RECaP and WildCRU
For the past several years WildCRU has fostered a vibrant collaboration with Professor Robert (Bob) Montgomery of Michigan State University. There Bob directs the RECaP Laboratory which conducts Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey. The questions assessed in RECaP are multidisciplinary, multifaceted, and take place in locales across the world. Increasingly however, the work of RECaP has focused on East Africa. Bob frames his work by the pursuit of the two Grand Challenges that face wildlife conservation in East Africa in the 21st century; 1) To develop innovative solutions to halt the precipitous decline of wildlife and 2) to train students from underrepresented backgrounds so that the future of wildlife conservation can be more diverse. Two of Bob’s current students are doing just that.
While Rwandan-born, Arthur spent his formative years in Nairobi, Kenya where, among other things, he fostered a powerful passion for wildlife. Recruited to Michigan State University as a MasterCard Foundation Scholar Arthur has just completed his MSc degree conducting a study of an emerging disease that is afflicting giraffe populations throughout Africa.
There is little doubt that giraffes (Giraffa carmelopardalis), the world’s tallest mammal, are at risk due to factors. With less than 80,000 giraffes remaining in Africa it is of critical importance to assess the gravity of these factors. In the last two decades, a skin disease has emerged which could imperil giraffe populations. The disease, commonly referred to as Giraffe Skin Disease (GSD), was first described in Uganda in 1995 and manifests as wrinkled skin and skin nodules with raised hair, which later develop into chronic and severe scabs, lesions and encrustations with dry or oozing blood. These brownish-grey lesions have been observed on the neck, shoulder and upper body on Rothschild giraffes in Uganda and on the limbs of Masai giraffes in Tanzania. The trouble is, almost nothing is known of this disease. Arthur’s research, in collaboration with WildCRU, provided the very first assessment of the prevalence, severity, and regional variation in GSD throughout Africa.
Arthur’s research resulted in the first ever comprehensive and current database of GSD incidences across Africa. Giraffe Skin Disease has been observed in 13 protected areas across 7 countries in Africa and in 11 zoos distributed across 6 countries. These statistics demonstrate that GSD is more widespread than initially thought. For instance, until this study it was commonly believed that GSD was a wild disease alone. Not only does GSD afflict populations of wild-living giraffes, where between 2% – 80% of observed giraffes have been found to be affected, but captive giraffes also suffer from the disease. This suggests that a captive to wild comparison of GSD is warranted.
Ruaha National Park in Tanzania has the highest prevalence of GSD at 80% of observed giraffes. It is also in this very park where lion specialize on preying on young and adult giraffes. Examining the effect of GSD on giraffe-lion interactions in Tanzania is an area that warrants further investigation. In as much as this research was comprehensive, there are some details that are still unclear, including the causative agent, the pathology and epidemiology of the disease, and the effect of GSD on the vital rates of giraffes. The findings of this research have been published in Biological Conservation, in a manuscript titled “Regional Variation of the manifestation, prevalence and severity of giraffe skin disease: A review of an emerging disease in wild and captive giraffe populations”. The paper can be accessed online on: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320716301501
Arthur will be continuing his research on giraffes and their conservation as a Ph.D. student at MSU and a Leiden Conservation Foundation Graduate Research Fellow within RECaP.
Tutilo Mudumba is a human-lion conflict expert from Uganda and a WildCRU alumnus. In 2011, Tutilo joined WildCRU’s Panther program at the Recanati-Kaplan Centre to pursue a postgraduate diploma course at the University of Oxford. He credits that experience as the source of the inspiration that drives him to become a leading scientist for wildlife conservation in Uganda.
Now working as a Ph.D. student in RECaP and closely linked to WildCRU, Tutilo is seeking to understand the effect of various sources of anthropogenic disturbance on the lion population of Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Tutilo has recently received two highly prestigious awards to fund his research. He is the recipient of Wildlife Conservation Network’s Pat J. Miller Graduate Research Fellowship and the World Wildlife Fund’s Russel E. Train Education for Nature Aspiring Faculty for Conservation Fellowship. This impressive package of support provides Tutilo with full funding over the next three years to complete his Ph.D.
Tutilo’s ambition is to be an agent of change in Africa and a leader capable of informing and developing policies that protect wildlife and improve the availability of- and access to- opportunities for African people and train the next generation of conservation leaders. With continued success, comparable to that which he has experienced thus far, there is no question that he will achieve these goals.