Asian Elephants in Ireland

Asian Elephants in Ireland

For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep love for elephants. I’ve also always had a passion for saving endangered species. So, when choosing a summer research project, I wanted it to incorporate both of these aspects. I expressed these interests to my mentor at Cummings School, Dr. Felicia Nutter, and together we came up with the idea to do research on Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), which currently poses one of the greatest health threats to Asian elephants. From there I began reading every paper I could find on EEHV. Through a series of discussions with Dr. Nutter, and my mentor at the Smithsonian National Zoo, Erin Latimer, we developed the sample site comparison study.

Two mentors

To find a research site, both of my mentors reached out to their contacts at zoos around the world, and the Dublin Zoo in Ireland happened to be the perfect location for every party involved. Thus it came to pass that I spent the summer collaborating with the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory (NEHL), the Dublin Zoo, and the Irish Equine Centre to perform a research project comparing the efficacy of trunk wash and oral swab samples for the detection of shedding of EEHV in Asian elephants at the Dublin Zoo.

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Brittany at the Smithsonian Zoo, preparing for her summer research.

In preparation for my research project, I spent two weeks at the NEHL at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C., and was trained by Erin Latimer to perform both conventional and quantitative PCR so that I could start my project as soon as I arrived in Ireland.

An Irish welcome

One of the greatest parts of traveling to another country is being immersed in a new culture. While Ireland’s culture is not drastically different from ours, it does have some differences. One of the most notable is their inherent kindness, and the way they graciously welcomed me at both the Dublin Zoo and the Irish Equine Centre (the laboratory where I performed my research). I know other places can be kind and welcoming too, but in Ireland, everyone I met made me feel like I was a part of their family. This made for a very enjoyable and smooth experience.

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Brittany performing research in the lab.

Zoo mornings, lab afternoons

A typical week for me consisted of mornings at the Dublin Zoo, where the elephant keepers would both train the elephants and collect my samples, and afternoons at the Irish Equine Centre where I would process my samples. Then, on Fridays, I would spend the entire day at the lab to test all of my samples. For the most part, I worked alone at the lab, however, if I had any questions about interpreting the results I would consult my two mentors in Ireland and my mentor at the NEHL.

While in Ireland, I didn’t work on weekends so I spent that time traveling all over the country, which allowed me to experience a lot of their culture and see a lot of the country. It truly is one of the most beautiful, green places I’ve ever been.

In the end, I unfortunately wasn’t able to get all of the samples I needed for my research, but I learned a lot and plan to continue my project in the future. The connections I was able to make through this project are invaluable, and it was easily my favorite experience in veterinary school thus far.

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