Colorado State University graduate student, Jared Stabach, has returned to Kenya to complete his field research on white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). The project, funded by the National Science Foundation and supported by Sierra Trading Post, aims to understand how landscape factors, such as human land-use, are affecting the movements and ultimately, the population dynamics of wildebeest over time. Throughout each of the study areas where research is focused (Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara National Reserve, and Nairobi National Park), widespread and precipitous population declines have occurred over the past 40 years.
The goal of the current field season (January – May 2013) is to understand not only how landscape changes are affecting animal movement, but animal physiology in the form of stress as well. Just as is the case with humans, elevated or chronic levels of physiological stress can compromise an animal’s immune system and lead to decreased reproduction and growth. In free-ranging animal populations, such as wildebeest, the most efficient and effective way of ascertaining information about an animals’ stress level is by collecting and analyzing its fecal samples throughout the landscape without capturing or injuring the animal in the process.
Over the past two years, GPS radio collars have been placed on thirty-six wildebeest in and around these three protected areas. These data are providing valuable fine-scale information on the individual movement patterns and represent the most detailed study on the movements of wildebeest to date. More detail and near real-time images of the movements of collared animals can be found on our project website at http://www.nrel.colostate.edu/projects/gnu/tracking.php
It is hoped that this research will provide valuable information related to how landscape changes are affecting wildebeest, information that has the potential to influence land-cover decisions throughout the region in the future. In addition, loss of habitat and increased habitat disturbance are not unique to wildebeest, or to the areas we are studying. Therefore, the results from this study may have important implications for other wide-ranging species and ecosystems as well.
Stabach, along with his Maasai Research Assistant (Sauna Lemiruni), will be camping throughout each study area. Field gear was provided by Sierra Trading Post, check back on the STP blog for gear reviews and pictures from the GNU Project field work.