The Curious Case of the Short Eared Amazon Dog

Yesterday we launched digital badges at Finkl.  As Krystal and Jennifer walked the students through the ins and outs of the new system, their excitement was palpable. We set up their accounts, took photos, and explained how such badges might prove useful in the future.

We also introduced Alondra, the new STEM facilitator at Finkl.

Then, we had a real treat, hosting the first scientist of the new year, Dr. Renata Leite Pitman. Renata, who grew up in Brazil, shared stories from her childhood and research that delighted us all. She recalled growing up on a farm, learning how to kill chickens herself, and overcoming her father’s wishes tobecome a veterinarian. She paved the way for her career herself, working as a lab tech during school and then at a zoo.

Though she enjoyed her work at the zoo at first, seeing the animals in captivity broke her heart. She remembered seeing a female Tibetan bear mourn the death of her male companion.IMG_0941

She also told us about the sudden and gruesome death of a lion she witnessed. She and her veterinary colleagues had performed a vasectomy on a male lion after thinking that he would prefer to be with a female lion from whom he was separated to prevent a surplus lion population in the zoo. After the operation, they allowed him into the female’s cage, four veterinarians ready with guns with anesthesia to knock the lion unconscious at any sign of foul play. At first, his body language suggested everything was fine, but then, suddenly, without time for the vets to react, he sprang upon the female and killed her.

After leaving the zoo, Renata spent ten years researching jaguars with a scientist in the jungle.

She left to get her doctorate at Duke before going to the Amazon to study the elusive short-eared dog that lives there. She shared pictures and a video of her time there, detailing how they studied the dog, what its habits were, and the amazing story behind Oso, a short-eared dog they rescued from a market and used to help them find other such dogs and better understand their habits. She also shared what we need to do to help save the rainforest.

[A video can be found at National Geographic: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/specials/in-the-field-specials/elusive-short-eared-amazon-dog/]

When it came time to journal, the students excitedly shared their thoughts on the lesson.

“I used to think that you couldn’t go to the jungle,” Denise said, “but now I know you can be a scientist and do research there.”

“I used to think that I couldn’t be an environmental scientist,” Alice shared, “but now I know that anything is possible and that you can follow your dreams” like Renata.

We truly enjoyed having Renata teach us about the rainforest and all of her research!

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