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ODU Snake Researcher is Seminar Speaker

Julie Ray, the Old Dominion University doctoral student in ecological sciences who has refused to let her deteriorating vision derail her research with jungle snakes, will deliver a lecture about her work and her dream to establish a research center in Panama at 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 25, in 100 Kaufman Hall.

Her lecture, "Conservation: Thinking Globally and Acting Locally, A Case Study in Panama," is part of the Department of Biological Sciences seminar series.

Ray was the subject of stories in ODU publications and by the Associated Press late last year that drew attention to her snake studies and plans for a research center in Panama's remote Cocle Province. Since then, she has firmed up plans for the facility with government officials, an architect and fundraisers in Panamas. She also is expecting any day to get official notice of the project's tax-exempt status in this country, which she needs to begin major fundraising.

After Ray receives her Ph.D., which she expects will be later this year, she wants to become the first director of the Panama facility.

During the past couple of years, Ray has spent more than 16 months in Panama. She and the helpers she has trained have captured almost 700 snakes, which are evaluated as part of ecological studies and then released.

The 29-year-old woman has prevailed against great odds since she arrived in Panama's Parque Nacional General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera. 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 the snake-rich territory that she needed to 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: March 24, 2008

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