Hard work does pay off.

June 4th 2011

This past week has been difficult. I have not been getting any samples and the early morning trekking is exhausting. I usually get to the gorillas a half hour before the tourists arrive and it varies what they do but when the tourists get there they usually stop foraging. They like to nap or play during the tourist visit, sometimes I think they are showing off because of the way their behavior change. Another problem with collecting samples is that they eat leaves whole or they drop the fruits and sit next to that fruit for so long that it is not fresh or it is dried up by the time it is safe for us to grab the specimen.

Trying to snooze between a morning and afternoon trek outside the UWA headquarters.

Also, the roof of the tent I was in that almost collapsed on me is now undergoing construction about 10 feet from my new tent. This in the early mornings combined with the music on the corner at night has left me sleep deprived and irritable.

Remains of my old tent “Duiker”, I’m now living in “Genet.”

I was becoming extremely frustrated with things and disappointed in the sampling aspect of my project. I was beginning to doubt the method and its outcome in the laboratory. People probably have never done this because, well, it is really hard!

However, this morning I trekked the Rushegura group and was able to get two very good samples.

Early morning photo of myself waiting for the gorillas to come down from one of their favorite fig trees.

The night before I had met a few doctors and microbiologists. One of these ladies happened to be on the tourist trek and she saw me collect my sample. She approved it completely emphasizing I was getting plenty of DNA and that I only need a small amount of DNA to run PCR despite how much plant debris is in the sample. Phew! I was at a point where I needed some reassurance. I was glowing when we returned from the hike. It is so great to meet such knowledgeable people when I travel. I’ve noticed here in Bwindi travelers are very well educated and successful probably because one this is Africa and two it is an expensive tourist attraction. I have met so many interesting people on this trip.

Microbiologist Monica inspecting my sampling technique.

Just when things were looking pretty bad and people were saying perhaps you are failing, I kept going and I was rewarded for my persistence. Hard work can pay off! I am now at six gorilla samples. I am happy with this number considering how short a time I get with the gorillas per day. I have never heard of this sampling technique ever being done before on primates so six samples would be something in itself.

Swabbing Ruterana fig fruit sample.

Adult female Ruterana fig fruit in plastic bag and sample #5 in hand.

Adult female Kafuruka sample #6 from fig fruit.

The gorillas were also putting on quite a show today which was nice to see. It was one of the best tourist viewings I had ever seen. The whole group was there and very active. The babies and adolescents were playing a lot. We saw the silverback mating with a female. There were some climbing the trees near us and one almost urinated on me while I was busy collecting a sample. There was a lot going on. Unfortunately, the same gorilla that had hugged my leg on a previous trek, the “friendly one”, came up to two separate tourists on two separate occasions in this viewing to give two gentle squeezes to their boots/calves. This gorilla is really playful and has done this a few times. He does it while he is playing and often spinning like a top, and then out of nowhere comes to play with us. It is not a good thing but hard to control and very quick. The guides easily resolve the matter by giving them a stern look and how one guide described to me “I give them a serious look as their supervisor that this is not good” and it works.

Yes, so today was a good day that I really needed to keep my spirits and determination going. I think that Albert is good luck; I always get samples with him. Both him and Gard are great to go with, the most proactive trackers and guides so far helping me with my samples. I really appreciate their help. I am considering training a few of them when I get more vials in the post from the Netherlands laboratory.

Photo with ranger tracker Albert and guide Gard in the background.

So things are looking up. I have a total of six samples now and feel more confident in my sampling technique. I am making progress. Hopefully we will see some bands! Today I also was invited to attend the Batwa Tourism Trail Launch in Kisoro. I was planning to go see the Batwa and saw the advertisement for this trail but this will be a better opportunity to meet all the people involved in the project.

Today I also joined the foreign doctors for a visit to Bwindi Community Hospital across the street from CTPH. I was very impressed by the facility, programs, and how the hospital was started to care for the Batwa that had been evicted from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park when it was gazetted in 1932. I was able to meet the communications manager Okello and Dr. Richard Kazibwe. I have asked Dr. Kazibwe if I can return and inquire about Bwindi illness statistics for my study and he said absolutely. He tells me there is a University of Pennsylvania student there and other people have recommended I go there to meet some good people so I hope to make the time.

One of their educational signs outside their oldest building.

Okello and Dr. Kazibwe posing for a photo.

Malaria is the number one cause of death in the areas they work, especially among children.

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