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Lights! Camera!! Crocs!!!

brown bag
Santa Barbara Zoo Brown Bag Lunch Talk

It’s been an exciting 12 days for myself and the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) as I headed to Southern California (aka, SoCal) to talk Croc.  It all started with about a couple of months ago when I received an email from the Santa Barbara (SB) Zoo asking if I could be part of their Zoo’s Line Is It Anyways (ZLA)- a BRILLIANT idea to educate the public about wildlife and conservation.  Two scientists or conservationists pair up with 4 improv comedians.  The conservationists tell a story or something educational, and the comedians act it out (check out this clip from Sept 15, 2015:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htkdn4tIEAQ&noredirect=1).  In addition to this, SB Zoo asked if I could give a special talk to the zookeeper’s as well as participate in their new podcast, Wild and Wonderful.  I of course said “YES!”  I figured such week of festivities would be a great experience to educate others about the research I have been doing, the outcomes predicted (both scientifically and for conservation management), and to spread the word about the CRC.  

The festivities began with a presentation at the SB Zoo for the zoo keepers.  I talked about

Gator stomach flushing
Prepping for a stomach flushing of an alligator with Dr. Mark Merchant

my research investigating anthropogenic impacts on parasitism and biodiversity in crocodilian habitat investigating snail, crab, fish, and croc parasitism.  Thus far, the data illustrates a negative correlation with development and parasitism/biodiversity (not a huge surprise, right?).  BUT the division and strong correlation of the data will help me in creating a model so that I could go to various sites, collect some parasites from snails and/or fish and/or crab and/or crocs, and then determine the status of an environment based on the model developed from this project.  Additionally, my data is showing that an external crocodile parasite, Paratrichosoma, is likely a key bioindicator of the status of the environment.  Using the aforementioned data would be a time and cost-effective approach to determine the appropriate conservation management and implement translational ecology- the study or approach to use scientific data to implement flora and fauna management plans.  Translational ecology doesn’t seem like a novel concept but unfortunately, too many scientists forget to use their findings or interact with the local region to ACTUALLY make a positive difference (my pet-peeve against academia thus one of the many reasons I am not heading into academia).  

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Future Scientists of Belize

The second part of the talk I discussed some of the programs the CRC is beginning to initiate, such as Next Gen Croc.  Next Gen Croc is a collaboration with the non-profit FAMRACC on Caye Caulker as well as the local high school, Ocean Academy to foster the next generation of Belizean scientists and conservationists, well providing outreach and education about the local crocodile population.  Additionally, the proceeds made from Next Gen Croc will go towards assisting paying off the student’s tuition at the school to ensure their continual education.  This by far is one of my favorite initiatives of the CRC as I really want to build an organization that involves the community 100% in all croc research, education and outreach.

The stories above, including recounting the “horror” stories of being vomited on by crocs via stomach flushing, and educating others about crocodile biology and behavior, and making a hatchling distress call, were part of the pod-cast show as well as ZLA.  The other scientist for ZLA was Dr. Lichtenfeld, found of African People & Wildlife Fund.  She has been doing some amazing work alleviating the lion-crocodile conflict and working with the local Masai.  I definitely suggest taking the time and looking at some of the amazing work she has been doing:  http://afrpw.org/.  

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tomistoma
snake

All this fun ended with a trip to my old stomping-grounds, and the place that I was first introduced to crocs and gators when I was a wee toddler… the Los Angeles Zoo.  About 10 years ago I began working at the LA Zoo and that’s where I got a lot of hands-on experience with all sorts of reptiles.  I loved working there, and always make it a point to say hi to my old co-workers and boss.  Ian, the curator of reptiles and amphibians, met me at the front of the zoo and gave my family and I a special “behind the scenes” tour of some of the new reptiles they 
received and some of the conservation work they are trying to pursue (one of the reasons why I loved working there).  Saw the Tomistoma and some of the successful hatchings of vipers, and Ian was mentioning they will be receiving some gharials from Madras Bank come August. So fingers crossed I’ll get a glimpse of these majestic beauties when I head through LA again on my way to China to get a glimpse of the Critically Endangered Chinese Alligator.