Monday, August 22, 2011

A beginning: Steve's view

Joss posted last week about the origins of our project. My role in our efforts is as a biologist, which doesn't really say much about what I do or know. Saying that one is a biologist is a bit like saying one is a musician. There's a world of difference between being the piccolo player in a marching band and a concert pianist, and which one you really want working with you depends on whether you are heading to the Rose Bowl or Carnegie Hall.

More precisely, I am a conservation biologist. As a science, conservation biology is a synthetic discipline that combines all of the biological sciences -- ecology, genetics, natural history, physiology, and so on -- toward an understanding of the causes of the decline of biological diversity and of the strategies needed to protect it. My specific training has been as an ecologist specializing on mammals, and I trained as a graduate student in a lab that specialized on environmental reproductive physiology.

For the project we are undertaking, that sounds just about perfect, doesn't it. Truth be told, however, the mammals I have studied are rodents and the landscapes I have worked in are all in North and Central America. I have little to no professional experience with antelope, livestock, or Ghana.

So what am I really bringing to this project? Something more valuable than ready answers. I bring what all good scientists can bring when something new needs to be discovered: a method to asking the right questions and discovering the answers. My role in this project will be to discover the biological aspects of how we can implement a successful antelope breeding operation on Emmanuel Agbeli's farm in Kopeyia, Ghana, one that will help him preserve the Ewe people's musical traditions in the face of the decline in wild sources of antelope skins.

Josselyne, Emmanuel, and I are beginning a journey together, and this blog will let you travel along with us. A good part of my journey, especially before Joss and I depart for Ghana to join Emmanuel, is intellectual and interior. What do we need to know? What is already known? Has any of this been tried before, and if so, what happened? Are there parallels to what we are attempting and other potential captive-breeding projects, such as in zoos or wildlife rehabilitation centers? What kind of infrastructure is needed on the farm, and how easy would it be for any farmer or villager to replicate?

I love questions. Questions are the core of every project's beginning. Welcome to our journey of inquiry ... and ultimately, of discovery.

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