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Real-world impacts, continued

Lim previously spent two and a half years at the Hunchun National Nature Reserve in northern China, researching ways to protect endangered Amur, or Siberian, tigers.

"When I first got there, I was kicked out of the village, they were so angry," Lim explains. "People in rural villages seldom see foreigners. Building trust takes time."

Drawing of child protecting tiger
Lim asked her students to draw humans and
tigers together; this picture of a girl protecting
a tiger was one of Lim's favorites.

Lim approached the issue with respect for local customs and visited the village once a week. "By trying my best to understand how they lived, I was able to hear their true voice," she says.

While in northern China, Lim organized activities to improve relations between people and tigers and help residents feel proud to live amongst the animals, including a tiger festival and village movie nights with presentations on wildlife compensation law and what to do when encountering a tiger.

Lim determined that alternative sources of income are critical for locals. Compensation funds for the loss of livestock due to tigers are difficult to come by and, while many locals once derived income from capturing wild boars, the snares used to capture boars are highly dangerous to tigers.

As a "tiger-friendly" source of income, Lim introduced beekeeping in the community, with the skills and materials provided as long as locals promised to keep the forest free of snares. In the seven years since the program was launched, Lim says, more than 10,000 snares have been removed.

Seeking environmental clues to deadly virus outbreaks

For people in rural Bangladesh, poverty, minimal healthcare and a lack of infrastructure pose enormous challenges to their basic quality of life. Now a new problem has emerged that has proven deadly and daunting. Nipah virus (NiV), which causes encephalitis, respiratory disease and other severe illnesses, has been spreading across South Asia and has been fatal in three-quarters of 152 reported cases in Bangladesh.

Graduate student Micah Hahn is searching for environmental conditions that factor into NiV outbreaks. Understanding the relationship between land use patterns, other environmental factors and the spread of the disease may enhance our knowledge of its ecology and risk factors, and lead to preventative measures she says.

The International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh (ICDDR-B) has taken a leading role in Nipah virus research. Working in part with the ICDDR-B, Hahn has collaborated with leading professionals in the world of epidemiology.

Micah Hahn photographs clay jugs in Bangladesh
Hahn's work searching for environmental conditions
that factor into Nipah virus outbreaks is but one part
of a broad effort to understand and control the disease.

"I'm working with the infectious disease branch," she explains. "The project leader is an epidemiologist; there are anthropologists, veterinarians and wildlife specialists. My part covers the ecology aspect."

Specifically, Hahn is looking at the habitat of fruit bats, which have been identified as the natural host of Nipah virus. Commonly known as Indian flying foxes, the fruit bats are highly attracted to the sweet sap of date palm trees.

During the winter months, villagers tap the date trees and collect the sap in small clay jugs for their own consumption. Hahn and other researchers believe Nipah virus is spread from fruit bats to humans when bats contaminate the sap by salivating and excreting in the containers.

Because the virus is occurring in very specific locations, Hahn and colleagues plan to compare villages that have experienced outbreaks with others that have not. "People are collecting sap all over Bangladesh, yet only certain villages are affected by the disease," she says.

Hahn's study will include visits to fruit bat roosting sites in case villages and control villages to gather, map and compare detailed data on trees in the area. Hahn also plans to look at larger patterns of landscape and disease occurrence using remote sensing imagery.

This type of village-level study - compared to individual-level studies focused on why one person got sick and another didn't - is fairly novel in epidemiology, according to Hahn, who works on the project under her advisor Jonathan Patz, a professor in the Nelson Institute and director of the new campus-wide Global Health Institute. Hahn hopes to return to Bangladesh in January.

Jenny Peek is a UW-Madison senior majoring in journalism and environmental studies.

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