Conservation Field Diaries

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November 19, 2014
Close Up on Camera Traps

Dozens of “camera traps” in the Republic of Congo’s remote Goualougo Triangle let zoo scientists record how chimpanzees use tools in the wild.

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June 17, 2010
Rhino Sighting!

Today was our last day in the field and I SPOTTED A RHINO! Now I am definitely ready to go home. I had accomplished everything I wanted to on this trip. We had processed and organized all the fecal samples to bring back to the U.S. for analysis. We had trained Thando to collect samples and data. And I found a rhino.

Last year, we were in Addo for two weeks and never spotted one rhino. Well, this trip we have seen one almost every day, and I found one!

May 24, 2010
Spotting Rhinos

We met up with Thando, our new South African SANparks Research Assistant, to go into the field, move the camera traps to new locations and train him on the sample-collection methods.

May 24, 2010
Still Sorting

Jordana had to take the Land Rover into town for repairs while Elizabeth and I continued to work on the samples. We prepared all of the sample vials for transportation and went over protocols for the field techniques. It was another entire-day process, but we did finish everything that we needed.

Rachel Santymire

May 24, 2010
Sorting Samples

Today was a fecal sample–processing day. We started organizing all of the samples that we would be bringing back with us to Lincoln Park Zoo for hormonal and parasite analyses. We have around 150 fecal samples from which Jordie has extracted hormones using our field-extraction method.

Overall, this is a huge undertaking! Jordie is leaving the project, so we are inventorying our equipment and supplies and purging more than 1,500 elephant and rhino samples that have already been analyzed.

May 24, 2010
Tracking the Rhinos

We got up early this morning because we were invited by South Africa National Parks to watch as they located black rhinos (via helicopter) to immobilize them for ear notching. Each rhino in Addo Elephant National Park is darted around 3–5 years of age and given a name and specific pattern of ear notches that can be used to identify individuals on photographs taken by camera traps. Rhinos can also be positively identified by other anatomical features, such as their horn and scars on their bodies.

May 24, 2010
Into Addo Elephant National Park

After breakfast we grab groceries and head up to Adoo Elephant National Park. AENP was started in 1931 to save the region’s 11 remaining elephants. It is 164,000 hectares and hopes to expand to 236,000 hectares in the near future, making it the third largest National Park in South Africa.

AENP has the “Big 5” (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhinos). The current elephant population size is 500. Since it’s fenced, AENP now faces new problems...how to accommodate all of the elephants!

May 24, 2010
Arriving in South Africa

After 21 hours for flying, Dr. Elizabeth Freeman and I make it to Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape of South Africa. Because we are still one hour from Addo Elephant National Park (AENP), and it’s 10 p.m., Jordana Meyer picks us up and takes us to a B&B to send the night. To celebrate my birthday (which is today) Jordie brings out a cake and everyone sings happy birthday to me!

Why am I in South Africa?

May 21, 2010
A Morning SSP Meeting

While everyone is eager to go out into the field (thinking that today is the day they will find at least one massasauga), as SSP coordinator, I sternly herd them straight from their breakfast coffee to the conference meeting room. We must forgo for the moment the call of the wild and focus on managing the population of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan®.

Computers emerge from backpacks, notebooks open and brains engage (thanks to abundant coffee).

May 20, 2010
A Day in the Field

In her last post, Lisa touched on what it’s like to survey for rattlesnakes, but I thought I’d give you a better idea of what we do for 5–7 hours a day in southwest Michigan. Part of the fun involves occasional brushes with poison sumac, crawling ticks and the randomly changing wetland terrain, which can be solid ground one step and mud up to your waist the next. The real challenge, however, is reviewing your knowledge about preferred massasauga habitat and then trying to narrow your search of hundreds of acres of wetlands to where you think the snakes will be.

May 18, 2010
Searching for Snakes in Southwest Michigan

Each spring the eastern massasauga rattlesnake emerges from crayfish burrows and other winter hibernation holes ready for some sun and a good meal to kick-start its growth and reproduction for the year. This emergence coincides with a new spring tradition for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan® (SSP), which manages the snake’s population in zoos across the country.

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