Tuesday, 3 February 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: Karma Chameleon

How does a country expecting hundreds (thousands?) coming across its borders from anywhere and everywhere try to keep itself safe from Ebola? It takes their temperature! By employing “thermal scanners” at each border crossing, they hope “to detect elevated body temperatures and possible infectious diseases."  

And I woke this morning still feeling like crap. Great!

We again crossed the border at Malaba. Leaving Uganda was considerably less painful than when we entered. then again, I wasn't trying to palm off a trillion shillings worth of $1USD bills. The customs official was jovial and quick, which in the searing heat was much appreciated. When we reached the Kenyan side it was like a scene akin to a Doctor Who episode complete with sonic screwdriver. I was feeling safer already!.... Hmmm. Where do they stick these things again? Some researchers claim these scanners are merely "reassuring" and not much else. So, more like scammer then? My scientific self was already twitching. 

After being exposed to heat in the truck, queuing at the Ugandan customs and again for my "Ebola screening" I began to ponder that in all likelihood most people will have skin temperatures alone that are well above an expected fever. Skin temperature is not core temperature. The scanner is placed, somewhat thankfully, against your forehead and then, if you are below 37 degrees, you're given a piece of paper meaning you can proceed to go and get your stamp. I have to admit I was a little nervous given that I wasn't feeling 100%. And wait a minute.... 37 degrees?!?! That is merely an average of what's classed as normal (at least what I learnt in physiology and I had a Dr. confirm). Normal body temperature can fluctuate by as much as 0.6 degrees throughout the day, depending on time and activity level. "A fever is usually 38 degrees or above isn't it?" I frantically thought to myself. Quite clearly I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure about this - fevers are also symptoms of loads and loads of things. So there non-scientific scanner type thing!

I was 36.2. 

One person in my group however had a reading of 37.2 and was immediately flagged. Did this mean men in white suits and masks were going to appear?  No. Instead a waiting period of about 10 minutes, in the shade, ensued. And of course upon retesting the temperature was passable.  Oh and get this, checking body temperature isn’t a sure-fire way to find individuals infected with Ebola. People can carry the virus for up to three weeks before showing symptoms, and are not contagious during that period (via the WHO website).

How's that for reassurance?

A return to the Naiberi campsite in Eldoret and we had the pool to ourselves. Well almost. As a couple of us were swimming around we saw we had a guest shading itself under the slide. A Trioceros hoehnelli, commonly known as Von Höhnel's chameleon (and the helmeted or high-casqued chameleon), was lounging there as though it was waiting for a piña colada complete with umbrella. 

Both sexes have a small blunt horn shape lump on the snout, larger on males. Large spikes are present on the throat, smaller spikes run along the back to the base of the tail. The colour varies from shades of dull green, green-brown, light to dark grey or yellow. Reaching a maximum size of 16-17cm (6.5 inch), averaging out at 10-14cm (4-5.5 inches), this is a small species. They live together in the wild and are not territorial. This chameleon is found in high altitude, cooler temperate regions of Kenya and Uganda.

It was incredibly cute, believe it or not, and after sort of making sure it wasn't dangerous (by asking a campsite staff member - who quite frankly could have told us anything) a few of us gently held it. It didn't seem to mind as apparently the species turn black when threatened and it stayed green-brown. It had the cutest little pincer-like feet (some reference it as zygodactyl, others as didactyl) and of course the coolest eyes in the animal kingdom.... Ever. 

Nothing quite matches being watched by something that isn't even facing you... With one eye. A chameleon "without conviction"? 

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