New graduate student, Fulbright scholar to study manatee health


Aristide Kamal

Aristide Kamla is an incoming Ph.D. student from Cameroon studying manatee health.

By Sarah Carey

Aristide Kamla, an incoming Ph.D. student at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and a Fulbright fellow, had an academic background in animal biology but fell in love with African manatees during the first year of his master’s degree program at the University of Dschang in Cameroon, his home country.

He had been assigned to perform a literature review on the mega aquatic fauna of Cameroon, and discovered that marine mammals, especially manatees, were threatened, yet understudied in that part of the world.

“For my master’s thesis research, I decided to focus on the manatee, in order to learn more about the species,” Kamla said.

He did just that, cultivating his research interests and networking opportunities along the way. The journey was challenging, in part because the well-known elusiveness of the animals made surveys difficult, as did the opaque nature of the water in Cameroon.

“Moreover, at the time there was no marine mammal expert in my country to orient me,” he said. “Luckily, through an Earthwatch Institute program in Ghana in 2009, I came to know two American researchers, who have been mentoring me for the past four years. They have provided me with academic, technical and financial support that has helped to booster my young professional career as a manatee researcher.”

One of those researchers, Dr. Lucy Keith Diagne, completed her Ph.D. at the UF veterinary college this year and works as a senior research scientist at Sea to Shore Alliance, where she conducted research on African manatees throughout her doctoral studies and now continues. The other, Dr. Caryn Self-Sullivan, is an adjunct professor at the Nova Southeastern University.

Following completion of his master’s program, Kamla spent three years studying zoonotic diseases with Global Viral, an American research organization based in Cameroon. At the same time, he continued to conduct independent research into manatee distribution. He founded the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization, through which he continues to implement research and conservation activities on manatees and dolphins in collaboration with local fishermen. He has received technical and financial support from many different organizations, including the U.S. Geological Survey, Sea to Shore Alliance, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Idea Wild, the Zoological Society of London, and the International Union Conservation of Nature, among others.

Now Kamla plans to strengthen his research focus through UF’s Aquatic Animal Health program. He’ll be studying the diversity and prevalence of pathogens among the African manatees in Cameroon and will be mentored by Dr. Bob Bonde here at UF.

“We’re very excited to have Aristide join the team to advance our understanding of endangered manatees and their conservation,” Bonde said.

Kamla first aspired to come to UF after attending a marine mammal conference in Tampa in 2011. During his visit, he participated in manatee health assessment activities led by U.S. Geological Survey staff at Crystal River and met many students and faculty of the UF veterinary college.

“I was so impressed by all the techniques and technology deployed to capture manatees and collect data samples without hurting them,” Kamla said. “Suddenly I realized that UF was the ideal place to gain knowledge and expertise in manatee research and conservation.”

However, the high cost of education in the United States posed a challenge. While at the conference, however, Kamla had met someone who told him about the Fulbright scholarship program and encouraged him to apply.

Once back in Cameroon, Kamla submitted an application to the Fulbright program. Initially, his application was rejected, but Kamla is not easily deterred when he sets a goal.

“My determination and motivation to study at UF and become a manatee expert prompted me to apply for a second time, which was then successful,” Kamla said, adding that in his application, he had designated UF as his first-choice school to attend.

“The Fulbright scholarship has made my dream become a reality,” he said, adding that the program had given him a chance to become what he always wanted to be.

“Besides, it provided me with great opportunity to network with other Fulbright students from around the world, so now I can embrace the world in the diversity of this culture.”

After completing his Ph.D., he plans to return to Cameroon to relay the knowledge he received at UF to students and researchers interested in marine mammal sciences and continue to conduct research activities on the African manatee.

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September 2014

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Aristide Kamal

New graduate student, Fulbright scholar to study manatee health

Aristide Kamla is an incoming Ph.D. student and Fulbright scholar from Cameroon who is studying manatee health.

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