New Directions New Questions by Kailey Carlson, Undergraduate Student in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology
Starting as an undergrad on a project I knew nothing about, this all began with my attempt to understand the complexity of the centuries of cultural conflict between wildlife and herders in the Amboseli National Park Region in Kenya. Lion predation on livestock in these herding communities has posed huge threats to livelihood, creating an age-old wildlife conflict. This begged the question – how might we find the best herding practices, while listening to the locals, wholly invested in the culture and not attempting to impose our own Western ranching practices?
This project, for me, simply took on the humble realization that, with a worldview so cultured underneath Western ideals, maybe our ideas are not always the best practice. It is far more important to facilitate science while listening to the priorities of the people. Our Western practice of science has so clearly detached humanity from recognizing scientific issues as their own. Take the way, for example, climatologists have presented climate science in the last 30 years, only to have it unheard by the public leading into the climate crisis we are amidst today. The science is valuable, but the people illicit the response. This is why when we take the culture and people out of the scientific process, humanity detaches from the results, making the results less meaningful, less impactful, and further from home.
With the respectful engagement of an organization embedded in the culture, and the closing of this project addressing herding practices, new questions are arising alongside new opportunities for involvement with an incredible organization. Lion Guardians looks at both sides of this human-wildlife conflict, and they have been for over 10 years. Having been studying wildlife biology with an interest in animal behavior as an undergrad at CSU, my interest has always piqued on understanding the wildlife’s side of things. Luckily, Lion Guardians has been doing just this, with the data to show it.
This project is leading to new questions that Lion Guardians hopes to answer. These questions include analyzing ten years of transects by 20-30 lion guardians, taken twice every week, noting different species of wildlife (ostriches, hyenas, zebras, and others) tracks along these transects. This data can be used to estimate population sizes of each species, based on a frequency model created specifically for this region. Perhaps this will lead to a mapping of the landscape in GIS of wildlife frequency along each transect and each GPS data point. Or it could even initiate more questions on whether lion predation on livestock directly correlates to a diminishing of alternative prey opportunities for lions. Or maybe this project will integrate asking questions about lion behavior, using facial recognition data to identify problem lions to predation on herds of livestock. Whatever it may be, on the cue of science, asking one question leads to multitudes of others. Being an undergrad on this project, witnessing science done respectfully, is leading to a multitude of new opportunities going forth.