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Friday, 17 July 2009

Intern researches predator population at CCF

Hi, I’m Matt Solberg an intern here at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia. Growing up, I’ve always been passionate about wildlife conservation. Born in Eugene, Oregon, I spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors. The woods became my backyard as I explored every hillside and mountain top. I dreamed of exploring distant continents and studying wildlife abroad. During my freshman year at Oregon State University I looked into travelling abroad. After attending a presentation on the CCF, I was hooked. I looked into IE3 (a global internships program at Oregon State University) and discovered several international internships abroad. IE3 matches students with host organizations who strongly support experiential education to develop internships that relate to the student’s career interests. I was amazed by previous student’s experiences with IE3. Working directly with my college, IE3 offered a chance to learn abroad while providing me with credits in my major. As a Zoology major interested in conservation and human-predator conflict, I knew CCF would offer an amazing opportunity that fit my interests.


Currently I’m using camera traps to survey predator populations on CCF’s eight farms. I was inspired to work with trap cameras after meeting Dennis Wilson, a biology professor in Phoenix, Arizona. Dennis had been visiting CCF to teach an international course and collect data for his courses back home. Intrigued by his research, I talked with Dr. Laurie Marker about my interests and the possibility of working with trap cameras. Days later, Dr. Marker introduced me to a three month project working with trap cameras alongside Matti Nghikembua (CCF’s Senior Research Ecologist) and Ryan Richards (the Intern Coordinator at CCF).


The camera trap study focuses on predator behaviour around sites known as play trees.  Play trees are large sloped trees commonly visited by cheetahs and leopards. Predators often mark territory, leave scat, scratch claws, and survey the savannah at play trees. With 36 trap cameras and 18 stations, we set up 2 cameras at each site. These cameras allow us to record what animals live in the area, how numerous they are, how they are living amongst farmers, and what condition they are in. The cameras are set eight meters apart on posts 75cm high (predator height). This allows us to see passing wildlife and identify distinguishing marks on the animal. Using these unique marks we can determine how often the particular organism visits the site. The trap cameras provide a non-invasive approach to data collection. The information collected helps CCF understand how local wildlife coexist with agricultural communities.


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