Please welcome Meredith Palmer, a new graduate student with us here in the Lion Lab at the University of Minnesota. Meredith is joining our Snapshot Serengeti science team, so you’ll be hearing more from her as she gets settled in. In her first blog post here, she gives us a glimpse into the work she’s been doing the past several years. — Margaret
I hear the “ragged jean” look is still cool with young people these days, but when I slip into my black hoodie with the ripped up sleeve, it’s not to make a fashion statement. Rather, it serves to remind me of a time several years ago when I was last in Africa. This particular jacket once fell afoul of a rambunctious pair of orphaned lion cubs, and I must admit that I’m looking forward to the time when I once again will be sacrificing perfectly good clothing during the call of field duty.
Joining the Lion Lab is my opportunity to work with the giant accumulation of behavioral and camera trap data, supplemented by my own work in the Serengeti, which will enable me to elucidate some of the mechanisms involved in savanna predator-prey dynamics. I’m a first-year grad student, freshly back in school after spending the last several years working on science projects in various corners of the globe. I’ve had the good fortune to have spent time in Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and even a brief stint on the island of Borneo! I’ve come straight to the University of Minnesota from the South Pacific, and the disparity between the warm tropical air I’m used to and the cool Twin Cities mornings is almost (almost!) makes me wish that I had a jacket that wasn’t full of holes…
My previous work in Africa has for the most part taken place in the southern portion of the continent. I stepped foot into Namibia five years ago to work for the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). Cheetahs were having a particularly bad time, as they were considered – unjustly, in almost all cases – by local farmers to be a substantial source of livestock losses and were persecuted accordingly. We did a substantial amount of work on education and outreach with the people in the surrounding communities, but I would be lying if I didn’t say the exciting part for me was the work we did out in the bush. Shivering in the cold during 24hr water-hole watches, spitting out dust as we sped along in the back of a Toyota conducting large herbivore surveys, and of course, interacting the with the population of injured and rehabilitating cheetahs maintained on the reserve were the highlights of my experience.
I returned to Africa after I graduated college and helped to manage large herbivore populations at a safari reserve in the Limpopo region of South Africa. This area is right outside of the famous Kruger National Park and abounds with much of the same wildlife. It was here that I drove my first stick-shift, ate my first warthog, and spent many an evening sitting on top of a kopje drinking sundowners and watching the stars come out over the African plains. I had the opportunity to camp out in the Kruger Park and met characters involved in African conservation at all levels. I later migrated to the other side of the country to take a job in the Succulent Karoo. This was a desert landscape, loomed over by weirdly rounded hills and covered, during the springtime, in the most gorgeous blanket of wildflowers that I have ever encountered.
That being said, I simply can’t articulate how much I am looking forward to working again in the savanna ecosystem and getting a chance to glean some good data out of Snapshot Serengeti!