November 8, 2011

Peer Review: Garza ’12 Studies Human-Animal Conflicts in Kenya

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Human-animal conflict is a serious problem around the world, but especially in Africa, where big cats, crocodilesand hippopotamuses pose a major threat to human life. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published a report in 2009 enumerating all the causes and consequences of human-wildlife conflict in Africa. Christina Garza ’12, animal science and biological sciences, recently explored this issue while researching the Amboseli ecosystem of southern Kenya.There, Garza examined the viability of various wildlife sanctuaries and some of the ways they could be made more attractive for the animals. With her research, she discovered some factors that could help mitigate human-animal conflict in Africa.Last spring, Garza participated in a study abroad program through The School for Field Studies. The program was a two-part series that started in Tanzania and ended in Kenya and contained a research component that was incorporated into the curriculum. Once in Kenya, Garza teamed up with a professor and did data collection over a week long period.According to Garza, the primary significance of her research is to reduce human-animal conflict. In Kenya there are often farms nearby the wildlife sanctuaries, which create clashes between the wildlife and the people as the animals roam outside of their sanctuaries and encounter farmers, crops and livestock.One possible reason the animals do not stay in their sanctuaries is that their habitats are poorly designed. With her research, Garza works to help biologists create better, more usable sanctuaries for the animals.“My research mostly focuses on seeing which habitats were the most desired by wildlife and to try and convert any sanctuaries that weren’t being used well into this new, desired habitat, so that the wildlife would be more encouraged to enter these areas,”she said.While Garza acknowledged that it is impractical to try and keep animals confined to a single sanctuary, she said that by improving the sanctuaries, the animals will be more likely to stay in the area.By researching which habitats are preferred by the wildlife and improving the sanctuaries based upon that, policies can be instituted to transform an unpleasant habitat to one that resembles a preferred one. The policies that Garza mentions are rotational grazing and controlled fires.To evaluate the viability of individual habitats, Garza analyzed several factors. One thing she examined was habitat diversity, or the number of different bush lands, grasslands or woodlands in a given sanctuary.“In order for a wildlife sanctuary to be viable, you needed a wide variety of habitats. You couldn’t have a homogeneous, one-style area,” she said.Another factor she looked at was which habitats had the most wildlife across all the different sanctuaries. To determine the population density of a given habitat, Garza had a range finder and a GPS and traveled in snake-like line throughout the area.“We identified the animal, we identified what habitat it was in, its location, and how many there were. So if we saw a herd of zebra we were standing there counting how many zebra there were,” she said.She also looked at the overlap of domestic animals, like cattle, and the native species to see if they compete for the same resources.  “One of my suggestions to continue research would be actually looking at resource partitioning within each of the habitats to see if there is direct competition,” Garza said.As she looked at the various wildlife management strategies used in Kenya, Garza learned something else.“A lot of habitats were being converted to open grasslands because of a lack of water. And wildlife can’t really use these areas well,” shes said.Garza also said that water conservation could protect habitats from being turned into barren lands that the animals do not inhabit. Garza presented her research for the Cornell University Research Board on Nov. 8.

Original Author: Jessica Harvey