Retiring biologist heads to Saudi Arabia

Posted: Tuesday, January 07, 2003

After a fruitful 20-year career with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, biologist Kris Hundertmark is retiring to pursue an even greater zoological adventure. Hundertmark, who distinguished himself with his work on wildlife genetics at the Moose Research Center in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, is heading for Saudi Arabia with the Zoological Society of London. "I wasn't exactly cruising the web looking for jobs in the Middle East, but when I was alerted to the job opportunity, it was the actual duties of the job that attracted me. After working all my life in Alaska where wildlife is abundant, to be faced with working with rare species that are endangered of going extinct was an opportunity at the total opposite end of the spectrum that totally outweighed the concerns of living in Saudi Arabia," said Hundertmark.

The typical media images of Saudi Arabia deal with the Gulf War and vast expanses of desert wasteland, but according to Hundertmark there is also mountainess terrain on the Arabian Peninsula, which attracts moisture and wildlife. The species that live there such as the Arabian leopard, Ibex, Oryx and Gazelles, are amazingly adapted to living in arid environments. Hundertmark says that the Ibex is a wild goat with large semi tar shaped horns that lives on the Arabian Peninsula up through Israel and Lebanon, and the Oryx is an antelope with large skinny horns. While well adapted to surviving the aired environment, they have been easy prey for humans, and over hunting decimated the native populations, which were always meager. Hundertmark's challenge will be to develop programs to rebuild the populations and re-introduce the Oryx to the wild. "The Saudi's have a conservation ethic that isn't well advertised, but they are interested in getting healthy populations re-introduced to the wild. Part of that project is doing genetic research to make sure that pure bred stock is used in the captive breeding program and that the populations to be established in the wild don't have genetic problems. Good genetics are always a concern when you have such a limited amount of breeding animals and that will be my job with the Zoological Society of London and the Saudi Government," explained Hundertmark, before leaving for London Saturday. The job is a one-year contract and he plans on checking it out before completely cutting loose from Alaska. Hundertmark's family and two children will remain in Soldotna while staying in close touch with the new adventure.

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