When I first told friends and family I was going to spend the summer in Madagascar studying ring-tailed lemurs, EVERY SINGLE person I spoke with volunteered to be my assistant. Some of them even offered to pay their own way. It would be a magical amazing adventure, they said. Then I told them what I would actually be doing and, suddenly, everyone had ‘plans’ or a ‘conflict’ but they would “have loved to go” if not for A, B, and C. For some reason, following lemurs around was cool, but following lemurs around to pick up their poop was gross?
Why did I go to Madagascar to pick up lemur poop? Well, my PhD is an investigation of how an individual’s genetic make-up influences their health, survival, and reproduction. More specifically, I’m looking at how variation in MHC genes, or genes that control the immune system’s ability to fight off infections or parasites, affects one individual’s health and survival in comparison to the health and survival of another individual. Thus, I went to Madagascar to get fecal samples from wild ring-tailed lemurs so I could see if their genetic make-up influences their resistance or susceptibility to gastrointestinal parasites. (If you’re really interested in the technical details, you can read my official research bio http://evolutionaryanthropology.duke.edu/research/drea-lab/people/kathleen-grogan). In other words, I needed to pick up a lot of poop samples from lots of lemurs so we could look at how many worms or worm eggs they have in their stools, and relate this to their immune system function. And, as no one from the USA would come to Madagascar to help me catch crap all day, I luckily found a Malagasy Masters student who was more than happy to come to Beza to help me! And that is what the next three installments of this blog will be about – my adventures while staring at lemur butts waiting for them to poop.