Bell Museum unveils travelogue series

The four-part series showcasing research and photographs kicked off Sunday.

by Angela Gray

Speakers are congregating at the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History to share their research and photographs along with some of their own exotic tales.

Sunday was the kickoff to the four-part series of travelogues called “Fire and Ice: Extreme Adventures from the Arctic to the Equator.”

Gordon Murdock, curator of education for the Bell Museum, said these travelogues will emphasize the human side of the speakers’ travels.

“There will be minimal graphs or statistics and a lot of fun and excitement,” Murdock said.

The first in the series featured the travels of Tony Gamble, a Bell Museum biologist and professional photographer, whose studies of amphibians and reptiles have led him to Brazil ” and in personal contact with boa constrictors, rattlesnakes, vipers and anacondas.

Gamble said his presentation would be “mostly pretty pictures of landscapes and animals.”

“I’ve had several people tell me that they’ve enjoyed my photos of fieldwork and the stories that go with them,” he said.

He said he hoped to touch on a lot of the?preconceived notions regarding the biodiversity in Brazil and conservation in Latin America.

“Working in Brazil has forced me to change my own thoughts on the subject, and I think there are other folks open to hearing about it,” Gamble said.

His research focus is studying the evolutionary relationships and biogeography of amphibians and reptiles.?

“Basically I’m interested in how these animals change over time and what historical factors influence biodiversity and species’ distribution,” he said.

Gamble said his research has had an impact on the legislation and rule making that regulates the commercial harvest of turtles in Minnesota.

“I’ve always been interested in animals and snakes, lizards and frogs in particular,” he said.?”I can actually get paid to do what I love ” learn about animals.”

Next Sunday features University professor Sarah Hobbie, who spends months at a time at a remote field station in one of North America’s wildest places: Alaska’s North Slope, near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Hobbie has been researching in the Northern Slope for a decade.

“I will discuss the area, the ecological and environmental issues, and oil and gas development,” she said.

She said she has always been drawn to the Arctic.

“My fascination is personal; I spent my teens canoeing in the Arctic, and scientifically, this is the last real wilderness in North America,” Hobbie said.

Later that month, Donald Siniff, professor emeritus, will chronicle his travels to Antarctica, the coldest, most inhospitable continent. Siniff studies seals that live in the region’s waters and pack ice; he spent much of his time at McMurdo Station and on the ship Hero, a 125-foot wooden-hull research vessel.

The series concludes with tales from the steamier climates of Borneo, where University biologist Dawn Tanner traveled to the Danum Valley Conservation Area, a pristine lowland rainforest. Tanner is studying how to conserve Borneo’s clouded leopards.

Tanner said the flavor of the travelogue is not to present data and intensive material like one would in a departmental seminar.

“It’s to give a broader taste of the place, people, culture, unique sites/species (and) conservation concerns,” she said.

She said she has been interested in Borneo since eighth grade science class.

“There are many endemic and endangered species there ” Sumatran rhinos and Asian elephants, so many frogs, snakes, small mammals ” and Borneo has lost much of their forest area due to the world market demand for tropical hardwoods,” Tanner said.

She said it’s a place that deserves attention.

“The people are wonderful, the wildlife is amazing, and (it) is a place I love to

talk about,” she said. “I believe outreach and public awareness (are) essential; the Bell was kind enough to extend the invitation, and I was more than happy to accept.”

The travelogues can come with some sacrifices.

Hobbie said she is passing the reigns of her research to a University student working on her thesis.

“With a 2-year-old baby and another on the way, it’s not easy to be going to remote research stations in the Arctic,” Hobbie said.

Gamble said he has a wife and two young children and that fieldwork is “very difficult, both practically and emotionally.”

“I’ve been very fortunate to have had these field opportunities,” he said.

“Nothing breaks your heart more than hearing over a static-filled international phone line that your baby has a cold or diaper rash and you’re not there to help comfort him or to help with the responsibilities of caring for him.”