I have a wide variety of interests across the fields of zoology, ecology, behavior, disease ecology, structured decision making, rewilding, and conservation management and planning (and more!). Here is a brief look at some of the collaborative projects I have been involved with.
Elephant scar prevalence in the Kasigau Wildlife Corridor, Kenya: Echoes of human–elephant conflict
Von Hagen, R.L., LaDue, C., Schulte, B.A. See our paper in Animals HERE
Human–elephant conflict (HEC) compromises agricultural crop security and threatens elephant conservation. Most commonly, HEC manifests as crop-raiding as elephants modify foraging strategies to incorporate crops. Farmers may retaliate by frightening or harming elephants, leaving scars from inflicted wounds. We assessed the prevalence and patterns of scars in a population of African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) in the Kasigau Wildlife Corridor that are part of the Greater Tsavo Ecosystem population in Kenya where conflict is prevalent. We surmised scars to be largely a result of HEC and thereby hypothesized that: 1) male elephants would have more scars than females; 2) older males would be more likely than younger males to have scars; and 3) most scars would be located on the body (rather than heads or rumps) of elephants. We assessed scars from a photographic catalogue of elephants from the KWC. In line with our hypotheses, male elephants were more likely to have scars than females (32% of males compared to 6% of females); older males had significantly more scars than younger ones; and the majority of scars were located on the body section. Scar presence may be useful as an animal-centered indicator to estimate the prevalence and patterns of HEC.
Abstract by Vasavi Prakash (https://www.linkedin.com/in/vasaviprakash/): Competitive interactions between people and large mammals can result in injury or death of people or animals and cause detrimental economic and conservation impacts.The costs and frequency of these negative human-wildlife interactions (HWI) are increasing globally.HWI can create issues of safety and food security for people especially in rural areas and developing nations. Thus, practitioners are challenged to find ways to manage wildlife populations while maintaining human health and livelihoods.To address this challenge, our goal was to create a universally applicable model for managing negative HWI in a transparent, scientific, and participatory process. We used structured decision-making to decompose the complexities of HWI mitigation and provide an iterative and locally adaptable model to inform management. This model was supported by theoretical and empirical research across species and continents while using the fundamental tools of structured decision-making. The model helps practitioners identify fundamental objectives, and define specific, measurable attributes to quantify the expected success of decision alternatives. Furthermore, our model incorporates local stakeholder participation and double-loop learning in an iterative adaptive management approach. To demonstrate the model and its potential applications in the management and mitigation of conflicts, we use two species with high instances of conflict, the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris). Findings on these species demonstrate that our model can be customized according to local context and needs. Finally, our model provides an adaptive approach for promoting human-wildlife coexistence and the preservation of biodiversity globally.
The abstract and our preliminary results were presented at ICCB in 2021. We expect manuscript submission in Spring of 2024. Co-authors: Prakash, V. (equal fist author), Gitzen, R., Schulte, B.A., Lepczyk, C.A.
As genetic editing technologies develop and the possibility of species resurrection becomes more likely, de-extinction is being considered as a tool to restore extinct species and stem biodiversity loss. While promising, de-extinction poses a set of tradeoffs, including the potential restoration of ecosystem function and services versus the lost opportunity cost for other conservation priorities. Given such tradeoffs what is needed is a decision tool to evaluate whether an individual species is a viable candidate for de-extinction. To address this need, our research team (Prakash, V., Chalkowski, K., Gitzen, R., Fantle-Lepczyk, J., Hartman, P., Lepczyk, C.A.) developed a framework for evaluating species for de-extinction based on the principles of structured decision-making. First, we established four fundamental objectives which evaluate the major concerns when assessing a species for de-extinction: biological and ecological processes, socioeconomic conditions, political or legal processes, and cultural and ethical considerations. For each objective we developed evaluation criteria with Likert-type scales ranging from -2 (unfavorable) to +2 (favorable). The scores from each category can be weighted based on their overall importance to the local decision-making context and relevant impacts. The overall score provides insight into the many considerations for using de-extinction as a conservation decision alternative, which we illustrate with several example species evaluations. Overall, our tool lays the groundwork for a transparent and systematic evaluation of candidate species for de-extinction.
This abstract and our preliminary results were presented at ICCB 2021 as an objective look into the risks and benefits of de-extinction as a conservation management tool and we expect our manuscript to be presented for peer-review in the next couple of months.
Rural impoverished farmers often lack adaptive capacity to deal with events such as crop raiding, family illness, or crop losses due to drought or pests. This has been especially exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the majority of farmers in this area feel their crop losses are due to elephants, it is imperative to approach the problem holistically to improve farmer livelihoods while protecting elephants. We recently delivered community workshops in 5 rural Kenyan villages that will brought information to farmers on 5 key strategies to mitigate human elephant conflict:
How to construct, deploy, and maintain a variety of wildlife deterrent methods
Smart farming practices that can improve crop yields through climate-smart agricultural techniques
Information on alternative and sustainable livelihoods to farming
How to safely leave near and interact with elephants
The importance of environmental stewardship for a healthy and bountiful ecosystem for all