We had a new scientific paper accepted at Journal of Wildlife Management, "Influence of Fire and Salvage Logging on Site Occupancy of Spotted Owls in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California." We will post an update when the paper is published later this year. This is our latest contribution providing cutting-edge research results and leading the scientific and environmental communities to appreciate the important ecological value of burned forests.
The Tarangire-Manyara Ecosystem of northern Tanzania supports the second-highest density of Masai giraffes in Tanzania after the Serengeti. Unlike the Serengeti, however, most of the Tarangire Ecosystem is not within the boundaries of protected national parks and game reserves. As a consequence, savanna habitat is rapidly being lost to farms and permanent housing, especially surrounding Tarangire and Lake Manyara national parks where fresh water is most available. This loss of habitat is squeezing the population of giraffes and other wildlife species into smaller areas and threatening their persistence in the Ecosystem.
Our research aims to identify places inside and outside the national parks and reserves where giraffes are doing well (where they are surviving and reproducing better). Our ultimate goal is to increase conservation of important areas for these magnificent icons of Africa - before it is too late.
We are looking forward to conducting our seventh photographic mark-recapture survey for Masai giraffe in the Tarangire Ecosystem, beginning May 15. This upcoming survey coincides with the end of the long rainy season.
What is photographic mark-recapture? It is a non-invasive survey technique that allows scientists to easily identify individual giraffes by differences in their coat patterns—which can be as unique as human fingerprints. After each survey, we feed our thousands of photographs of giraffes into a pattern-recognition software program developed at Dartmouth College. The computer then matches coat patterns from previous photographic surveys, and tells us which animals are the same. We are creating a database of when and where we have seen each individual giraffe, and can determine where they move, how long they live, how quickly calves are growing (by measuring height), and whether or not females have a calf. We can also determine the health of the individual (particularly whether the animal has Giraffe Skin Disease). Finally we can correlate survival, reproduction, growth, and movements with environmental variables such as climate, vegetation, distance to water, lion predation, human pressures, and density of other giraffes.
The photographic mark-recapture method is much less expensive than physical captures of large mammals, so it allows much bigger sample sizes across a much larger area. In fact, we are currently tracking over 1,500 known giraffes in the Tarangire Ecosystem! All we need is a car, a camera, and a computer for us to conduct our critical research. However, we always need funding for fuel, vehicle maintenance, paying our Masai field assistant, and obtaining our research permits from the Tanzanian government. We thank all of our supporters, including the Sacramento Zoo, Safari West, Explorers Club, Fulbright Commission, and many caring private donors, for supporting our work, and we welcome any additional donations, which are tax-deductible. Our research is conducted in collaboration with Dartmouth College.
We are hard at work preparing for our next round of surveys for giraffe and other hoofed mammals in the Tarangire-Manyara Ecosystem, in just 2 weeks. Preparations involve renewing our research permits and making sure the research vehicle is in good working order. This rainy season has been quite wet, which means lots of drinking water for animals...but also lots of potentially muddy spots in which our Landcruiser can get stuck! Despite the often difficult field conditions, we always look forward to experiencing the beauty of the African savanna.
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of 7 species of big cat in the world, all of which share an ability to roar: the voice box is suspended by an elastic ligament which vibrates and magnifies sound. The leopard is the most widespread of all wild cats, found wherever there is adequate cover throughout Africa and from the Arabian Peninsula through Asia to China and Korea. In fact, the leopard is one of the widest-ranging mammals in the Old World. There was even a race of leopard on the island of Zanizibar in Tanzania, although sadly it is thought to be extinct.
This solitary, territorial feline was described by pre-eminent wildlife biologist Richard Estes as the “quintessential ambush and stalking predator,” seeking to pounce upon its quarry before it can react. A leopard will consume protein in almost any form, from beetles on up to antelopes twice its own weight! For comparison, adult male leopards weigh from 35-65 kg, similar to a cheetah, while an adult male lion weighs on average 190 kg and up to 260 kg. It is no surprise leopards and cheetahs fear the lion.
We typically have one or two leopard sightings while conducting our ungulate surveys, mostly in the national parks (we've only seen a leopard once outside park boundaries). Spotting a leopard never fails to make the heart beat faster with excitement! These are some of our favorite photos we've taken of this magnificent and impressive creature.
If you love these giraffes, please consider making a donation to support our conservation work!
For this blog entry, we diverge from the savannas of northern Tanzania and the burned forests of the western US to take you to the coral reefs of the Western Indian Ocean - specifically, the magical islands of Zanzibar located 25-50 kilometers off the eastern coast of mainland Tanzania.
Zanzibar is world-famous for its exotic spices, intriguing history, and stunning white-sand beaches. But one of the most fascinating aspects about the island is what lies hidden beneath the gentle waves that lap her shore.
Mangrove forests fringing the island act as a nursery for fish. Seagrass beds and lush coral gardens teem with tropical fish, and in deeper waters larger species such as barracuda, kingfish, tuna, and wahoo hunt together with Napoleonic wrasse, manta rays, sharks, and dolphins. These reefs support literally hundreds of species of hard and soft corals and fish as well as sea turtles, crustaceans, and marine mammals. The coral reefs that surround Zanzibar are in generally good condition but are showing some troubling signs of stresses similar to other reefs in the Western Indian Ocean. These stresses include overexploitation, destructive activities (fishing and anchor damage), and pollution. An additional threat includes the spread of a predator known as the Crown-of-Thorns sea star (click here for more information).
We recently visited Chumbe Island Coral Park and Mnemba Marine Park. Enjoy a short underwater video and some photographs we took of these incredible reefs.
Complex early seral forests (CESFs or Snag Forests) are created by high-intensity fire or bark beetles. They occur when most of the live trees in a stand are killed, leaving behind an area of dead trees (called snags) and a carpet of downed logs, flowers, shrubs, and small saplings. Many people believe fire and bark beetles "destroy" forests, but in fact they create a new and different kind of forest which is critical habitat for a variety of species, from woodpeckers to bluebirds to bats because they offer an abundance of food and shelter. Despite the importance of Snag Forests, there is currently no inventory of these habitats in the Sierra Nevada, and this vegetation type is not recognized in any habitat classification system. Below is a new white paper spearheaded by Dr. Dominick DellaSala of the Geos Institute, and co-authored by Wild Nature Institute's Monica Bond and other colleagues, that calls for a full inventory of Snag Forests and regulatory protections for these habitats during upcoming forest management planning in the Sierra Nevada, to ensure a future for the many different plants and animals that depend upon them.
One of our great pleasures is bird-watching, and the Tarangire Ecosystem is one of the best in the world for viewing our avian brethren. With over 550 different species in Tarangire National Park, bird lovers are rarely disappointed here. The wet season marks the breeding season for numerous species, and the associated magnificent plumage and displays from males seeking a mate. From the bright colors of the Southern Red Bishop and the long tail of the Acacia Paradise Wydah to the extraordinary display of the Kori Bustard, these males make every effort to impress females with their health and vigor. Below are photos of some hard-working fellas we spotted during our ungulate surveys!