Week 6:
Gloriously Inglorious

Cornell Fellow in Botanical Conservation

Gullele Botanic Garden | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

March 24, 2019

I think we hold science on this pristine, non-contaminated pedestal in which we decided that science is glorious. We imagine real-world science to involve people in white coats looking at microscopes or adventurous, Patagonia-wearing folks documenting undiscovered species in some remote yet gorgeous location. While this image of science can be true, it wasn’t true for me last week.

I had the totally inglorious task of collecting bushbuck pellets, AKA scat piles, AKA bushbuck feces. It’s a task in wildlife biology that you don’t hear about that much, but a very useful one nonetheless. It turns out you can learn a lot from poop, and in my case, I’m hoping to find out what the bushbuck eats. By collecting pellets, crushing them up and giving them some water, any seeds ingested by the bushbuck will hopefully germinate, and then botanists can identify what in the world the bushbuck ate.

From there, we can better understand what the bushbuck’s diet is–this will help the lovely folks at Gullele plant food for the bushbuck and protect their own endangered plant collections from the hungry herbivore. So, at the end of the day, while collecting scat doesn’t sound very glorious, it can let biologists get a better look at the natural world. I’m also hoping it will shed some light on the ecosystem services the bushbuck provides–if it eats a lot of seeds and those seeds germinate, the bushbuck might be an important seed-disperser which can help degraded forests re-grow!

I’m curious to see what results the germination test will yield (if any–I’m trying not to count on anything germinating). In addition, I’m also excited for next week, when Dr. Birhanu, my site advisor, and I will hopefully get to do some species identification on plants.
In other news, I’m really enjoying the cuisine here. Injera, which is the staple, is a fascinating kind of tangy/sour bread which is rolled out on a platter. From there, various stew-like creations (usually called wot), are poured out onto it. You can tear off bits of injera and scoop up the myriad of flavors of Ethiopia (many of which are super spicy!). This week, I was able to enjoy a more salad-like lunch with my co-workers. Wibalem, a fellow co-worker in the research department, is a true chef, and created a lovely mix of avocados, tomatoes, onions, and chili to serve to us. It’s so nice to be able to sit down, take a break from the hot garden, and hang out with all these cool botanists! I get to learn more about Ethiopian culture, increase my Amharic vocabulary, and taste delicious traditional food.

Myself, Wibalem, Mole, Zelalim, and Charbole enjoy lunch!

Talitha McGuire '19

Talitha is a religion and biology major from Flagstaff, Arizona.