My research has officially made it into the news! Yesterday, an article (below) was published about my research on Safari Club International Foundation's online news source. No too major but it's one heck of a start and very exciting! Now I guess I better produce because we've officially told the world. No turning back now.
Weekly Update: SCI Foundation Funds Lion Genetics Project
Despite the array of propaganda in today’s media that paints a bleak picture for African lion populations, the truth is, most of the facts are false. We don’t know how many lions lived in Africa a century ago. We don’t even know how many lions existed a quarter-century ago. And for genetics, there currently is a lack of knowledge about genetic diversity of lions.
Genetic diversity is directly related to a species’ ability to survive and thrive. Generally speaking, the higher the genetic diversity in a population, the more resilient that population is to threats on their survival. Threats may include in-breeding depression, disease, competition from other species, and changes in habitat, among others. Understanding the resiliency of a species can give great insight into the future of that animal. Therefore, SCI Foundation has recently funded a study to examine both historic and present day African lion (Panthera leo) genetic samples to determine whether any changes in the genetic make-up of this species over the last 100 years has any indication on its ability to thrive.
Using modern biotechnology, this collaborative study with Texas A&M is using genetic samples dating back to the early 1900s to document historical lion population numbers and changes in overall genetic diversity. Tissue, bone and hide samples will be collected from over 10 museums in the U.S., Europe and Africa.
With this information, researchers will compare levels of genetic diversity from lions in the past to provide a baseline for determining the genetic health of current populations. Ultimately this project has the ability to set the record straight amongst the emotional cries about the downfall and genetic vulnerability of the lion. Science is the cornerstone of wildlife management and this research could provide much needed insight into an issue where feelings often trump fact.
Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news.
Not all journal articles are created equal. Keep an eye out for red flags when reading articles during a literature review.
Last time I checked, lions weren't extinct.... Not even Panthera leo goojratensis (aka Panthera leo persica, the Asiatic lion) for which this article is about.
One of the reasons, which I have mentioned before, a decline in carnivore populations can be detrimental to an ecosystem is the spread of disease. Without the proper balance of large wildlife populations (which includes your large carnivores), smaller, disease carrying species (primarily rodents) can overrun an ecosystem causing an increase in disease for local wildlife and humans alike. A study published last week looked at this phenomenon in an area in Africa called the KLEE (the Kenya Long-Term Exclosure Experiment; a well-controlled, replicated large herbivore removal experiment based in central Kenya - an area which includes species such as elephant, giraffe, zebra and lion). Through three years of sampling, this project determined that declines in large wildlife increased the occurrence of landscape-level rodent-borne disease.
The concept is pretty simple (although the analysis from the study is fairly complicated); loss of large wildlife causes a loss in the regulation of the rodent population which, in turn, causes an increase in rodents and their parasite carrying friends, the flea, which increases the amount of disease found in humans and other wildlife. The difficult part is figuring out how to counter this effect (aka prevent disease). The options – prevent the loss of large wildlife so the rodent population can naturally regulate itself or artificially regulate the rodent population. Setting out a few rodent traps out in the middle of the African savannah probably won’t do the trick so, I say, let’s try letting the megafauna do its job and keep working on large wildlife conservation to keep those large wildlife numbers where they should be.
A study published in Conservation Biology this month has shown that incentive/community-based conservation efforts are effective in reducing the killing of large carnivores, specifically the lion. Projects such as Cheetah Country Beef by the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the sale of handicrafts by the Snow Leopard Trust have proven that the creation of a direct economic benefit for local individuals has a greater impact in improving predator tolerance than relying on a conceptual knowledge that there may be an overall economic benefit to the community through larger entities such as eco-tourism and trophy hunting. This study investigated 2 different approaches to improving the tolerance of lions with the local people of Maasailand in southern Kenya. They compared a purely incentive-based approach with an approach which integrates community values discovering that while each approach reduced lion killing individually, both approaches working in unison may be the way to go.
The first approach is based on a practice which has already had some success in the North America (with wolves, bears, coyotes, etc.), predator compensation. The goal of predator compensation is to deter vengeful killing by compensating local farmers for livestock losses caused by predators. A private organization called the Predator Compensation Fund was set up in southern Kenya to manage the program and the study found that over the 8 years of data collected, predator compensation resulted in an 87-91% decrease in killing.
The second program uses community cultural values and belief systems by employing traditional warriors, called imurran, to act as Lion Guardians. Imurran warriors are highly respected members of the Masaai community, responsible for defending its people and livestock. The guardians are offered $100/month to discourage locals from killing predators through education and community assistance. Additional deterrents include guardians losing their earnings if lions disappear so the strong Maasai ties to community and it being frowned upon to cause problems for respected community members has nearly wiped out lion killing completely, with the data showing a 99% decrease with the Lion Guardians program.
These percentages were calculated using some pretty sophisticated mathematical models and statistics (for those of you who understand that kind of stuff, they used a jackknifed generalized linear model with pairwise comparisons of the likelihood ratio statistic). Both programs have some downfalls – predator compensation hasn’t been shown to have long-term sustainability when privately funded and can cause livestock management to fall in anticipation for loss, and Lion Guardians doesn’t take into consideration the costs of livestock losses at all – but the benefits of each can counter the costs of the other. A combination of incentive-based approaches would be the most ideal method for improving predator tolerance but, of the two approaches, the one with implications on community values was the more successful and more likely of the two to be successful if run on its own.
•Hazzah, L. et al. 2014. Efficacy of two lion conservation programs in Maasailand, Kenya. Conservation Biology
I have hinted in a couple of past posts about a big adventure I will be having this year. And, now that all the plans are officially finalized and everything is paid for, I can share the big news.
Three weeks from today I will be arriving in Africa for a three week adventure throughout South Africa and Namibia.
I will be spending two weeks in Nelspruit, South Africa with Wildlife Vets learning about wildlife conservation medicine, then, post course, I will be spending an extra week traveling South Africa and Namibia with Dr. Derr meeting with professional hunter organizations to discuss some ongoing research projects. I might even have the chance to go hunting myself (eek!).
An incident at the Copenhagen Zoo has recently made international news. Last week, a healthy, 2-year-old, male giraffe named Marius was shot and then skinned and fed to lions before the public. The decision to shoot the giraffe was not made lightly. In an effort to prevent inbreeding of the captive giraffe population, the zoo was advised by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria to get rid of the animal. The Copenhagen Zoo used the sad circumstances as a learning opportunity, allowing the public to watch the process of preparing a feed animal to use as enrichment.
Again, animal rights activists are taking the situation way too far. The Copenhagen Zoo and its staff have been receiving threats to their life and livelihood, including threatens to burn the zoo down! How exactly will burning down the entire institution help anything? Isn't that making the problem worse? Isn't that threatening MANY of the individual animals they claim to want to 'protect'? Logic apparently is not part of their mantra to save the animals. The first article I read was from what I can only assume is an extremist website for activists. They ended the article proclaiming “this practice of ‘keeping the population genetically sound’ sure doesn't seem like a kindness to us – either for Marius or for the other giraffes.” And they are right. It is not a kindness to you personally or a kindness to the poor giraffe that had to be shot, but it IS a kindness to ALL of the giraffe – and zoo visitor – relatives and future generations. That giraffe would have had a poor quality of life if they had kept him and given him contraceptives, which have detrimental side effects. The zoo also now has a spot available to bring in another giraffe with new genes to be introduced into the population, which is better for the giraffe population as a whole.
My mission statement, of sorts, is I am a professional student saving the planet one carnivore at a time and a scientific review published today in Science (Volume 343) does a pretty good job of explaining why. Carnivores are really cool but the importance of keeping these species’ populations healthy is more important than because they’re badass.
Most of the members of the order Carnivora are at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem making them an integral part of the health and well-being of that ecosystem. And, since carnivores exist in almost every habitat on Earth, declines in these species can be seriously detrimental to the condition of our plant. Carnivores play an important role in regulating ecosystem function. Other species, both flora and fauna, rely on carnivores hunting, scavenging, leaving prey remains, etc. whether directly or indirectly. A decline in carnivores has some fairly unexpected effects including changes in biodiversity, disease, and even stream morphology.
Natural ecosystem balance has ebb and flow, but in recent ecological history the ebb is beating out the flow in regards to many carnivore populations. Factors such as human-animal conflict, habitat loss and depletion of prey due to over hunting are changing our planet’s carnivore populations and declines are causing declines in other essential species and increases in destructive ones. This review focused on seven of the 31 large mammalian species of Carnivora (above) which have documented trophic cascades (meaning the predator is responsible for the alteration traits of their prey within a food web – ie the Circle of Life) reporting on the effects each carnivore has on its individual ecosystem. Their conclusions, humans cannot replace carnivores in their role of preserving ecosystem balance and conservation efforts need to be made to prevent further loss or even extinction of such important biodiversity and ecosystem function maintenance species.
I wanted to share with ya'll a photo I ran across today that gave me a good chuckle.
THE TABLES HAVE TURNED HUMANS! -- What an experience that would be. This was taken at Orana Wildlife Park in New Zealand. For only $30 (excluding the $25 park admission), visitors go directly into the lion's enclosure during feeding time. This has definitely just been added to my Bucket List!
So excited I've finally added this to my DVD library!
Look what got delivered today! If you haven't seen (or heard of) The Last Lions, come on over and we'll watch it. This is one of the best documentaries, wildlife or non, I have ever seen. It has the film quality of Planet Earth but follows a story rather simply documenting behavior. It's a real life Lion King - and it doesn't hurt that it's narrated by Scar (Jeremy Irons).
Most people are exposed to "true" wildlife through channels such as Animal Planet. But, in our reality show driven society, the programming on these stations is no longer focused on education but rather, entertainment. You are not going to learn anything of value about wildlife from Finding Bigfoot or Hillbilly Hand Fishing. (I don't even watch Animal Planet anymore their programming is so worthless). Disney Nature has done a pretty good job trying to get people interested in nature not "nature" having come out with a few wildlife films, which are wonderful but definitely geared towards a certain demographic. African Cats, which followed the lives of a family of lions and a family of cheetahs was absolutely adorable, however, it is for a rated G audience and life in the wild is not rated G.
I had the opportunity to go to the premiere of The Last Lions at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on February 9, 2011. The premier included a Q&A with the filmmakers Dereck & Beverly Joubert. What makes this film unlike any other wildlife program is that this husband and wife team took the time for the lions to habituate to their presence allowing for a virtually, truly wild portrayal of a lion's life. They lived amongst these lions for years basically becoming one with the bush so we can have a glimpse into the lion's world. They also made a point not to anthropomorphize while writing the script. In other words, they didn't give the lions human emotions, leaving the interpretation up to the viewer. There is no holding back in this movie. It is very real and you will feel all the emotions that go along with that.
I am a biologist and my life is crap!