Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventure here on the Zoo’s website!
The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s Global Partnership team focuses community-based conservation as a means to end the threat of extinction worldwide. Their collaboration with other Zoos and institutions helps raise awareness for endangered species through research conducted in the field and the laboratory.
This week, we had the opportunity to meet with two individuals, whose efforts to raise awareness of giraffe conservation don’t go unnoticed. Jenna Stacy-Dawes, Research Coordinator, walked us through her project based in Northern Kenya, studying and monitoring giraffe populations. Ms. Stacy-Dawes’ interest in conservation was sparked by her involvement in the San Diego Zoo’s Zoo Corps program from the time she was 12 to 18 years old. With this in mind, she began her journey into research by earning her bachelor’s degree in Zoology while attending California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and her master’s degree in Biology through the Miami University’s Advanced Inquiry Program. She then explains that she began volunteering at the San Diego Zoo with the hopes of one day making a career out of it. Her efforts eventually paid off, landing her a job as a Research Coordinator on the Global Partnership’s team.
Ms. Stacy-Dawes led the interns through an extensive PowerPoint presentation, going into detail about the importance of her project. However, what came as a shock to us was the fact that roughly 40% of the worlds giraffe population have depleted over the course of 20 years. Additionally, the notion that giraffes are now nonexistent in seven previously populated countries in Africa was shocking. These magnificent animals have been poached for a variety of reasons including being used as a food source and the myth that their bone marrow may be used as a cure for HIV/Aids. Most people, including myself, go unaware that giraffe populations are in such peril.
Before studying giraffes in the field, Ms. Stacy-Dawes explains that a lot of time is spent preparing for the journey to Kenya. She gathers supplies, cameras, her passport and off she goes! Depending on what type of research she will be conducting, she will spend roughly three to four weeks at a time in Kenya, up to four times a year. She explains that in order to inform the public build trust with the communities, Ms. Stacy-Dawes works hand in hand with the local communities and its members. Focusing primarily on the reticulated giraffe populations and movement, Ms. Stacy-Dawes and her coworkers are able to track the exact movements of giraffe populations with the use of satellite trackers. These tracking devices, solar powered and waterproof, are attached to the giraffe’s ossicones. The device allows Ms. Stacy-Dawes to track movement and behaviors of individual giraffes. This year alone, they hope to add 25 more devices to the giraffe population in Kenya.
In addition to tracking giraffe populations via satellites, the team also utilizes trail cameras spread throughout the protected conservancies in Northern Kenya. These devices are used to capture both pictures and videos of giraffes and other species. During our presentation, we were able to see a tower (group) of giraffes in one image, and a herd of cattle in the next photo; even though it was the same location. This is very important to note when studying the effect of agriculture and livestock in the area and its impact on giraffe populations. Triggered by the slightest of movements, these cameras capture millions of images that are uploaded to the researchers computers here in San Diego. Having over three million images already captured and documented, the team has sought the help of the public to determine if an image has a giraffe or any other animal if it was captured. When logging onto WildWatchKenya.org , you may help the team in their deciphering of images and learn more about the animals and their natural habitat.
This leads to our second presenter, Nikki Egna, a contracted Research Associate. Graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in environmental science, she took the initiative of applying for an internship at the San Diego Zoo, and soon after earned a spot on the research team. Having a passion for science, technology, and the environment, Ms. Egna explains her role in the reticulated giraffe conservation project. More specifically, she is in charge of analyzing the images captured by trail cameras, and the remote satellite tracking of the giraffe population. She analyzing this data using a variety of programs including R-Studio and ArcGIS. It is necessary to use this type of programming in order to differentiate between animals, sorting them by pattern, sex, or subspecies. Ms. Egna’s day typically consists of picture and data analysis, however, she was able to conduct her research in the field alongside Ms. Stacy-Dawes in Kenya.
Having learned so much about the depleting giraffe population, I find it necessary that the public do whatever it may do in order to protect the species. This may include the donation of funds, volunteering, or spreading awareness. You can help by logging onto WildWatchKenya.org to help identify and sort images, which ultimately helps the San Diego Zoo researchers’ efforts to the conservation and research of the reticulated giraffe.
Conner, Careers Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2018