Field Research and Conservation in Africa
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Welcome Morgan and Nelson
Earlier this year I mentioned the master’s student, Dr. Nelson Owange who has joined the ACK team. Nelson attends the University of Nairobi and is about to finish his coursework for the year. In February, Nelson travelled to the USA where he spent two weeks at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. There he met Adrienne Crosier and Morgan Maly. Adrienne is a cheetah reproductive biologist and Morgan is another Masters student. Morgan will be working with Nelson in the field from now (May) through August collecting fecal samples. Every scientist knows you can learn a lot from POOP!
Nelson will focus on cheetah prey selection in the Salama and Athi-Kapiti ecosystems. We noted with our radio collared cheetahs that small game, including hare and hyrax were a significant part of the cheetah diet. Our hypothesis is that cheetahs in thick bush, or in settlement areas may select the smaller prey, but will need to eat more of it to maintain their strength. Cheetahs in open areas where gazelle and antelope are present (like in the Mara or Serengeti for example) typically consume medium sized prey. Fecal analysis will show Nelson which prey is being consumed in each area. Our game counts will show if the selection is based on density and abundance or if there are other reasons for prey selection.
Morgan will be focused on stress hormone levels in the two areas. We theorize that cheetahs in settlement areas may have a higher level of stress due to harassment by people and lack of significant prey base, whereas cheetahs on commercial ranches may suffer less stress due to prey availability and less interference. However, there are occasional lions, higher populations of hyena and leopard on the commercial ranches as well. Moran is just beginning her coursework, so it may be well into 2013 before we get results from the stress hormone study.
Any fresh samples collected by the scat tem will be divided into three – one to test prey, one to test hormone and one to store for future DNA analysis. The St. Louis Zoo, Dinsney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Cheetah Friends Europe, Animal Ark and Project Survival are currently the key supporters of this study. We are still seeking funds for fuel, field support (food!) and the stress hormone testing. Please visit Actionforcheetahs.org to support the critical work of these students.
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