I’ll italicize some Kiswahili words that I use out here (and then put their definitions in parentheses)

Heading to the field in T-minus one month-ish…

With just about a month before I head out to Kenya for my dissertation research, I’m getting super psyched.  Between permitting, bureaucracy, and other administrative nightmares, I’m very ready to get my feet on the ground over there and start working!  My research will be looking at how and how often diseases are transmitted (hence the “Infectious”) between rodents and humans in African agricultural villages, which I think could have strong implications for revising interpretations of historical disease outbreaks, as well as in predicting and preventing future disease outbreaks.  The main question that I’ll be investigating in relation to this is whether rodent behavior (hence the “Personalities”) affects how infected these critters are.

I’ll be using this blog mainly as a platform to provide updates and troubleshooting guides for a lot of my methods, if anyone feels so inclined to reproduce any of this work.  I’ll also be reporting on the general ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of living and working out in Africa.  I hope you can check in every now and then!

Yours in Science,
Collin