Conservation Field Diaries

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December 17, 2014
Tag, You're It!

Since the launch of Chicago Wildlife Watch, almost 250,000 tags have been committed to the first season of available data. This is a huge amount of information, and Urban Wildlife Institute researchers thought it was about time to start visualizing it! As a first pass, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at what people have been tagging.

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August 15, 2011
Releasing the Last Batch of Smooth Green Snakes

This week, we released the third group of head-started smooth green snakes into a Lake County Forest Preserve to help populations of this native snake recover.

May 24, 2011
Into the Field to Find Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes

Every year, April/May gets the members of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan® (SSP) thinking about one thing—not spring flowers popping out of the ground, but massasaugas periscoping out of their burrows for the first time as they emerge from hibernation. This year was no different, and in early May SSP members from 11 zoos, several local wildlife agencies and universities met in southwest Michigan for our annual field surveys.

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 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).

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