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Pura Vida, Costa Rica – Peyton Niebanck

This past summer I decided to go not on 1 but 2 study abroad trips. My first was to PB1Australia and New Zealand as part of UGA’s Discover Abroad program for the Maymester and the other was to Costa Rica in June. Having the opportunity to travel and visit new countries with different lifestyles is something I deeply value. Being able to personally connect with a variety of people any place you go is a key skill to have out in the working industry (networking), being able to effectively communicate, share ideas, and making friends. Within the natural resources field working with animals, it’s not just about the animals; it’s also about the people you meet and collaborate with. During my time in all three countries I visited, I met so many passionate individuals who wanted the best for their conservation efforts. Either working with Kiwis from New Zealand, sea turtles in Australia, or monkeys in Costa Rica, all had to make a joint effort in raising awareness for the species by drawing more audiences’ attention in as to why people should care and working with a handful of other animal activists to reinforce the ecological importance that animal provides.

I deeply loved and left some pieces of me back in Australia and New Zealand for when I visit next time. But on to my next adventure, Pura Vida! Once finally getting back to the US, I just had 6 days in between before I was off again. At least Costa Rica was only a 3hr flight (compared to my 15hr flight Down Under), that’s easy-peasy. Our first stop was Santa Ana, just on the outskirts of San Jose, where our first week we volunteered and did some basic veterinary practices on the rescued animals of the Refugio Animal de Costa Rica. Having the chance to interact with every animal taxonomic group was in incredible PB4experience. We anesthetized, gave physical examinations, drew blood, and monitored respiratory rate and temperature of a sloth, parrot, parakeet, margay, turtles, snakes, kinkajou, crocodile, iguana, spectacled owl, capuchin monkey, and more just to name a few. Every day, we walked up a giant hill from our hotel to the Refugio while we were in Santa Ana, getting that morning cardio in and stayed at the refuge until about 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon. After Santa Ana, we went to Quepos on the Pacific side of the country where we took a tour of the Manuel Antonio National Park presenting on different animal species and their ecological role and going on night hikes to spot as many native wildlife as we could. Being in the tropics and seeing so much biodiversity, at the end of the trip we also had a plant practical, conduct a research project, and a final for all the veterinary practices we did as well as discussing Costa Rica’s conservation and ecotourism issues.

Next, after Quepos we went to Tirimbina Ecological Reserve where it’s primary use is for research, education, and conservation and preservation of the rainforest. Here we split into smaller groups for our own research projects. My research project I worked with 2 other amazing colleagues of mine where we tried to find the relationship between leech load and parasitemia of fresh-water turtles. This project was undoubtedly, the most labor intensive, a-day-in-the-life of a research, kind of research I have ever done. I had to get used to sweating through my clothes every day, walking, trampling, and macheting through thickets of vegetation, wading in the mud and murky waters, applying both layers of bug spray and sunscreen, watching where I put my hand (so many leaf cutter ants and bullet ants). Additionally, not to mention my team and I (Turtle Team) had to hand-make all our turtle traps using only chicken wire and zip-ties. We then set them out in the middle of the rainforest, going back out 2-3x per day to check all the traps, and bringing the turtles back to our research room to perform a physical evaluation, get all the leeches off and count from every turtle caught, draw blood from, perform blood tests, and then had to release them from the same location we caught them from. It was such a cool, life-impacting project, as a senior in my final year, I am trying to see what I can do with all the data we have to potentially publish it.PB3

Finally after Tirimbina, our last stop was Monteverde where the UGA Costa Rica campus once was (now replaced, sadness). Here we finished our projects, went to coffee plantations learning about the sustainability of coffee, more hikes through the rainforest and going to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest where we spent the weekend in a hostel and hiked down and back up a huge mud and gravel road. Along the way, interacting with the locals and having them share their culture with us is something I’ll always treasure. Their “Pura Vida” state-of-mind is truly an expression they use not just on their tourist souvenirs, but also a standard phrase when communicating. I learned that Pura Vida (remember to roll your “r’s” to get the authenticity) has 3 meanings: 1) used as a greeting, 2) is just a general expression to say, and 3) a peaceful, or pure, life.

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The Savannah River Ecology Lab – Kayla Claiborne

How does trapping in the woods with the blistering South Carolina sun sound to you? Need more convincing? How about working with coyotes, raccoons, and boars to name a few? Well, if you’re in Warnell, this might seem like a promising prospect. This past summer, I took a Maymester course (Field and Molecular Techniques) taught by Dr. Jim Beasley and Dr. Dharmarajan.   It’s amazing if you’re looking for a good introduction to working with wildlife. Before transferring to UGA last spring, I only had domestic equine related experience and was worried about how I would be able to transition to a wildlife major. Luckily, this class was an easy and perfect segue.

To give you an idea of how the month of may was spent, here’s a brief overview: Every morning, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sounds of various birds and herps chirping, clicking, and every other onomatopoeia you could think of. I’d get ready and drive, often munching on a Poptart for breakfast, to the Savannah Ecology River site where I’d spend the entire day (usually half inside and half outside) learning both relevant molecular processes as well as field techniques such as chemical immobilization and handling.sow

If you’re like me, you bring extra snacks in your bag to replenish all the energy you exerted while setting up traps. But what kind of traps will you spend your time setting? In my case, we made a lot of box traps to catch raccoons, possums, squirrels and even a rat. We learned the proper way to set up foot traps for coyotes and spent a day or two setting and checking those as well.

Some people thoroughly enjoyed the lab portion a little more than they did the fieldwork. I, however; was the opposite. While I admit it was extremely intriguing to dissect a mosquito and synthesize it’s DNA, I much rather preferred helping to anesthetize piglets and a sow before collecting tissue and blood samples.dipnetting

There are so many wonderful things about this class that I know you wouldn’t regret taking it. For someone who had no previous wildlife experience, it was an absolutely engaging way to start the beginning of my Warnellian journey. And even if you have wildlife experience, you might not get the chance to work with such a diverse group of people and animals all while learning more about the world around you. I was able to watch the red-cockaded woodpecker banding process, as well as hold a chick. I got to anesthetize a piglet, view a pregnant possum and see inside her pouch, go dip netting with cottonmouths, process a coyote and various other animals, and see the infamous Stumpy and radioactive alligator. I also learned how to shoot dart guns, set up scent stations, and use telemetry devices. These are things I’d never imagined being able to do so soon in my academic career. It’s such an amazing way to make friends and connections that’ll last a lifetime.

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Warnell Dawgs Take on Reno – Jack Buban

IMG_6769From September 29th to October 3rd the Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society was fortunate enough to send multiple members to the National Wildlife Society Conference in Reno, Nevada. This was made possible by a generous donation from Dean Greene to aid in the expenses that come with traveling cross country. For students this was an awesome opportunity to see some of the ground breaking research being done around the country as well as network for possible future careers or graduate schools.

The first night after arriving we attended a networking and the scope of the conference was revealed to us. There were an estimated 5,000 people at the conference and mingling was made easy by the sheer number of people. The main theme of the conference was inclusion, as speakers touched on topics such as cooperation between Native American tribes and federal agencies in regards to fresh water stream management in Utah and Montana. Fish and wildlife don’t stop at arbitrary borders so this cooperation between agencies is crucial to management. A highlight of the national conference every year is the Quiz Bowl competition. Warnell has a long history of success under Dr. Castleberry and this year was no different. The team of Alexandria Hiott, Kevin Hutcheson, Joseph Brown and Ryan Darsey worked through a nation’s worth of teams to claim 2nd place in the country.

IMG_6770On Tuesday night students were given the opportunity to speak with professionals in their field of study, whether it be focused on federal work, state work or academia. This provided an incredible chance for students to see what it takes to get where they want to be and make the connections that can help. The following night a Warnell Alumni Reception was held where faculty and students from years past could reunite and catch up on new work and old stories.

The Wildlife Society was fortunate enough to have been able to send members
to the national conference this year. It helped students see what their future could hold
and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Dean Dale Greene. The
Wildlife Society and its members know that the experience gained in Reno will be
brought back to Athens to help not only individuals but our entire student chapter.


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In the Shadow of Scientists – Chloe-Marie Westhafer

Humor me for a moment. I’m going to give you a word and I want you to take note of the first person or thing that comes to mind.


Surely, I am not the only one who first thinks of Albert Einstein, or Marie Curie, or my personal favorite Jane Goodall. We all recognize famous individuals such as these who have molded the popular perception of ‘scientist’, but what is the cut-and-dry definition of the word? A quick google search would tell you a scientist is “a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.” Well, that makes plenty of sense, but then how do we define “studying” or “expert knowledge”?  At the end of the day, I know for a fact that I, a twenty-year-old college student who dreaded every moment of freshman chemistry, am not a scientist.

Or at least that’s how I felt for the beginning half of my college career. This past summer, before beginning my Junior year in the Wildlife Sciences program at Warnell, I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime that completely changed my views of research, science and even myself. At the beginning of August, I spent 17 days in beautiful South Africa for a Wildlife and Veterinary course offered through Texas Tech. The goal of the trip was to complete an engineering experiment focused on human-elephant conflict and an elephant olfaction experiment.

We began working on the engineering project, by finding and measuring hoof tracks and step sizes for multiple species of African bovine, giraffes and elephants. Having already taken Field Measurements and Wildlife Techniques—shoutout to Dr. Bettinger and Dr. Chamberlain for being amazing professors—measuring, recording, and analyzing this data came naturally to me. It wasn’t until we started planning and constructing prototypes that I realized we were creating something that could not only protect villages from elephants but could also help other species populations by keeping elephants out of watering holes, which they tend to turn into useless mud pits. Though the triangular pyramids we that constructed and arranged were not successful at stopping our ellies, we were able to come up with more ideas that could potentially lead to a successful prototype, which the engineers who led the project are still working on.

Our other major experiment looked at elephants’ incredible sense of smell. Reality set in for me when I asked Dr. Nathaniel Hall of Texas Tech what the prior literature had suggested and what we should expect from our data, to which his response was that there was no literature on the subject our goal was to change that. Dr. Hall had created a device that would measure the amount of air elephants pull into their trunks with and without inserting fruit smells. This experiment went so well that we not only got beautiful data, we also completed our trials early enough to design and execute two additional experiments that tested elephant behavior. The purpose of these experiments was to determine if elephants would recognize and respond to a human pointing, and to determine if elephants recognized and responded to a human facing them rather than facing away from them. All three of these studies are in the process of being written up and peer-reviewed so that they may be published in the near future. Chloe PicThrough these experiments I learned so much, not just about elephant olfaction, behavior and wildlife conflicts, but also about what research truly is. I gained an incredible amount of confidence in myself and in the meaningfulness of the knowledge with which Warnell has equipped me, and now consider myself to be what I never thought I could become, a scientist.

Being a scientist, I now know, does not depend on your past accomplishments. Will this experience get my name on Galileo? No. But the project still rewarded my time and efforts and allowed me to contribute to the scientific community. In the future, I plan on returning to South Africa to conduct many more human-wildlife conflict studies and would love to combine my education in wildlife science and landscape architecture to create a way for humans and wildlife to live harmoniously and sustainably in natural environments. And hopefully some of that work will get published. Not just so I will have my name on Galileo (even though that will be extremely exciting if we’re being honest), or even so that I might be in seventh-grade biology textbooks like Einstein (because my hair is definitely not fabulous enough for that), but instead so that I can make a difference in wildlife biology and change the world.  When it comes down to it, the most important part of being a scientist is not the recognition you earn but the difference you make.

Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” -Jane Goodall

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Unexpected Discoveries – Lauren Van Rysselberge

I’m a firm believer that the best things come when you least expect it, especially after I experienced it first-hand this summer. A month before their planned departure I decided to take a very last-minute month-long study abroad to Costa Rica. Usually, you go through a lengthy application process that involves interview along with several info-sessions, but not for me. I jumped at the opportunity when an email came through my inbox asking if there was anyone interested going on a study abroad in a few months. Once I contacted Dr. Hernandez, my amazing professor that led us through the entire month (I swear she never gets tired), everything started happening so quickly. I needed my passport updated, had to buy plane tickets, appropriate gear for being in 11 different life zones, and so much more! What I had planned to be a chill summer turned into a whirlwind of planning and excitement!

Prior to this trip, I had been saying that my dream career would be to travel all over the world gathering data of different regions and doing lots of different research, but I thought that it was just a dream and that it would be so rare to ever be able to experience something close to that. After this whole experience, I whole-heartedly believe that this study abroad was a way of waking me up and reminding me that if this is what I really love to do, I should go for it. Before even getting on the plane, I knew I was making the right decision and that this experience would be more beneficial to me than anything I could ever have done that summer.Lauren Pic

I was very right and after coming back and decompressing from the trip, I discovered an entirely different interest I never would have thought I would love. I realized how much I thrive when being out of my comfort zone and to soak up being able to experience something for the first time again in different countries. I was reminded how much I love I have, not only for Warnell, but for UGA entirely. From this trip I have learned to jump at every opportunity that comes your way, and for that Costa Rica will forever have a huge place in my heart.

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Big Dreams of a City-Slicker – Cameron Pittman

Being a Warnellian has been a fantastic experience, and my path to here stands as a testament to opportunities we have as college students. The classes, the professors, and the community of Warnell have been outstanding, and I couldn’t imagine studying anywhere else. It was a childhood dream of mine to work in the field of animal biology or something similar. My all-time favorite childhood place to visit was the natural history museum close to San Francisco (I lived in California before moving to Georgia). I always wanted to learn more about the natural world around us and somehow obtain an education for it. Warnell was the perfect place to develop my passion. It’s not apparent from my origins, but I am a big outdoor enthusiast. The only reason I am not outside more is due to the mundane necessities of school life yet also the multiple exciting organizations I am a part of. I began my college career in the studies of biochemical engineering and soon realized that this major wasn’t really for me. After 2 years of creeping through majors, an advisor told me about a school dedicated to forestry and natural resources. The “emphasis in Wild science” part of the Fisheries and Wildlife major immediately took my complete attention. I was extremely fortunate that my course experience allowed me to be accepted into the professional program for the Fall of 2018, only having to take two courses in the summer. That fall was the best time I’ve had. From Dendrology to Field Measurements, It was solidified that I had finally come to the right place. The professors were personable with all the students and were dedicated to the subjects they taught. The classes were engaging, and I even enjoyed the classwork and projects assigned too. A big thing that kept me hooked was that a majority of lab time was spent OUTSIDE. The teachers spending actual time to teach us lessons with very much hands-on activities. The people I have met during my time here have also been some of the best, most charismatic, people I have had the pleasure to learn beside. I say all this, to say that our yearsF661E14452054B24836477F8B2D91C67 in college are limited, but the choices we make have unlimited possibilities.

The experiences I have gained in only the past year have shaped me into a better person for the future, and I am incredibly grateful for that. Spend your time in college, enjoying how flexible things can be and find out what you genuinely wish to take out of your time here. This will not be the last time you hear from me, but for now, this has been my tale. As always, Go Dawgs! Beat Irish!

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Burning in the Coastal Plain- Briana Hutcherson

One of my favorite and most engaging classes at Warnell only lasted a week. This past spring break I took the Prescribed Fire in the Forest Ecosystem course at the Jones center also known as Ichauway. Through this course I learned about the ecology of the coastal plain, the importance of the longleaf pine ecosystem in Georgia, the basics of prescribed burning and how to use prescribed burns as a management tool for forest ecosystems. After learning the basics we were given the opportunity to act as burn bosses by planning and conducting three burns using drip torches. We also had the opportunity to observe professional foresters from the Georgia Forestry Commission conduct a prescribed burn using ATVs outfitted with drip torches and one mounted with the “Green Dragon”, a device that shoots out ignition balls that would combust and ignite the forest. Overall, this course was an amazing experience for me. Learning in the classroom can be beneficial, but nothing beats getting hands on experience with professionals. It is absolutely important to reintroduce fire back into our ecosystem and I recommend this course to anyone needing to fulfill a habitat requirement or anyone who just wants to learn something new.