UNOFFICIAL REPORT ON THE OBSERVATION TRIP TO
Wilmer J. Miller 1979
The research station at Aripuaná, Mato Grosso, abounds in rich research opportunities. I am sure that other areas of exploitation are open, such as geology and meteorology, but I'll comment only on some areas of biology.
Foremost in opportunities is the natural history of the fauna and flora--field biology. Some of this research has already been started, of course. But this last land frontier of our planet (Amazonia) can barely have been touched so far by such research. Information from such basic biology can allow more intelligent choices of balanced exploitation of Amazonia. More direct laboratory research on Amazonian biology is also of high potential. Biochemical and Immunogenetic approaches come immediately to mind as in the postulated projects outlined.
The personnel, scientific and maintenance, were invariably friendly and cooperative--a big plus in a frontier post.
Attention needs to be focused on problem areas which occur as in all such developing situations, and loom large in time and efforts expended.
1. Facilities. I "understand" plans already exist for improved living quarters and laboratories. The existing screens against mosquitoes and flies are insufficient since the doors sag and gaps of two or more cm. exist allowing easy ingress of mosquitoes. The occurrence of several cases of hepatitis in the research station may signal the danger of laxity in this regard. Attracting long term resident scientists requires general improvements. Electric power for lights, refrigerators, freezers, centrifuges and other scientific instruments is a prime concern.
Animal facilities and pasture also need improvement. A chute and stanchion for bleeding, branding, examining the cattle is needed. A mineralized salt supplement (cobalt, manganese, iodine, etc. trace elements) should be available.
2. Food. The "regular" Brazilian diet of rice and beans with occasional meat, fruit and vegetables is too limited to attract or keep any but the most hardy foreign scientists, and more subtly must also affect the health of Brazilians. Upgrading the diet should be in the early plans.
3. Zoo. Native animals kept caged for observation and study is an excellent concept for the experimental station. However, a great deal more effort and attention needs to be expended in their care and general health and well being. Diet is not only insufficient, but not sufficiently variable. The herbivores (tapir, capybara, deer, paca, and peccaries) need more frequent feeding. The monkey and herbivore cages need much more frequent cleaning. The water pool needs changing at least weekly under the present circumstances. A slight redesign of the ground to slope and drain excreta would help. Building new enclosures for the herbivores would allow alternative plant growth and pool cleaning pens. The parrots were in excellent condition, probably because they were directly under the care of the researchers who understood their needs. For animal caretakers, more training is needed.
General. A research station should not be subject to such poor support that illegal activities are necessary to maintain appropriate living condition of the personnel. As an example, killing (and eating) monkeys is illegal in Brazil. Yet station employees do so, and sell the hides. Domestic rabbits ought to make a better meat substitute, if sufficient cattle or hogs are not available. Actual conservation of native species is sorely needed.
Specific Suggestions. All the rabbits I saw were albinos or himalayans (white fur, pink eyes, and colored points). Other colors or strains should be included for possible differences in resistance to tropical conditions. Agouti especially should be examined in this context. If white furred rabbits are really preferred, then I recommend the dark eye white (yellow plus chinchilla color mutants).
The cattle herd should be blood typed for accuracy of identification, for pedigree control, and for phenogrouping analysis. Further, it is especially important to note any association of blood factors or systems (including hemoglobin transferrins, albumins, etc.) with thrifty versus unthrifty results in the Amazonian tropics. A yearly sampling should be planned over several decades. Coat color differences should be followed, and the more obvious missing types such as the white park cattle mutant included. The dark skin and white hairs presumably preferred for the tropics may not hold in all situations. Perhaps the wild type color is really preferable here. The criollo also should be contrasted with the other races, since they are generally more adaptable and better producers than most ranchers suspect.
The blood types of cattle and their electrophoretic characters have been well studied for particular European cattle. The experimental herd for Amazonian tropical conditions at Aripuaná should be characterized immunogenetically along with the usual parameters of weight, etc. Individual identification, pedigree control, phenogroup analysis, and possible selective effects on blood factors or systems in cattle associated with tropical conditions ought to be a part of the immunogenetic experiment at Aripuaná. Such studies could be conducted at Aripuaná if serological equipment and supplies were available there. Alternatively, refrigerated blood samples in anti-coagulant could be flown out to the aboticabal Animal Blood Typing Laboratory.
Materials and Methods-
Reagents now in the process of being developed in Jaboticabal could be used in the blood typing of Aripunaná cattle. The test is hemolytic, involving the red cells of approximately 60 reagents and absorbed rabbit complement.
A refrigerator, freezer, and centrifuge are the major equipment items needed. Serological supplies required would be test tubes, pipettes, bulbs, stands, bottles of various sizes, sodium citrate, salt, and distilled water, such as are already available at Jaboticabal.
A yearly sampling of the new calves should be tested for the duration of the Aripuaná cattle experiment.
At present, I (Wilmer J. Miller) am the only one I know of, who can conduct these studies in South America. However, it is possible that in a few months Norma in the São Carlos, S. P. Experimental Station, Ana Isabel de Assis at Jaboticabal, or Dr. Indalecio Rodopho Quinteros in La Plata, Argentina could perform these tests.
The usually caretaker personnel would be needed in obtaining the blood samples.