Friday, June 07, 2013

Travel: Day 6 - Australia - Dingoes, Turtles, and Australia's venomous reputation

One of the advantages of teaching at a small liberal arts institution is the freedom to design and offer courses that are close to one's heart. 

In January 2011, I taught Tropical Ecology  and, for one of the class activities, I took a group of students on a 10 day trip to Puerto Rico. (Click here to read about the trip to Puerto Rico). 

In January 2013, I taught Ecology of Australia and, naturally, it entailed a field trip to Australia! What follows is a travelogue of our adventures together, the sights we saw, the things we did, and the lessons we learned while exploring a land far removed from home.

(You can the previous posts in this thread here).

On Day 6, we hopped onto a taxi and took a short ride to:

(C.S. Manish 2013)
According to their website, James Cook University, established in 1970, is a multi-campus institution with main campuses in Cairns, Singapore and Townsville, with smaller study centers in Mount Isa, Thursday Island and Mackay. They also have a campus in Brisbane, operated by Russo Higher Education.  JCU is Queensland's second-oldest University and serves over 17,500 students.

(C.S. Manish 2013)
(Note: In order to conserve space on the blog and make it easier to scroll through, I am condensing how much of  the post is displayed.  To read the rest of it, simply click on the "Click here for the rest of my jaywalk" link below).
With the ocean in the near-distance on one side and mountains on the other, the Cairns campus is perfectly situated.

(Victoria Vollmer 2013)
However, when we visited JCU, the campus was barren, presumably on account of the summer holidays.

(Angie Proctor 2013)
The campus is sprinkled with all sorts of interesting displays and sculptures, like this one made entirely of marble.  (I searched for a link for the sculpture but failed to find any):

(Trey Cusick III 2013)
Our first order of business was to listen to a current graduate student and a couple of faculty member discuss the various research projects they undertake.

(C.S. Manish 2013)
The first speaker was Damian Morrant, a PhD candidate who works extensively with Australia's wild dogs - the famous dingoes.

(C.S. Manish 2013)
As one of the top predators in the Australian ecosystem, dingoes are perceived as both a boon and a bane, depending upon whom you talk to.  In some areas, they are valued because they prey on feral or wild animals that can be agricultural "pests".  However, since they have been documented to kill pets or domesticated animals, they are also thought to be a threat to the human population.  Often, the latter sentiment prevails and this is used to justify killing dingoes.

Damian talked about the various ways in which he has been collecting data on dingoes - including trip-wire cameras, lick pads, and hair pads.  More recently, he has been able to trap a few dingoes (ten, I think) and fix radio-collars on them to follow their activity and movement thought GPS.  Also, he collects dingo scat and examines it to figure out the dietary habits of these animals.  (For more details, click here to see his presentation).

Dr. Jennie Gilbert was next, discussing the efforts undertaken to rehabilitate marine turtles who are exposed to a wide range of threats including accidental entanglement in fishing nets, encroachment on their habitat, predation by saltwater crocodiles and turtle herpes.  Dr. Gilbert runs Australia's largest turtle rehabilitation center and discussed some of the more distinct experiences she has had over the years.

Dr. Gilbert's talk was followed by Dr. Teresa Carrette's.

Dr. Carrette is one of Australia's leading experts on venomous animals.  Her interesting presentation focused on how Australia is home to some of the most venomous animals on earth which include certain varieties of jellyfish, spiders, and snakes.  She discussed how increased knowledge of these toxins can be useful in the areas of pharmaceutics and help us understand the impact of various toxins on the nervous system.  Probably the most interesting (or relevant) thing we learned was that a venomous animal is not synonymous with a poisonous one.

Both venomous and poisonous animals produce a toxin that is injurious or even lethal to another organism. The real difference between the two terms involves how that toxin is delivered.

Venomous organisms deliver or inject venom into other organisms, using a specialized apparatus of some kind (usually fangs or a stinger). The venom is produced in a gland attached to this apparatus. Poisonous organisms, on the other hand, do not deliver their toxins directly. The entire body, or large parts of it, may contain the poisonous substance. These organisms may be harmful when eaten or touched.

After the presentations we were given a tour of the facilities and, as a parting gift, each of us got a bagful of JCU swag to carry back with us.

(Victoria Vollmer 2013)
 After we returned to Cairns, we had a few hours at our disposal before dinner and the students wandered around the central market area of Cairns.  Some of the tried their hand at playing native aboriginal musical instruments such as the didgeridoo...

(Stephen Spanel 2013)
 Others took the lessons they had learned about venomous animals and tried their best to not get bitten by one.

(Katherine Lederer 2013)
 And some decided to prowl the fancy dress markets for anything out of the ordinary.

(Kinsley Shoup 2013)
 A few of us decided to drop in at a familiar store for some food.  The prices were enough to send us scurrying from there!  Oddly, though, on a later date some of us were admonished for taking pictures of the menu (but more on that on Day 9).

(C.S. Manish 2013)
 We capped off the day with dinner at the Woolshed where table-top dancing by customers is encouraged but at one's own risk!  Some of the students were not pleased that I stopped them from doing so!

(C.S. Manish 2013)
With that, Day 6 came to an end and Day 7 was hurtling towards us, with its menu featuring (among other things) Cape Tribulation, Mount Sorrow, and the Daintree National Park.

No comments: