Front Royal, Virginia

I have just arrived in Front Royal, VA to begin an internship with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. I am so excited! I start tomorrow on a project investigating fecal hormones for the purpose of in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). Using domestic cats as a model species, the project aims to optimize oocyte quality for IVF in the clouded leoard, as clouded leopards have difficulty breeding in captivity. Male aggression towards females in natural mating can often be fatal for the females, with the chance of losing limbs also high. With other projects studying ways to mitigate male aggression, artificial insemination of clouded leopards has also been examined. Clouded leopards are spontaneous ovulators, and combined with lack of response to hormone stimulation, artificial insemination has proved ineffective for these cats. I will be working for postdoc Dr. Rebecca Hobbs assessing how domestic cats respond to hormones such as estrogen and progestin for the purpose of developing a successful program of IVF for the extremely endangered clouded leopard.

I am staying just a few steps from the laboratory I will be working in. The dorm houses many interns during different semesters, and there are currently seven or eight women this fall. I've met three of my housemates in addition to a visiting cheetah scientist, and the backgrounds and scientific interests I've come across are amazing! My neighbors other than the interns include bison, cranes (cannot remember what species... will find out), and maned wolves. The cranes make a bit of noise at night and they sound like the combination between a loon and large woodpecker hacking away at a tree. Come breeding season in November, I have been promised sleepless nights. The bison are... big. I can see their field from my bedroom window, and the maned wolves are located throughout the compound and call to each other in the night (I am waiting to hear this). Since I've only seen the back end of one of these very red, very tall wolves, I cannot yet remark on their tall legs and glorious manes. I can, however, say that they are very sneaky. Other animals here include Przewalski's horses; onagers (a Persian donkey); Eld's deer; red pandas; cheetahs; and clouded leopards.

I arrived yesterday after driving from Whitefish, MT, to Houston, TX. The job offer came three weeks ago, so the whole process has been rather fast. I miss Montana and Bobbie already! As of when I left, we had yet to catch either of the two bobcats with the failed collars. This week, however, Bobbie has managed to catch a few more bears in her traps, so the excitement in Flathead National Forest never ends.

Training starts tomorrow- wish me luck!