I recently made a trip to New York City to present a poster at the Student Conference on Conservation Science at the American Musuem of Natural History. Thanks to ESF Travel Grants for providing funding for my trip! My poster summarized preliminary results from my camera trap study as well as my future research plans. The conference was a blast—there were some great talks and it was a wonderful venue. And I got some great feedback on my poster.
I had a exciting first field season this summer on my first trip to Uganda! Over 4 weeks in July and August I completed a pilot camera trap study in Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) and also assisted in conducting 37 interviews (in conjunction with the PECAR project) with local government officials, tourism operators, and NGOs and 6 focus groups in villages bordering the park. Not bad for a 4 week trip!
When we first arrived in MFNP, we met with Uganda Wildlife Authority officials to debrief them on our research plans. Having met a wonderful UWA ranger who accompanied us into the field, we set off to set up our cameras. We had 12 cameras and planned to set up 4 within 100 m of oil drill pads, 4 within 100 m of the park boundary, and 4 in “undisturbed areas” (greater than 1 km from drill pads, park boundaries, roads, or other human structures). Setting up the cameras proved to be a challenge, particularly in areas south of the Nile, which tended to have very tall grass that made hiking difficult and obstructed the camera view. However, over the course of 3 days we managed to deploy all 12 cameras.
Once our cameras were out in the field, we set out to secure our permissions for conducting work in the villages around MFNP. When conducting research in Uganda, you must obtain permission at the district, sub-county, and village level. While it was often difficult to find the officials we needed to speak with, driving around the outside of the park also gave us an opportunity to map out village locations and roads. Ultimately, we were able to get all necessary permissions and conducted interviews with many of the local government officials as well. Our interviews and focus groups explored the complex interactions between the people and the park and how changes in climate, population, and industry are affecting that relationship. The questions I was particularly interested in investigated the prevalence of human-carnivore conflict in villages surrounding the park.
In the last few days before leaving Uganda, I retrieved my camera traps. I was relieved to find that the first 10 I picked up had not been tampered with, as illegal human activities are common throughout the park. However, when I arrived at my 11th camera, I saw that it was hanging awkwardly from the tree, there were deep gouges in the casing, the infrared screen was smashed, and several bulbs had been destroyed. I thought that it almost certainly had been an act of vandalism, but when I downloaded the photos I discovered the true culprit—a spotted hyena!
I was disappointed to find that my cameras had detected fewer species than I had hoped. The only large carnivore detected was spotted hyena. However, I was also surprised that there many more species detected per camera north of the Nile than south of the Nile. On the south bank, the grass is extremely overgrown (>2m tall in spots) and so rangers told me that most grazing species do not prefer this habitat because the vegetation is not palatable. However, decades ago wildlife was apparently abundant south of the river. Poaching has been a serious issue in MFNP, and so perhaps wildlife south of the river faced greater poaching pressure. It will be interesting to explore these differences more next year. Can’t wait to get back and expand my study next summer!