Wednesday, 09 January 2013 11:41

Dundalk teacher adopts baby elephant for school

by Bill Gates

    Ron Saul hadn’t been in Kenya for five minutes when he witnessed a sight  that has stuck in his memory.
    “I saw a child with a styrofoam cup, filling it with nasty water from a puddle on the side of the road and pouring it into a plastic bottle,” the Dundalk High Homeland Security teacher said.
    “It was gross, brackish water, and her family would be using it for drinking and washing. That image has been scarred into my mind ever since I saw it.”
    It was also one of the reasons Saul spent the winter break in this African nation.
    Saul, a 2004 Dundalk High grad, teaches about infectious diseases (their danger and how to contain/control them) in the school’s Homeland Security department.
    “There are a lot of diseases [in Kenya] like malaria and polio, things we easily treat in the United States,” Saul said. “But treatment is not readily available for Kenyans.”
    And the lack of a clean water supply, leading to families using dirty roadside water, is a major factor in spreading disease.
    One of four Kenyan children will die from malaria, Saul said. Polio, of which maybe four children in the United States were afflicted last year, is epidemic.
    He went to Kenya to tour the Walter Reed Project Medical Research Laboratory.
    One of the projects Walter Reed is researching is a malaria vaccine.
    “I toured the [Reed] facility to see what preventative things they work on to help the Kenyan population,” Saul said.
    At Dundalk High, he teaches his students about pathogens, epidemic outbreaks and vaccines, crime scene investigations and how the government could respond in the event of a chemical or biological terrorist attack.
    Touring the Walter Reed facility in Kenya “was great for me,” Saul said. “I was able to see, hands-on, what they do to protect people and children.
    “It was very positive to see what the response would be if something were to happen here.”
    Saul left on Dec. 22 and returned on Dec. 31. With no non-stop flights between Baltimore and Kenya, his journey took him through four continents (Atlanta to Dubai and from there to Kenya; returning was through Amsterdam and Detroit).
    “I did a lot with public health and vaccination education,” he said. “It was neat to see how they did that.”
    Saul also took steps to forge a relationship between Dundalk High and a Kenyan school.
    He brought with him to Kenya several boxes of school supplies, clothing and toiletries donated by Dundalk and Overlea high students.
    The school he visited used the trailer portion of a tractor-trailer as a classroom, cutting holes in it for windows and doors.
    “They’re very proud to be Kenyan, very hard-working,” he said. “They re-use and re-cycle everything.”
    One of four soccer-playing brothers to pass through Dundalk High, Ron is the family “black sheep” for attending St. Mary’s College (where he majored in neuroscience) while Tom, Dan and Tim all graduated from McDaniel College.
    But Tom (Ph.D. in analytical chemistry) and Dan (master’s degree in biotechnology) are also scientists, while Tim works for ABC News.
Dundalk’s new mascot
    Saul did more than just find Dundalk High a sister school in Kenya — he adopted a baby elephant on the school’s behalf.
    The elephant, named Kithaka, was orphaned when his parents were killed by poachers.
    “He was found nursing off of his dead mother, whose tusks had been torn out,” Saul said.
    The elephant was adopted through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Project.
    The money donated by Dundalk High for the adoption will pay for Kithaka’s food and his human caretaker.
    As the orphaned elephants will eventually be released back into the wild, human contact is restricted to the animal’s designated caretaker.
    For the next five years, Dundalk High will receive photos of Kithaka and updates on him until he is released.
    The school will not, however, become the Dundalk High Pachyderms.
    “We don’t want to be confused with the insurance company,” Dundalk principal Tom Shouldice said.
Out on safari
    Saul spent his last two days in Kenya on a safari, camping out in the wilderness and listening to lions roar out in the darkness beyond the campfire.
    “I spent a lot of time thinking about that movie The Ghost and the Darkness,” he said.
    Saul was able to see — and photograph — several endangered species while on the safari.
    Among them were the northern white rhino, of which only 10 are still believe to survive, and the African wild dog, of which there are thought to be seven remaining in the Northern Hemisphere (and Saul saw all seven).
    One evening, the safari members returned to the campsite in the pitch darkness to find it occupied by three adult elephants and their young.
    “The rule is, Don’t mess with the elephants when their children are close by,” Saul said. “We had to wait outside the camp [in the pitch darkness, mind you, without a fire] for over an hour, until a Kenyan arrived and fired blanks to drive off the elephants.”
    Saul got a close look at a cheetah and was outside the vehicle and within 10 yards of a male lion — “He had just eaten a zebra, so I figured he wouldn’t be interested in me” — but never came across a leopard.
    “I so desperately wanted to see a leopard,” he said, because apparently being close enough to a lion to be considered for dessert wasn’t thrilling enough.
    Saul did accomplish his main goal, however, which was to return home pathogen-free — thanks to “$400 worth of vaccines in my arm.
    “I teach [infectious diseases], so if I would have gone to Africa and came back with something, my students would have given me a hard time.”