Superb starlings, other wildlife research in Kenya

This video says about itself:

In April, 2018, I — Christopher Sayers — and a team of three other Cornell students — Facundo Fernandez-Duque, Rachael Mady, and Sarah Toner — traveled to the Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya on an Ivy Expedition. Our mission was to collect photographs, videos, and audio recordings of species underrepresented in the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library.

During the 10-day expedition, we interviewed Shailee Shah ‘14 — an alumna of Cornell who is conducting her Ph.D. research at Mpala on the breeding ecology of Superb Starlings.

Our team filmed Shailee throughout several days of data collection in the field with the ultimate goal of creating a short film about her work. One of the most challenging parts of the filming process was actually getting high quality footage of Superb Starlings — the focal species of the film!

Whenever we would finish setting up the camera and tripod to start recording, the flock of starlings would immediately fly out of frame. It was almost as if they knew we were trying to film them!

After returning to the US, producers in the Cornell Lab’s Multimedia department were gracious enough to mentor me as I worked to bring this piece to life. I practiced using robust video editing software and bolstered my skill set in multimedia productions; I hope to keep improving these skills as I move forward in life. As an emerging scientist myself, I hope to show my audience about the wonders of pursuing field research, and aim to inspire young scientists to follow in Shailee’s footsteps.


Carnivorous mammals and humans in Africa

This video says about itself:

Travel video I made after my trip to Kenya this summer 2017. This is the Masai Mara National Park, a beautiful animal reserve: the most famous one in Kenya.

Shot with a Sony a58, Canon 70D and some action cameras.

From Michigan State University in the USA:

More humans always mean fewer African carnivores, right? Nope

March 1, 2019

African carnivores face numerous threats from humans. So, it’s a fair assumption that the presence of more humans automatically equates to decreases across the board for carnivores.

New research led by Michigan State University and published in the current issue of Ecological Applications, however, shows that’s not always the case. The truth is some species decrease while others increase, which reveals how varying conservation and management policies can impact carnivores.

Matthew Farr, MSU quantitative ecologist and lead author of the study, sought to evaluate how a community of carnivores in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve were influenced by human disturbance and differential management. The Kenyan reserve is divided into two sections by the Mara River. On the western side, known as the Mara Triangle, stricter enforcement policies result in low levels of human disturbance, which work to keep the area relatively pristine. A subsection of the eastern side, known as the Talek region, however, experiences many human incursions, from cattle herders to throngs of tourists. The stark differences are captured by Google Earth, which shows multiple trails carved into the Talek region where cattle commute to graze.

Lions have responded negatively to the increased human activity, and sightings have decreased in the Talek region”, Farr said. “On the other hand, hyenas are thriving in disturbed Talek. We were interested in understanding how other species may be responding to these anthropogenic changes and how the carnivore community as a whole is faring.”

Farr teamed up with MSU scientists Elise Zipkin, Kay Holekamp, Gary Roloff and David Green (now at Oregon State University), to examine how human disturbance influences the carnivore community. The team observed nine other carnivores, including banded mongooses, bat-eared foxes, black-backed jackals, cheetahs, slender mongooses, leopards, caracals, servals and side-striped jackals, in addition to lions and hyenas.

“Analyzing data for a full community is tricky,” Zipkin said. “Many carnivore species are rare and difficult to detect, but we wanted to use all the information we had to get a full picture of the effects of human disturbance.”

Using records from all observations, the team created a model, linking abundance data for each species. The shared information across the carnivore community helped inform the model for the rarer animals, where data are sparse. It was this model, in fact, that confirmed the discrepancies between individual species’ responses to human disturbance.

“Our model indicated that passive enforcement of wildlife regulations and policies in the Talek region is having adverse effects on many of the carnivores,” Farr said. “Specifically, bat-eared foxes, leopards, lions and servals are suffering when compared to the active-enforcement approach within the Mara Triangle.”

However, the model also showed that carnivores don’t react uniformly to blanket conservation policy. Hyenas and black-backed jackals are thriving in the Talek region in the face of high human disturbance.

“By taking a community-wide approach rather than focusing on a single species, we avoided overlooking important intra-community variability that showed some carnivores benefiting from lax management.” Farr said. “However, even if some species increase in response to anthropogenic disturbance, that may not necessarily be a good thing as there might be other unintended consequences to the ecosystem.”

Land managers now have important information on how management practices can differentially affect carnivores. The results from this research will help drive conservation efforts in the Talek region, which are already improving due to changes in management. The number of cattle grazing has been drastically reduced, and the lions are starting to return to the region.

African black panther photographed, first in 110 years

This 11 February 2019 video says about itself:

San Diego Zoo Global researchers have confirmed the presence of rare black leopards living in Laikipia County, Kenya. Sometimes called black panthers, the melanistic leopards were filmed in Lorok, Laikipia County, Kenya on remote cameras that were set up as part of a large-scale study aimed at understanding the population dynamics of leopards in Mpala and Loisaba Conservancies.

Black panthers were the inspiration for the Black Panther Party in the USA; and later for similar groups in, eg, Israel and Greece.

Unfortunately, I found out today that the site Moorbey’z Blog, with much posts on, eg, the Black Panthers, has been deleted.

This 10 February 2019 video says about itself:

My quest to photograph a melanistic African Leopard (Black Panther) using Camtraptions camera traps.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Black leopard photographed for the first time in over one hundred years

For the first time since 1909 a black leopard has been photographed. That happened in a Kenyan nature reserve. Researchers confirm in the African Journal of Ecology that it is the rare animal indeed.

The black leopard has special fur through melanism, the opposite of albinism. As a result, the pelt colours black during the day and other colours can be seen at night.

The British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas photographed the animal in the Kenyan Laikipia Wilderness Camp, where the animal was spotted several times. The photographer spoke with residents, followed the footprints and placed a camera with a motion sensor.

Dream come true

After a few days he saw the black leopard on his images. “I stared at the picture, a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness … the black leopard. I could not believe it and it took a few days before I realized that my dream had come true”, he writes on his website.

Zoologists also react enthusiastically to the photos. “We always heard about black leopards in this region and this is the first confirmed photo of it in more than a hundred years”, says researcher Nicholas Pilfold to USA Today. The only previous confirmed photo of a black leopard was taken in Ethiopia, in 1909.

According to Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad today (translated):

The [black] female was spotted once in the presence of a fellow leopard with normal fur. The researchers suspect that this is possibly the mother of the dark individual.

Wildlife crime and medicine

This 21 January 2019 video says about itself:

Wildlife crime fighters, episode 3: Medicinal powders

Wildlife crime fighter Ann Mauwra [from Kenya] studies medicinal powders! Wait what? Yes, at Naturalis Science we study traditional medicines. Learn more in the third episode of our series regarding wildlife crime.

How Not to Wake Up a Lioness

This 29 January 2019 video from Kenya says about itself:

Watch a massive male lion’s intense creep up to a sleeping lioness. Just as you think he is going to lie down next to her, he ends up waking her up in the absolute worst way possible!

This was filmed by 32-year-old safari guide, Joshua Loonkushu, on an evening game drive near the river. Joshua tells the story: “On the previous day, we had spotted this pride of lions that had just killed a wildebeest within the banks of the Sand River in Maasai Mara. I decided to head over there the next day to try and track them down. Luckily I managed to find them!

Birdwatching in Kenya, video

This 20 November 2018 video says about itself:

Kenya is full of amazing wildlife—giraffes and elephants, ostriches and hornbills. Cornell senior Sarah Toner visited last spring to film and record the abundant wildlife, and to witness field research in progress. Sarah first came to Cornell as part of our Young Birders Event in 2013.