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TV News Features Donation Made by ODU Student

Julie Ray, the Old Dominion University doctoral student in ecological sciences who has refused to let deteriorating vision derail her research with jungle snakes, was featured in a good neighbor news report on television station WTKR, Channel 3, on April 11.

Ray called the station after seeing a story about an apartment fire in Chesapeake that left 19 people homeless, including a mother and her five children. The ODU student is moving to Panama in May to continue her fieldwork and to help establish a research station, and she offered to donate all of her furniture to the homeless mother.

The Channel 3 news department has put Ray in touch with the homeless mother, and the furniture exchange is scheduled to take place after the mother has secured new housing.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do," Ray told Channel 3.

Late last year, Ray was the subject of news stories, one of which was written by The Associated Press and published throughout the United States and in Panama, that drew attention to her determination to continue her snake studies even though her eyesight is so poor she cannot drive a car. She has won assistance from Panama's government to create a research station in the country's remote Cocle Province.

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 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: April 14, 2008

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