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Dave Blackburn, Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the California Academy of Sciences

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Arrival in Cameroon!

Seemingly against all odds, I arrived in Cameroon at 3 am this morning (on time!?) and with all my bags (?!?). My longtime friend and colleague Divine Fotibu met me at the airport and we drove straight to Douala. I got only a little sleep in the car driving in the dark to Douala. After a few hours sleep at a church mission where a friend of a friend works, I’m now ready to get out to the field. We have changed some money to CFA (local currency) and got a new SIM card for my old “country” phone, so we will soon drive out to find my team of students working near Manjo. Finding frogs tonight!

While in Cameroon this year, we are lucky to have a US correspondent, my son “reporter kid” Moses Blackburn. He will be sending his questions and maybe some from kids in class about what life is like in Cameroon. Here are his first few questions!

Flight Excitement!

Getting to Africa can be full of last minute surprises. This morning I’ve spent time trying to work out a new itinerary because my connecting flight from Paris to Douala was canceled due to the Air France strike. After a few hours on the phone and computer, I’ve now worked out a new itinerary that will put me there early Sunday morning . The students (Lauren, Dan, and Brian) are already in the field and doing great work finding frogs and preparing samples. Hopefully I should be able to meet up with them by Sunday night!

Cameroon 2014!

On Friday morning, I take off for two weeks in Cameroon. Three students (Dan Portik, Brian Freiermuth, and Lauren Scheinberg) are already in Cameroon and already headed out to the first field site. Dan and Portik have already worked in Cameroon but this will be Lauren’s first trip there (though she has worked with me before in Nigeria). This trip will focus on getting diverse tissue samples to facilitate genomics work, collect samples for karyotypes, and even return with some live frogs for doing conservation-minded husbandry research. Looking forward to being back in Cameroon to see old friends, eat street food, and see some of my favorite animals (lovely little frogs!). Stay tuned!

At the Look carefully...it's a Nile Monitor on the Nile!

After a week of camping, we took an overnight trip to Jinja which is located right where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria. It was a fun jaunt for a day and involved some great birdwatching on the lake (and even seeing a couple big Nile Monitors!).

Ugandan National Forest Authority Welcome Center at Mabira Forest Reserve Restaurant (?) at Mabira Forest Reserve Griffin Falls Campsite in Mabira Forest Reserve. We stayed five nights at this community run site. Art at Griffin Falls Campsite reception building. Art at Griffin Falls Campsite reception building. Breakfast looking east into Mabira Forest Reserve

After heading back from Bwindi, we spent a night in Kampala and then a week in Mabira Forest Reserve (about an hour or so east of Kampala). It was a great opportunity to investigate the amphibian and reptile species in this poorly studied forest. We found some really great stuff!

To Mabira Forest Reserve!

Last night we arrived back in Kampala. We spent this morning at the National Forestry Authority finalizing our permit for working in Mabira Forest Reserve and soon we’ll head out of Kampala. It’s about a two hour drive to Mabira and we should be there this evening. Looking forward to exploring around Mabira and seeing some really interesting frogs and lizards.

All packed up and ready to head out from Bwindi back to Kampala. Greg Jongsma rocking his red shorts in Mbarara en route back to Kampala.

After the African Amphibian Working Group meeting, we packed up and headed back to Kampala for a night so that we could spend time finalizing our permits to work in Mabira Forest Reserve.

Looking for frogs in Mubwindi swamp

On our last night in Bwindi NP, we hiked down to Mubwindi swamp within Bwindi NP. It was a steep and long hike back in the dark, but it was well worth the trip!

Preparing specimens collected in Bwindi NP with Dan Portik, Greg Jongsma, and me (red shirt).

Greg Jongsma presenting his MSc research on the phylogeny and biogeography of the African frog genus Hylarana at the 16th African Amphibian Working Group meeting in Bwindi NP.

Cool dudes Greg Jongsma (left) and Dan Portik (right) taking a break from the African Amphibian Working Group meeting in Bwindi NP.

To open the 16th African Amphibian Working Group meeting in Bwindi NP, Dr. Mathias Benhangana presented a short summary of research on amphibians and reptiles in Uganda.

Training workshop participants working on their photography skills. Professor Eli Greenbaum (Univ. Texas - El Paso) discussing the preparation of specimens for scientific research. Greg Jongsma (left; MSc student at San Francisco State University) and Dan Portik (next left; PhD student at UC-Berkeley) leading practice sessions in preserving specimens for scientific research.

An important part of our two-day training workshop was giving students and conservationists the opportunity to gain new skills in preparing specimens for scientific research, including taking tissue samples for later genetic analyses. This section of the workshop was led by Eli Greenbaum and myself and we also benefitted from participation by two students (Greg Jongsma and Dan Portik) that arrived in Ruhija that same afternoon.

Andy Plumptre of WCS Albertine Rift (at right) preparing to kick off the two-day training session for African students and conservationists in field biology of amphibians and reptiles. Professor Eli Greenbaum (Univ. Texas El Paso) lecturing to the training group on the importance of collecting specimens for field biology and conservation. The training workshop participants with headlamps on and ready to spend a night in the swamp looking for frogs. One of the many specimens of the frog genus Amietia that we encountered at night in the swamp.

Before the start of the African Amphibian Working Group meeting, several of us led a two-day training workshop for students and conservationists from Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, and Gabon. It was great fun and an excellent opportunity for people to learn skills necessary for conducting field research on amphibians and reptiles. 

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