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Professor Alan Wilson, Structure and Motion Laboratory, Royal Veterinary College, London. 

In collaboration with Professor Wilson’s Structure & Motion Laboratory (part of the Comparative Physiology and Medicine Research Programme at the Royal Veterinary College), we are developing state of the art wildlife tracking collars. Alan’s ground-breaking research focuses on the biomechanics of locomotion; and much experimental research is undertaken at the BPCT field site in Botswana in collaboration with our team. These collars are also providing our collaborative team with novel and exciting data spanning all aspects of our conservation research and ecology programme.


Graduate Student Projects

 Movement Ecology of African Wild Dogs: Understanding animal movement processes in dynamic environments

Briana Abrahms, PhD Candidate, University of California-Berkeley (Supervisor: Dr. Justin Brashares)
As global change leads to increasingly rapid habitat alteration, research advancing our understanding of animal movement is needed to aid conservation planning. Despite a wide theoretical literature on movement processes, little empirical work has assessed how animal space use and movements respond to dynamic environments. This gap is problematic, as animal movement is likely shaped by numerous dynamic processes. For example, dramatic seasonal fluctuations in the Okavango Delta’s hydrography influence the movement patterns of resident wildlife populations. 
To address this gap, my research examines the movement responses of African wild dogs (AWDs) to dynamic processes at multiple scales; specifically, I investigate the roles of individual behavior, interspecific interactions, and changes in the physical environment on AWD movement. This work aims to (a) determine whether incorporating dynamic processes in movement modeling improves our ability to capture the mechanisms and patterns of observed movement, and (b) advance the biological grounding of methods used in conservation planning. 
This research will allow us to better understand the internal and external processes that shape the movements of large carnivores. In addition, by advancing our understanding of animal movement, this work will contribute to the burgeoning field of connectivity science. Popular techniques for assessing landscape connectivity and delineating wildlife corridors rely on determining how and where landscapes impede animal movement; however, these methods could be more effective if integrated with fundamental behavioral and ecological understanding of movement processes. This, in turn, can help conservation practitioners identify important areas on the landscape for maintaining habitat connectivity for wide-ranging carnivores.
This project is sponsored by BPCT, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, Riverbanks Zoo, Explorer's Club, and Wilderness Wildlife Trust


Monitoring and Conserving Carnivore Communities across Northern Botswana
Lindsey Rich, PhD Candidate, Virginia Tech University, United States (Supervisor Dr Marcella Kelly).

 My research aims to identify and implement a sustainable method for monitoring carnivore communities across northern Botswana. To identify a monitoring program, we are employing spoor and camera trap surveys. Spoor surveys are generally the preferred method for monitoring wildlife in Africa but their ability to detect changes in the distribution and abundance of carnivore populations is poorly established. Camera trap surveys, alternatively, have become an increasingly common method for monitoring wildlife. Our study aims to be the first to utilize camera trap surveys, in combination with recent advances in statistical modeling, to estimate the densities of an entire carnivore community. In a field where time, money, and personnel are generally limited, this multi-species study design could result in considerable savings as well as a more comprehensive and efficient use of available data.
To implement the monitoring program, we are training local wildlife guides and offering field workshops and presentations to communities, government agencies, and research institutes. Lastly, to help instill a conservation ethic in future generations of Botswana, we have developed Wild Joys. Wild Joys takes children from rural communities into wildlife protected areas to teach them about natural history, animal behavior, and field research techniques.
Besides being sponsored by BPCT and its associated sponsors, this project is also sponsored by: Fulbright U.S. Student Program; International Chapter P.E.O. Sisterhood; The Rufford Foundation; Wilderness Wildlife Trust; Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; The Temenos Foundation; Idea Wild

Investigating the role of long-distance roaring and scent marking in the social interactions of lions.

Geoff Gilfillan, PhD Student, University of Sussex, UK

The aim of this research is to investigate how lions use a range of acoustic and olfactory signals to facilitate the social interactions necessary to maintain a viable lion population.  Being the only felid in which both sexes are social, lions are likely to have evolved a range of communicative signals that allow them to both coordinate their activities with group members, and also to defend their territories from rival lions. The proposed research will further explore what information lions communicate to conspecifics through their long-distance vocalisations, and will form one of the first investigations into how wild lions use olfactory communication. Through such research, it is our ultimate goal to investigate the feasibility of using the long-distance vocalisations of lions to create a ’Biological-Barrier’ that could be used to help prevent human-lion conflict by moving lions away from livestock.     

This research will utilize a combination of populations monitoring, natural behavioural observation, as well as acoustic and olfactory experimentation. Population monitoring will contribute to continent-wide surveys of the African lion, and will help monitor the status of the lions in the Okavango Delta Wetlands; a dedicated RAMSAR site. Direct behavioural observations from an observation vehicle will contribute to our understanding of how lions use their olfactory and acoustic signals to communicate with their conspecifics in a natural setting. Finally, experimental work will examine how lions respond to acoustic and olfactory cues signalled by other lions within their environment. More specifically, we aim to experimentally investigate 1. How lions interact with rivals during a territorial dispute, 2. How lions coordinate their activities with group-mates, and 3. How lions assess and attract potential mating partners.

This work is funded by The Study Abroad Studentship from The Leverhulme Trust in the U.K. Additional funding has been provided by IDEAWILD. 


Experimental investigation of interspecific interactions involving spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta)

Jessica Vitale, PhD Student, University of Nottingham, UK

The aim of this research is to understand the role of spotted hyaenas within the African large predator guild inhabiting the Okavango Delta. Despite being the most abundant member of the large predator guild, the spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) is perhaps the least understood predator within the Okavango ecosystem. Previous work has shown that hyaenas exhibit enormous flexibility in certain aspects of their behaviour, including activity patterns, territoriality, feeding, and clan sizes. Hyaenas can interact with sympatric carnivores through direct competition for resources and intraguild predation, and the specific behavioral ecology of a hyaena population directly impacts these intraguild interactions. Identifying and quantifying inter-species relationships is directly relevant to the development of appropriate and effective conservation and management strategies for large carnivores.

This research will utilize a combination of remote data collection, natural observations, and acoustic and olfactory experiments. Population monitoring will determine the characteristics of hyaena clans in the study area (number , size, territories) and the social dynamics that govern each clan. Direct observations of natural encounters between hyaenas and other guild species will contribute to our understanding of how hyaenas respond to scavenging opportunities in this ecosystem. Specifically, this research will examine the impact of a variety factors (habitat, prey type, competitor species, hyaena sociality, etc) on the frequency and outcome of these interactions. Experimental work will examine how hyaenas respond to acoustic and olfactory cues (i.e. vocalizations and scent marks) of sympatric carnivores, and to investigate whether they utilize these cues to avoid or engage with their competitors.

This work is funded by the University of Nottingham, the Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Cleveland Zoological Society/Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, National Geographic Society Conservation Trust, Wilderness Wildlife Trust, Idea Wild and the Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund.

Interspecific communication within the African large predator guild: do leopards eavesdrop on lion vocalizations and scent?

Kasim Rafiq, Masters student, University of Durham, UK.

Kasim is a research Master’s student based with the Conservation Ecology Group at the University of Durham who previously worked with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust as a research assistant in 2013. In addition to his experience working with large carnivores, Kasim has also worked as a research assistant in the Soutspanberg Mountains in the Limpopo province, South Africa, collecting behavioural data on a habituated troop of Chacma Baboons.

Kasim is currently interested in understanding the cues used by competing large carnivore species to avoid or initiate encounters. During the course of his Master’s research Kasim will use a combination of direct-observations, experimental presentations, and remote data collection from GPS radio collars, to investigate how leopards’ change their behaviour in the presence of one of their primary competitors: the African lion. Kasim is currently funded by the Grevillea Trust Scholarship, the National Geographic Society Waitt Program and Idea Wild.