Jambo, everyone! My name is Anne-Marie Hodge, and for the next four months I will be conducting the inaugural fieldwork session for my doctoral research in the central highlands of Kenya. In this blog series, I will narrate my experiences as I delve into the inner workings of mesopredator populations in that region, and I am honored to have the opportunity to share my fieldwork experiences with you.
First, who am I, and what do I do? I am a PhD student in the University of Wyoming’s interdisciplinary Program in Ecology, and my adviser is Dr. Jacob Goheen. My main research interest is carnivore community ecology. Broadly, this means that I study the mechanisms through which different carnivore species manage to co-exist in the same communities and habitats.
How differentiated are their diets, and do they defend exclusive territories or share hunting grounds? Do they trade off activity times during the twenty-four hour cycle or roam around at similar times, at the risk of encountering one another? Does the abundance of one predator species influence the abundance of other predators in the community, and over what distance? And a further, critical issue: how are these interactions are affected by ecological conditions such as habitat density, resource availability, and seasonal precipitation patterns?
These are the questions that perpetually fascinate me and fuel my work. My master’s thesis focused on the diversity and niche-partitioning strategies of carnivores in the eastern Andean foothills of Ecuador. For my doctoral research in Kenya, I will expand upon this theme by examining the influence of broader environmental factors on carnivore diversity and the structure of niche hierarchies.
I will be working in a fascinating area of central Kenya, the Laikipia Plateau, which acts as a sort of shelf bridging the expanse of savannah between Mount Kenya and the Great Rift Valley. Laikipia is home to vanishingly rare and critical breeding groups of the highly endangered African painted dog (Lycaon pictus), black rhino (Diceros bicornis), and Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi). The region also houses critical populations of other threatened species, such as the cheetah (Acionyx jubatus) and the reticulated giraffe (also known as the Somali giraffe; Giraffa camelopardus reticulata), which is endemic to northern Kenya and Somalia.
It is very important to me for my work to have practical conservation implications. All of my data will be collected on private land, rather than national parks, giving me the opportunity to address real-world conservation challenges. Cordoning off adequate land to preserve many of Africa’s large and threatened species is not likely to be feasible, given the resource constraints posed by ever-growing human populations in the face of increasingly erratic climatic patterns.
In light of this, species conservation efforts must seek ways to sustain wildlife populations outside of delineated parkland without evicting local peoples. Completely sequestering land and resources from human communities who have lived there for countless generations is not a recipe for successful, sustainable wildlife conservation in the long-term.
In light of that, I’ll also touch on the efforts of our research group to cooperate with local communities in order to find solutions that will both allow wildlife populations to persist and thrive while also allowing local pastoralists and ranchers to maintain their livelihoods.
I depart for Kenya this week (bags packed, antsy to go!) and will be settling into the field site the following week. Keep an eye out for further dispatches soon!
Photos: copyright by author.