I took part in the "Meet a Scientist" portion of the festivities. Carrying around my lion skull instead of a protest poster was a great conversation starter. I talked to a lot of people about conservation, lions, bones, genetics, graduate school, etc. I passed my card out to teachers who were interested in having scientists come talk to their students and ended up having a great conversation about Conservation Genetics with someone who said they had never heard of it before. It was exhausting but I had a lot of fun.
Once upon a time, scientists had faith in their president and government. They believed they were advocates of progress and defenders of the planet. These days, massive cuts to funding, freezes in government agencies employing scientists, and attacks on facts have caused a lot of doubt in our government and it's relationship with science.
Yesterday was Earth Day and thousands of scientists WORLDWIDE marched to show solidarity for the importance of science. I attended the Bryan/College Station March for Science which was small but did a great job of including the local community. As one of the largest research universities in the United States, Texas A&M University does a lot of ground breaking research but most of the community probably doesn't know much about it unless they are directly associated with it in some way. After the march we had a Science Town Hall. There were science demos, the opportunity to "Meet a Scientist" and talks on how science is a part of everyone's life.
I think our little event was a success. And, as for the marches around the globe, I don't know how much it will effect policy, but it got people excited about science. And support from the public is just as crucial to policy as support from politicians, as one can lead to the other.
With our country's political dichotomy, terms like "climate change" and "global warming" cause more division than unification. "Climate change" and "global warming" are terms of a global scale when many don't grasp much outside of a local scale. So, you'll probably find more people who think we have a responsibility to the environment than who believe in "global warming".
"Global warming" is a misnomer, giving nonbelievers ammo for their argument, and "climate change" is used as a political power play to further agendas rather than what might actually be best action. In reality, we are living in a changing environment and whether you believe it is because it's being caused by people or not, there is scientific evidence showing change.
So, regardless of these terms and how their usage effects the public, the environment still undergoes change and, despite personal political beliefs, we, as a species on this planet, have a responsibility of helping the environment and not making conditions worse.
Compromise must be made between sides to make something abstract more tangible. My recommendation, take those terms out of it and focus on actual, tangible issues.
My lion example (sorry for all the commas but try to follow me): Climate change isn't reducing the home range of the African lion, anthropogenic factors (things that are a result of human activity), such as humans coming into lion habitat, which, in turn, changes the landscape, do. A focus on alleviating human-wildlife conflict, teaching carnivore-friendly land use, and the creation of corridors to preserve passageways for movement of species across people dominated areas, for example, will better serve the lion population than trying to "stop climate change." It's something people can more readily relate to and inevitably leads to that bigger picture that "climate change" is trying to encompass but is too abstract for many to understand. It's the same goal just a refocus of the issue. And, I think, the lion conservation community is doing this well.
The Perspectives Series is a student-created, student-managed publication whose mission is to communicate conservation research being conducted by undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty in the field of applied biodiversity to a broader audience of academics, practitioners, and the public.
The collection of articles in this year's Perspectives Series shares with you the insights and experiences of graduate students and faculty focused on conservation and biodiversity issues in Africa.
Applied biodiversity brings multiple perspectives together—from ecology and psychology, to genetics and anthropology—to address the global challenge of reducing the loss of biodiversity and its impacts on human livelihoods.
This year’s issue can be read and downloaded at:
For the second year in a row, I am a recipient of the Dan L. Duncan Scholarship presented by the Houston Safari Club and the American Conservation and Education Society. This year, 24 students with a desire to protect and promote hunting and the principles of conservation were given the award in front of Houston Safari Club members at their September monthly meeting. Gary Rose (far right) did a remarkable job introducing us all, bragging about all our various accomplishments like a proud parent.
This was my last year of eligibility for the award but so far during my tenure as a recipient, I've met many interesting people and have learned a lot about the industry. Thank you to Houston Safari Club for supporting me and my goals of African lion research and conservation!
Other news on the funding front, my project received 2 grants from Dallas Safari Club! An anonymous donor through the organization is paying for the Freezer/Mill I need to process all my bone samples and I received their general grant, highlighted on the grants page of their website with a photo of a lion!
Coupled with the money you all graciously donated through the Experiment.com Cat Challenge crowdfunding campaign (for which I came in 2nd), my project has enough funding to get me through the year!!!
The innovative part of this analysis was the addition of a comparison to other species who are recognized to have subspecies and show similar Sub-Saharan population distribution. The study identified 46 animals that show a distinction between West/Central African and East/Southern Africa populations. While some animals are recognized as being more than one species – known as a complex – such as Baboon (5), Rock hyrax (5) and Oryx (3), others are species separated into subspecies, such as Giraffe (9; below), Black (4) and White (2) Rhino, and Caracal (8). Only 13 of the 46 animals aren’t separated between West/Central and East/Southern, including the lion, according to CITES.
The ESA classification is a little closer to demonstrating the Sub-Saharan distribution taxonomically by clumping the West/Central population with the Asiatic population. However, based on these results, lions may be able to be classified even more specifically. Hopefully my research will be able to shed a little more light on this. The help Laura is giving me to continue this investigation is immeasurable.
In case you forgot, today is also National S'more Day and I just bought this....
from San Diego based online marshmallow shop Mallow Mallow.
My dissertation project has gotten some great news this week. Today we received 30 lion specimens from the Field Museum of Natural History!
The Challenge is 2-fold:
The project with the most BACKERS will receive an extra $1,000 added to their GOAL.
Our GOAL is $5,000 and we must receive 100% of our GOAL to get any of the money donated by the BACKERS.
Go to Experiment.com/liondiversity and show some support by making a donation. Any little bit helps! The more people who make donations the better. You can also help by spreading the word.
The Challenge (# of BACKERS) runs from today to Friday, June 10 @ 6PM ET
The Campaign (100% of GOAL) runs from today to Saturday, June 18
Your support is much appreciated! THANKS!!!
If you haven’t heard yet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) has made a ruling to list the lion as two subspecies under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Effective today, under the ESA (this is an important distinction), the lion will now be Panthera leo leo and Panthera leo melanchaita.
The ruling also includes some new regulations on hunting permit requirements. Anyone convicted of or who has pled guilty to violations of wildlife laws will be denied a permit. They will also only allow the importation of sport-hunted trophies from countries with established conservation programs and well-managed lion populations to help support and strengthen the accountability of conservation programs in other nations.
This ruling seems fair but their use of previously and currently used subspecies names may get a little convoluted in the overall scheme of things. It seems as though USFWS is showing a genuine concern in looking after the best interest of the African lion but I think more research is still needed (and not just because I’m one of the ones doing it) to make decisions that will be beneficial for both the lions and the countries they live in.
The manuscript I have been working so hard on for most of the year has finally been published!
My first publication, Mitochondrial Haplotype Diversity in Zambian Lions: Bridging a Gap in the Biogeography of an Iconic Species, was made live today, December 16th, 2015! I am now officially a published author!
The paper is about matrelineal gene flow and genetic diversity of lions in Zambia. We found that lions in Zambia have a high level of diversity but can be separated into two sub-populations with little to no matrelineal gene flow between the two. The separation could be historical but it more likely due to an expanse of cities and roads that inhibit modern day dispersal because, when put in context with the entire range of the African lion, Zambia acts as a bridge connecting Southern and Eastern lion populations. This is all based on analysis of mitochondrial genes and the discovery of 5 sets of DNA variations (haplotypes) thus far not seen anywhere else in Africa.
Here's my official citation:
Curry CJ, White PA, Derr JN (2015) Mitochondrial Haplotype Diversity in Zambian Lions: Bridging a Gap in the Biogeography of an Iconic Species. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143827. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143827
I am currently working on a press release for this paper and I have already started writing my next publication, hopefully with two others soon to follow after that. My goal is that by the time I finish my PhD I will have at least 5 publications. Let the fun begin!
It was too cloudy in College Station to see the eclipse. It's nice that someone was able to capture a magical moment!
Throwback to two weeks ago when I was in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History Department of Mammology delving through cabinet after cabinet and shelf after shelf of animals bones diggings for ancient DNA treasures!
Bone, tissue and hide from these animals will be used in the historic portion of my research which will be comparing modern lions to lions that existed prior to extensive management and translocation efforts of the last 100 years. Dr. Derr and I had our hands on lions as old as 1886 (and possibly older because some of them didn't have documented dates).
This Throwback Third Thursday (#tbtt) is a bit different in that it is a throwback to a icon in honor of a couple trips I am making for my research in the next few weeks; first to Fort Worth for some training then to New York City for sample collection.
The photo to the left is of taxidermist, sculptor, biologist, conservationist, inventor, and nature photographer Carl Akeley. He is with one of the lionesses he shot while on an excursion to Africa in 1909 with Teddy Roosevelt which is now housed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City where I will be in just a few weeks collecting historic lion samples. Next week I will be visiting the Institute of Applied Genetics at the University of North Texas Health Science Center to learn DNA collection and extraction techniques from forensics experts. I will be bringing bones from various species with me to "play around with" to become an expert before I start the real work with the few valuable pieces of material I am able to procure from the museum. I am SO excited for what's coming up the next few months. It's going to be VERY busy but VERY exciting.
I forgot to mention I also have my preliminary examinations scheduled for the beginning of September as well. Yeah... this summer is jam packed (and slightly stressful). But it's all going to be awesome!
The lions have been almost fully "reintroduced". They have been awakened in Rwanda and initial introductions have been made in the form of quarantine bomas. They will spend 14 days in these bomas acclimating to their new Rwandan home and getting used to the sites, sounds and smells of their new home. Apparently, the local baboon troupe isn't too happy about it.
The non-profit African Parks, an organization charged on taking total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments, wildlife organizations and local communities, was responsible for the management of the translocation efforts. They are a management organization with a focus on the generation of sustainable income streams to pay for running costs and capital replacements. Although they seem to have an economic focus, they do have a conservation approach and mention long-term biodiversity restoration in their model. This seems like a great organization, taking on the financial burdens that often plight national parks, my only concern is that with this move of South African lions into Rwanda rather than eastern African lions into Rwanda is that the individuals making the decisions regarding long-term biodiversity restoration may not fully understand what biodiversity and biodiversity restoration means.
Lions went extinct in Rwanda 15 years ago after the 1994 genocide when the Akagera National Park went unmanaged and cattle herders poisoned many of the animal species. And this week, in a big conservation effort, seven lions, 5 females and 2 males, are being relocated from the South African province of KwaZulu Natal to repopulate Rwanda with lions. They are starting their journey from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Rwanda today!
7/1/2015 - While doing a bit more research combing through article after article reading the same shpeal over and over I finally found something that somewhat confirmed my suspicion but with no real concrete evidence... there is political mumbo jumbo afoot....
The Christian Science Monitor (um, the what?) says that Kenya offered to donate eight lions to Rwanda last year but Kenya's wildlife conservation groups fiercely opposed the plan saying "Rwanda had not sufficiently addressed issues that resulted to the loss of its own lion population."
I am a biologist and my life is crap!