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This is very cool – African Bushmeat Expedition is a project which takes high school students to Africa where they both learn the techniques and at the same time do something very useful – track the appearance of wild animal meat in the market:

Although illegal wildlife poaching is conducted worldwide, the impact in Africa has been devastating. Unsustainable commercial hunting for bushmeat will inevitably lead to species extinction. In turn, localized species extinction impacts the health of native ecosystems. Marketing of illegal bushmeat can also have serious ramifications because pathogens present in the meat may be transmitted, through ingestion, to the human population. The DNA barcoding technique implemented by High Tech High students will provide a useful tool for environmental impact studies by allowing scientists and environmental groups to trace illegal bushmeat back to its localized animal populations.

What is it all about?

In 2005, Jay Vavra of High Tech High in San Diego and Oliver Ryder of the San Diego Zoological Society collaborated to create a conservation forensics course, instructing HTH students on species identification via DNA barcoding. Students studied African bushmeat trade and focused on identification of simulated bushmeat samples, using jerky from a range of species for the process. Advanced studies included experimental methods of DNA extraction and amplification as well as alternative means of DNA preservation for shipment of DNA from Africa. The next step in the study is establishing partnerships and education programs at Mweka College and other sites by bringing students to East Africa to build this novel conservation education program in Africa and to disseminate instructional material in the United States.

The expedition just ended and the participants blogged the expedition and their experiences – check out the blog here.

The assembly was greatly interested in and impressed with our work, and the meeting was a great success. It was fantastic to bring together all that we had learned in the classroom the past few years and in the field the past few weeks.