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ODU Graduate Student Seeks Donations for Her Research Station in Panama

From the research station she has founded in Panama, Julie Ray, an Old Dominion University doctoral student, has made a special request to the ODU community for donations to help complete the facility.

Ray, whose deteriorating vision has not stopped her research with jungle snakes and other creatures in Panama, has been the subject of several media reports, including one Associated Press article that was distributed worldwide. She is to receive her Ph.D. in ecological sciences this month and then work full time as director of the La MICA Biological Station in the remote mountains of Panama.

Construction began earlier this year on a small research station with dormitories that will help open up the remote area to university researchers from all over the world.

"Okay amigos, we have a number of visitors booked and we need to be ready for them. Please help! We are now in emergency mode in order to finish everything in time," Ray wrote in an e-mail to supporters in Norfolk on Dec. 3. "If you have been holding out, please donate now as this is when it makes the biggest difference in the survival of La MICA Biological Station. Literally, your contribution could make the project functional. No donation is too small!"

A direct donation link is http://ihcenter.org/groups/lamica and other donation options can be found at http://www.lamica.org/Donate.html. Donations are tax deductible through the United States-based organization, Amigos Support La MICA.

Earlier this fall, ODU students and one professor pooled resources and contributed $1,269.33 to the cause. "In a time when we are met with economic despair, and little good news in the light of conservation, I am proud to see students stepping up and getting excited about a project located in Panama and helping people they have never met," Ray said. She said that someday soon she hopes to be able to invite ODU students to visit her station for internships, volunteer projects and a variety of research opportunities.

The young researcher spent time in Panama's Parque Nacional General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera in Cocle Province while doing her doctoral research, and she developed the dream to open a research station there.

The station is designed to benefit not only biologists, but also people working in medicine, history, culture and art. Furthermore, Ray said, it will benefit the impoverished local people by providing employment.

During the past three years, Ray has spent more than 24 months in Panama. She and the helpers she has trained have captured more than 700 snakes, which are evaluated as part of ecological studies and then released.

The 30-year-old woman has prevailed against great odds in her chosen field of research. She is blind in the center of her right eye. In her left eye she has lost nearly all of her central vision, leaving her mostly colorblind and with blurred remaining vision. She also spoke little Spanish when she first tried to explain to the park's officials and residents of the nearby village of El Copé why she was there. Based on tips she had gotten from fellow herpetologists, she believed the park might be a snake-rich territory that would promote her research.

Today, Ray speaks Spanish with ease, she has come to be known as the Parque Omar's unofficial biologist, she is invited to lecture about ecology at Coclé Province schools and she has performed enough barehanded captures of her prey to prove that the territory is, indeed, teeming with snakes. Those captures, and the fact that most of them are accomplished at night in the jungle, have gotten the attention of locals, she said.

This article was posted on: December 4, 2009

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