Day 19 – Asante, Kwaheri, Twende Ameriki
Our last morning. Goodbye Mweka. Goodbye Tanzania.
As we awoke on our last morning in Tanzania we could all tell that there was something different in the air. For us, the African Bushmeat Expedition 2009 Team, it was a mix of sadness, subtle happiness, with a thick under-layer of accomplishment. For everyone on the trip, our lives have been changed through the experiences we have gained from being here in Tanzania. Whether this was our first trip to Africa or we have spent part of our lives here, meeting the people, seeing the animals, experiencing the culture, and working at Mweka College has been a unique and truly once in a lifetime event.
So, as we woke this morning from our dormitory rooms at the Mweka College of Wildlife Management we were mixed in our feelings about returning home. But our first waking moments reminded us that there was still much to do before departing. One of the most crucial activities was packing, not only our own personal bags but also lab equipment. After our usual quick breakfast, of eggs, bread, and chai or kahawa (coffee), in the school cafeteria we moved to the lab full of preserved specimens, bones and skulls of a great variety of animals where we had spent the better part of our last four days working with the participants on DNA extraction and DNA amplification. We then began to clean the lab, disposing of used materials, cleaning tables, organizing pipettes, folding lab coats, disconnecting equipment, and all of the other things that go into a full cleanup.
We had many things to donate to Mweka and the beginnings of a wildlife forensics course. That is something for which we are very proud.
As several of us were cleaning the lab we also needed to perform the final step of our molecular process: PCR cleanup. PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction, is the process of artificially duplicating DNA. The issue with performing PCR is that if there is anything else in the extracted DNA then could be amplified. And if there is other material, besides purified DNA for the following steps, then your reaction may not work. Therefore, PCR cleanup is used to remove any of that other junk that may also be in your reaction. So, as the cleaning began so did the process of PCR cleanup. For our workshop we decided to split up our reactions that we would perform PCR cleanup, because we had duplicates and there would be no reason to perform PCR cleanup on all of them. Our plan was to try multiple transfer methods to the US to see which would work best for the participants in the future. The methods we are testing are:
- Drying down post PCR DNA on filter paper in 6ul and 10ul increments
- Transporting suspended post PCR DNA in Elution Buffer
- Drying down post PCR cleanup DNA, using Life Technology ChargeSwitch method, on filter paper in 6ul and 10ul
- Transporting post PCR cleanup DNA, using ChargeSwitch, suspended in EB
Each one of these methods are effective in their own ways. Megan actually helped test the filter paper method for DNA preservation while at High Tech High. Each of the filter paper methods are helpful because the DNA can be dried on to a small pieces of paper, placed into a plastic bag, and then sent in the mail.
Isaac Seme Solomon from the Boma Wildlife Training Center in Southern Sudan came by the lab to share some of his bushmeat photos from the region. The scenes were gruesome and had familiar challenges with animals stripped down of horns, hooves, and fur. He was proud to show the captured poachers in their primitive camps or seized vehicles, but also frustrated by the fact that region was so understaffed for such a large reserve. Mr. Solomon also stressed again and again the need for a workshop to be held in Southern Sudan with potential support from USAID and Wildlife Conservation Society. He invited us to come as soon as possible. He also shared a personal connection to E.O. Wilson. Evidently, Wilson was set to visit him at Boma some time ago, but was forced elsewhere due to weather.
During this chatting, cleaning and PCR cleanup time we also had a familiar visitor. Many of our readers may recognize the name Vincent Opyene, Wildlife Prosecutor from Uganda and star of the “Students of Consequence” documentary. He and Mwenja Eregi, Mentor fellow from Kenya paid a visit to the lab. Sadly these two, great aids to our last trip, were unable to attend our workshop because of a previous engagement at another bushmeat workshop at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Despite this depressing coincidence we were able to visit with them early this morning, just after their return from America and prior to our return. In the end it all worked out though, as we were able to speak with them once again and gain their input on our workshop, their trip to America, and everything in between. Unfortunately, our reunion was brief as our departure time to the airport was drawing near. At this point we were rushing at a level above rushing in order to finish the packing, complete final interviews in the lab, and ensure that all lab supplies were in place. Finally we were ready to leave Mweka. After a few last goodbyes we left the college for the open skies. Well, we did make a few stops to purchase final gifts for friends and family.
Now the arduous, everlasting, and tiresome flight home will begin. We hope to doze and dream of migrating wildebeests, lions in the tall grass, crocodiles in the river and our many new and old friends working in wildlife conservation in East Africa.
From the entire African Bushmeat Expedition 2009 team, we would like to thank our readers, friends, and families for following our journey. We thank our partners at Life Technologies for their amazing support and our colleagues at the San Diego Zoo for their wisdom. And one last big “Asante sana” to the members of the Bushmeat Free East African Network. Please keep checking because we will be adding personal statements over the next few days.
P.S. Thank you Professor Shilla for all of your guidance and your friendship. Have a wonderful wedding. Safari njema! Thanks Peter and John for taking such great care of us at Mweka.