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Kamla’s Florida Training Adventure

As I mentioned in my last post, Aristide Kamla from Cameroon came to Florida for 3 weeks of training this past November. Thanks to tremendous help and enthusiasm from my Florida manatee colleagues at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab (FWC/MMPL), the USGS Sirenia Project, Sea to Shore Alliance, Lowry Park Zoo, and Homosassa Springs State Park, Kamla was able to experience almost all aspects of manatee research in his short visit. The idea was for him to gain as much practical, hands on experience with manatees as possible. In Africa, manatees are very difficult to study and we can only rarely collect samples, but it’s important for researchers to be able to know what to do when the rare opportunities arise. In his 3 weeks in Florida, Kamla was able to participate in more training activies than I would be able to provide in several years in Africa.

As an aside, I call Aristide by his last name, Kamla, because that’s how he always signs his emails, so for a long time I thought that was his first name! Now it’s stuck as my nickname for him and he’s ok with it, so there you go.

Just after arriving in Florida, Kamla participated in wild manatee captures and health assessments led by USGS in Crystal River. USGS has been studying the manatees in Crystal River for over 30 years, and their current study is looking at baseline health parameters of the manatees that return to this natural hotspring area every winter. My husband Tomas and I also participated. Photo courtesy of Susan Butler, USGS.
Here Kamla helps to carefully roll a manatee so that USGS photo identification photos can be taken of its ventral (belly) side. He also learned how to take standardized measurements, collect genetics samples and safely pull captured manatees into shore in nets. Photo courtesy of USGS.
Once their health assessments are complete, the manatees are released back into the warm water. Photo courtesy of USGS.
This is a group shot of some of the many (almost 100!) people who took part in the captures. Another benefit of Kamla’s participation was getting to meet and talk with manatee researchers from all over Florida. Photo courtesy of USGS.
After captures USGS researchers, including manatee telemetry guru Jim Reid, took Kamla snorkeling with the manatees, so he was able to swim with them and see their natural behavior. Photo courtesy of USGS.
Kamla with the manatee sanctuary sign at Crystal River. Photo courtesy of USGS.
Next, Kamla accompanied Sea to Shore Alliance manatee trackers Jessica Koelsch and Melody Fisher on two separate field outings to track tagged manatees. Sea to Shore is responsible for tracking rehabilitated Florida manatees after they have been released from captivity, to make sure they successfully re-acclimate to the wild. Here he drives the boat while listening to the VHF radio receiver for the beeps emitted by the tag. Photo courtesy of Melody Fisher.

Listening for a manatee who was feeding in the floating vegetation close by…. Photo courtesy of Melody Fisher.
Next Kamla headed back to the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab (MMPL) in St. Petersburg to spend several days learning how to do detailed necropsies on dead manatees. Aside from determining the cause of death, MMPL staff also conduct studies on many aspects of manatee physiology. Here Kamla examines muscle and fat layers. Photo courtesy of FWC.

Kamla with MMPL staff Trevor Gerlach, Brandon Bassett, and Anna Panike. Photo courtesy of FWC.
Kamla also went out with MMPL staff Anna to collect a manatee carcass, which is alot easier when you have a truck with a winch attached! Photo courtesy of FWC.
Another day Kamla accompanied FWC staff Kane Rigney & Andy Garrett to Lowry Park Zoo, to conduct a health assessment on a manatee that was about to be released back to the wild. By this time he was getting pretty good at rolling them over! Photo courtesy of FWC.
Kamla watches as an ultrasound reading is taken, which shows the width of the manatee’s fat layer and gives a good indication of overall health. In Florida manatees need a good fat layer to help protect them through cold winters. Photo courtesy of FWC.

Finally, Kamla spent 3 days at Homosassa Springs State Park working with their captive manatees. After all his hands on training, Kamla attended the Society of Marine Mammalogy conference in Tampa (more details on that below). He was the first African researcher my project has sponsored for training in the USA and I’m really grateful to all the people who gave their time to teach him! It took alot of logistical coordination to make it happen, and I’d also like to thank Susan Kahraman of Sea to Shore Alliance for all her help setting up Kamla’s flights, local transportation, and lodging. He’s now back in Africa continuing his research in Cameroon and plans to apply to universities to study for his PhD. Kamla’s goal is to be the first Marine Biology university professor in his country, and I’m betting he will be!

Based on the success of Kamla’s training, next month I’ll sponsor a second researcher, Dawda Saine of the Gambia here in Florida. And I’m already thinking about my next training work in Africa, which will take place in Guinea-Bissau in May. Stay tuned!

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