Find your next adventure at SEZARC!
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
So, what did you want to be when you were growing up? Firemen, policemen, and astronauts always get the most of the dreamers. Ever since I was a kid, I always had some fixation on science. To be more specific, I loved chemistry. Well, at least I loved what I though science to be. I can remember always wanting that insanely large chemistry set that probably would have landed my entire family in the ER with me holding the beaker. While I didn’t become a scientist, I did manage to see through one of my dream jobs. Although there are comforts in uniformed jobs, there comes a certain freedom when you take on a task that’s a bit outside the norm. In light of missing the boat on become the world’s greatest chemist, I recently decided to volunteer in a lab setting. I volunteered for a day at SEZARC (South – East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation). Suffice it to say, I was excited about slipping on a real lab coat and doing Science! However, the methods that I wound up performing to attain this new knowledge were not likely to be shipped to my front door at age 8.
As a volunteer, I of course had someone to guide me through the day. Cayman Adams, a lab technician at SEZARC, was more than happy to have me assist her in the routines of research! Upon arriving at the lab, the first thing I notice is that it is not yet 8am. This was the first sign I was in a setting very much unlike my own routine. I was officially out of my comfort zone, or so I thought. The day started great. I got that lab coat I was so excited about and we were off to save the wild world. We began in what is called the EIA (Enzyme Immunoassay) lab. We go into the area where we will be working and Cayman tells me about all the safety measures needed as we proceed to break out the gear. I should probably add here that it took me less than 10 minutes to spill something. It was only water, thankfully. As I’m wondering about what it is we will be doing, she wheels out a container that could pass as Star War’s R2D2. The lid opens and the liquid nitrogen haze lifts up into the air. This was all great accept it had nothing to do with why I was there! Away went R2D2, and out comes 3 months’ worth of feces from a lion whose name I shall keep anonymous. My task was a glamorous one. I was to take a small amount of lion “leavings” and place them in a test tube. 20 test tubes later, I would add ethanol and a small amount of water and place them in the machine that shakes violently. Do you know what ethanol does to lion feces? It helps in extracting the bio-info we need and also the tiny hairs in your nose. After the shaking was done, it was time to put the tubes into a centrifuge. If you are unfamiliar, a centrifuge basically does what that half the rides at your state fair do at 3200 rotations per minute. Better wait on the funnel cakes. Round and round the feces go and then it’s back to the main lab where the offices are. It was time for lunch. That idea took some getting used to. Once we were back to work, it was time to extract the test-ready solution. I was just happy not to be directly handling our friends’ droppings anymore. We extracted a small amount of the resulting liquid and put it into labeled smaller tubes to be frozen until the following day. I had completed my lab work. And then, Ms. Adams thought it a good idea that I wash the “dishes.” Great.
All of the traumatic lab work was in fact, a lot of really gross fun. Few people know of SEZARC. Possibly, even fewer know that their laboratories are located on the White Oak property. I couldn’t think of a more proper setting in which to conduct such a respectable venture in the conservation and protection of the continuity of the species we are able to provide such care. For some species like the Northern White Rhino, extinction is eminent. I plan to return and continue volunteering with SEZARC. Maybe whatever small part I can play will lend some kind of helping hand to their cause. While it was a test at first, it’s important to shock yourself every now and then so you know you are still alive. With Cayman’s help, I definitely succeeded in that area this week. There are tons of ways you can do the same wherever you are. I always promote branching out and getting involved in your local happenings. Upon taking my own advice, I have to say I was right. It is quite rewarding to extend yourself for a cause that’s greater than your own. I look forward to my next experience in conservation and encourage you all to seek out your own adventures!