Researcher Finally Reunited with Favorite Socks

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When he arrived he realized two of his equipment crates were missing. It has taken several weeks for the crates to be located and reunited with the researcher, but “it was well worth the wait”, shared Dr. Loomis.

That crate had a lot of my electronic equipment in it, along with my water filter and my medical kits. But, the thing I missed the most from that crate was, believe it or not, my favorite hiking socks.

Dr. Michael Loomis, Chief Veterinarian at the North Carolina Zoological Park, is spending January and much of February working in the African nation of Cameroon. When he arrived he realized two of his equipment crates were missing. It has taken several weeks for the crates to be located and reunited with the researcher, but “it was well worth the wait”, shared Dr. Loomis. “That crate had a lot of my electronic equipment in it, along with my water filter and my medical kits. But, the thing I missed the most from that crate was, believe it or not, my favorite hiking socks.”

While there, Dr. Loomis and his team plan to place satellite tracking collars on at least two elephants, including one on Mount Cameroon, an active volcano and the highest peak in western Africa. These collars will transmit a variety of scientific data back to the United States; researchers in the U.S. and in Cameroon will use that data to make critical elephant and elephant habitat management decisions. Dr. Loomis has been leading elephant research projects in Cameroon since 1998, successfully collaring 35 elephants in that span.

The Cameroon elephant team is led by Dr. Loomis. Many Cameroon nationals are also on the team, including Desire Dontego, a long-time associate of Dr. Loomis, and several researchers from the World Wildlife Fund’s Coastal Forests Program, based in Limbe, Cameroon.

Dr. Loomis left the United States for Cameroon on January 5th. The team entered the Mount Cameroon region 6 days later, and plans to remain there for as long as two weeks. Team members will then travel to another location in southern Cameroon and attempt to collar another animal. Dr. Loomis will return to the U.S. on February 18, 2011.

Research project activity currently focuses on several regions of southern Cameroon. Previous research has ranged from the dry grasslands of northern Cameroon to the rainforests in the southeastern region of that country. The Winter 2011 collaring season began on Mount Cameroon, including the newly-created Mount Cameroon National Park. Depending on the outcome of the Mount Cameroon trek, additional trips to other areas, such as the Dja Reserve and Ngoila-Mintom, are planned.

Dr. Loomis’ work has had significant impacts on our understanding of elephant behavior and on elephant management issues. For example, knowledge of elephant migration patterns in northern Cameroon helps protect croplands from damage by large elephant herds. Satellite collar data has also helped scientists understand how elephants utilize habitat in national parks, forest reserves and other protected areas. The current work on Mount Cameroon analyzes elephant movements within that national park, and also highlights how elephants survive in this unique mountain habitat.

In addition to the information gathered, a project like this is important because it shows how cooperation of organizations around the world work together to accomplish significant animal conservation research. The NC Zoo Society directly supports Dr. Loomis’ research by raising money through member contributions to its conservation research fund. Society staff members also author a variety of grant proposals that result in financial support from federal agencies and other organizations. Society staff additionally provides administrative services and educational outreach for the research program. “The NC Zoo Society has proudly supported Dr. Loomis’ Cameroon research for the past twelve years,” states Executive Director Russ Williams. “This research along with other projects in Cameroon, Nigeria, the red wolf recovery area, and many other places allow Society members to participate in ‘saving a piece of the world for its wildlife.’”

The Society, through the Zoo, conserves wildlife and wild places throughout the world, promotes scientific research and advocacy, encourages relationships with nature through outdoor recreation, and generates respect for animals and their welfare. The NC Zoo Society, an independent association of members, is committed to fostering enduring personal connections between people and nature. It strongly supports the North Carolina Zoo and its projects that educate and inspire people about their natural environment.

The Cameroon elephant project also serves as an important educational tool for K-12 classrooms. Information about the project is featured on FieldTripEarth, Society’s conservation education website (http://www.fieldtripearth.org). The website, which is used free-of-charge by students and teachers in all 50 states and 140 countries world-wide, allows classrooms to monitor Dr. Loomis and other scientists at work on conservation research programs. Students can read scientists’ field journals, view photos and video clips, download maps and datasets and, in doing so, understand how research is conducted and how it ultimately works to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat. Dr. Loomis is in daily satellite telephone contact with FieldTripEarth in order to keep students up-to-date with the latest news from the field including how his sore feet are healing after finally being reunited with his favorite hiking socks.

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Jill Bailey

Kerry Sparks