Field Research and Conservation in Africa
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In this year’s IUCN Conference of the Parties meeting it was stated that IUCN recognized the threat to cheetahs posed by the illegal pet trade. As explained in previous blogs, our fecal detection dog project will assist in gathering necessary information about the region of origin using genetic markers. Currently it is not known if the confiscated cubs originate in Kenya or if our country is the passing route for cheetahs from other countries.
In the past three months, Cosmas has completed two driving game counts in the Salama study area. Peter Barber returned to Kenya from Canada to visit different areas of Kenya and to assist ACK. Peter has assisted with driving and walking game counts for the last several years. In the May game count Cosmas and Peter saw a serval cat on the Kima ranch – this is the first serval seen during a game count since 2008. We are grateful to Peter for all of his support including game count driving!
Our research has been affiliated with KWS since 2001. Each year we submit study results, achievements and data to KWS to assist with cheetah conservation decisions. In the field we work closely with the Senior Warden, Community Warden, Science Officer and Area Rangers. During project planning we consult with specialists in the topic of our proposed study. Senior research offices read through and approve proposals, and authorize our work. It was our pleasure to host two of the senior officers to our Salama research site in late March. It is the goal of Dr.
Deanna has also been assisting in setting up the laboratory portion of the scat prey hair analysis. We hired Viola Rono as the laboratory technician. Viola had training in Biology and Micro-biology and had previously conducted an internship with the KWS laboratory through the veterinary department. Viola has perfected the mounting methodology for the hair analysis and has developed the guide key that will allow us to determining the prey selection of cheetahs from the 200 scats collected in Salama and Athi Kapiti in 2012.
Chai and Cujo are not the first dogs trained by ACK staff and students. In 2008-2010 we trained my pet dog Ginger. A PhD candidate, Chifuyu Beckett (Hawksby) worked diligently to train Ginger. However, Ginger had a very strong bond to me, and the changes in ownership/training caused stress to both Ginger and to me. Ginger is also easily distracted by squirrels, monkeys and rats… thus her focus on the tack of scat detection would often take a sideline.
It has been a very busy couple of months for Action for Cheetahs in Kenya. We welcomed the return of Deanna Russell to our field team. Deanna will volunteer with us for three months as a dog trainer, learning about methods of detection training. Deana is working with two young dogs. The first is Chai, a rescue dog from the Kenya Society for the Protection of Animals. Chai had a moderate play drive, but because of an immediate bond with Deanna, we decided to try using her and build the play drive.
For everyone who has worked with our ACK Salama team, you all know that Lumumba loves to listen to and tell stories from the field. Recent subdivision of the Kima Estate resulted in a rush for the resources. Fires were started during the dry season and after the rains there are many people grazing livestock on the fresh sprouts. Small game animals are regularly reports – dikdik, duiker, Steinbok, hares – now that fire and grazing have cleared much of the thick undercover.
Early October brought the end of the cheetah bait study. Due to the theft and fires, the study needed an extra two weeks to complete the full course – thus the baits were tested at all 12 sites over 14 weeks. Preliminary results showed frequent hyena visitation to the live goat and less frequent visitation to the robo-goat. The scents tested in this study did not attract cheetah. Nor did the coyote lure. Erica will take the next several weeks to complete the written portion of her project and full results will be made available.
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