PROJECT COORDINATOR

Laurel Klein Serieys, Ph.D. 

Dr. Laurel Serieys is driven by a lifelong aspiration to study wild cats and through research promote their conservation. She conceived the Urban Caracal Project in collaboration with Cape Leopard Trust and University of Cape Town in 2013 and traveled far to coordinate the effort. Laurel grew up in Dallas, Texas, USA and graduated with a degree in zoology from the University of Texas, Austin in 2003. Her introduction to the world of wild cat research was a National Park Service internship in Los Angeles, California, USA in 2006. There she worked on an urban bobcat and mountain lion study. She carried the work into her PhD research at the University of California, Los Angeles graduate program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Her Ph.D. research focused on how urbanization and pesticides drives genetic change and disease susceptibility in urban bobcats. Amongst the achievements she is most proud of– data from her bobcat work was used to enact new legislation across California to reduce consumer availability of rat poisons. The Environmental Protection Agency has requested the data as they review national policy on the use of those pesticides. Her collaborative work on the genetics of urban mountain lions has led to a movement to build a wildlife corridor across one of the busiest freeways in the U.S.

Laurel feels that by focusing research on the effects of urbanization on wildlife, we may build a launching pad to establish guidelines for wildlife conservation in the rapidly changing world. With the Urban Caracal Project, Laurel's team aims to understand the conservation challenges wildlife face in a country where there is a delicate balance between social issues and biodiversity conservation. As Project Coordinator, Laurel conducts field and lab work, raises funds, manages public outreach, and is working with colleagues on publications in scientific journals. To learn more, please visit her resume and websites: Urban Carnivores and the Urban Caracal Project Facebook page. 

  • Email: Laurel@CarnivoraConservation.org

  • Phone: 079-837-8814


STUDENTS

Gabriella Leighton, PhD Candidate

Gabriella is a PhD student in the Biological Sciences Department, University of Cape Town. Born in London, she grew up in Cape Town passionate about wildlife, particularly felids, and so decided to study zoology at a young age. She has since completed her BSc Honours and her research interests have focused on conservation biology, particularly how innovative use of technology can aid in data collection to inform this field. In working with the Urban Caracal Project, she aims to examine how urbanisation influences the diet of Cape caracal, using classic and new methods.


RESEARCH SUPPORT

Jacqueline Bishop, PhD, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town

Jacqueline Bishop is a Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Genetics and Conservation Biology in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town. Her research program focuses on understanding the multiple processes that influence adaptive and neutral genetic variation in natural populations, together with the human ones that interrupt the system. She started her career as a behavioural ecologist but rapidly realised that with the skills of the molecular lab in tow she could explore and understand the natural world to such a greater degree than by mere observation alone. She works at both broad and fine geographic scales and satisfies her love and respect for the natural world by studying as a broad a range of species as possible. This approach allows for a clear comparative framework and Jacqueline uses both evolutionary and ecological perspectives in trying to understand human impacts on species. She has a particular interest in how we can use genetic data to better understand past and present population connectivity and has a number of current projects underway exploring wildlife health in human-impacted land and sea-scapes. Here in Cape Town, Jacqueline and Justin have been working on the impacts of urbanisation on dispersal and gene flow, starting with the baboon troops of the Peninsula and those they were very recently connected to in the Boland and Overberg areas just 50km away. As part of their research they have also analysed the spatial distribution of variation at genes of the immune system. This data will better inform local management of a sustainable and healthy baboon population that is, today, ecologically trapped on the Peninsula. Their broader research collaboration sees an expansion of their combined approaches to include the elusive and largest remaining predator on the Peninsula, the caracal.

  • Email: jacqueline.bishop@uct.ac.za

  • Phone: +27-21-650-3631

Justin O'Riain, PhD, Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town

Justin O’Riain is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town.  His current research focuses on conservation challenges from the perspective of a behavioural ecologist with a particular emphasis on understanding and resolving human-wildlife conflicts in both urban and rural areas.  Having spent a decade understanding the challenges faced by the Cape Peninsula baboon population Justin and his group are familiar with the challenges of working in a national Park surrounded by a sea of humanity.  In an attempt to improve the longer term impact of people on wildlife Justin established the first camera trap array on Table Mountain National Park.  This project is being done in collaboration with the Nature Conservation Corporation who funded the camera traps and TMNP.  The project aims to document how a range of predictors (e.g. land use, altitude, aspect) may influence the presence of wildlife on the Peninsula.  In addition the project was seen as an important first step for planned research on other medium sized mammals including Cape clawless otter, porcupine and caracal – all of which come into contact and conflict with Peninsula residents.  With an otter study well on track the arrival of Laurel to understand the habitat requirements and threats of caracal has been a most welcome addition to the long term goals of research within UCT’s Department of Biological Sciences.

Chris Wilmers, PhD, Wilmers Lab, Environmental Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz

Dr. Wilmers has made fundamental contributions to the study of how global change influences animal behaviour, population dynamics and community organization. Dr. Wilmers combines novel quantitative and field techniques to takes diverse, highly innovative, collaborative, and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of ecology and general adaptive response to anthropogenic pressures. Dr. Wilmers is thus an excellent candidate to help integrate spatial ecology (radio-collar) and advanced genomic data generated during this study. Overall, the Wilmers lab group seeks to understand how global change (climate change, habitat alteration and human hunting) influences animal behavior, population dynamics and community organization.  The emphasis is on combining quantitative and field techniques to better understand the ecology of wildlife so as to better inform their management and conservation. In California, the Wilmers lab manages the Santa Cruz Puma Project.


PROJECT VETERINARIANS

Dr. Bruce Stevens

Bruce Stevens is a semiretired veterinarian working at a number of practices in the Cape Town area.Bruce grew up in an environment closely involved with animals his father being a livestock auctioneer and a butcher at various stages. Accompanying his father to farms gave him an early appreciation for a variety of animals.

After boarding school at Kingswood College in Grahamstown his natural choice was to become a veterinarian. After doing his first year at Stellenbosch University he completed his veterinary degree at the University of Pretoria’s Onderstepoort campus in 1977.  After completing his compulsary two years of National Service as a Veterinary Officer he was able to embark on a varied veterinary career in practices attending to horses, farm animals and domestic pets in Bulawayo, Randburg, Howick, Krugersdorp and the UK before deciding it was time to run his own practice, opening a purpose built practice in Randburg in 1988.  

Having got the practice established Bruce decided it was time for a change and decided to go dairy farming in the Natal Midlands. This was an interesting and beautiful career move but not completely wise financially which led to Bruce moving to Hout Bay in 1996 having purchased a small practice there. In 2013 Bruce sold the practice deciding that it was time to work less onerous hours and pursue his other interests. He now works as a locum in various practices in and around Cape Town.

This has also allowed Bruce the opportunity to accept an offer from the Cape Leopard Trust to assist them with their projects in Namaqualand and Cape Town which has been a fascinating experience catering to his love of animals and nature. 


KEY COLLABORATORS

Robert Wayne, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles

Bob Wayne considers himself a generally trained evolutionary biologist with a wide interest in a range of problems spanning the fields of evolutionary biology, ecology, behavior, and biological conservation. Current projects in the lab include genomics of opossums, dolphins, zebra, bobcats, bats, birds and abalone, but he is perhaps best known for evolutionary and population genetic studies on domestic dogs and wolves. He is fond of cutting-edge technology and methods of analysis, and his lab currently focuses on complete genome sequencing and gene expression analysis using next generation sequencing platforms. Some of the lab's primary interests include identifying genes involved in local adaptation and their relationship to phenotype and behavior. Along with Tim Coulson at Oxford, the lab is attempting to model the genotype-gene expression-phenotype map in wolves and its influence on population dynamics. Complementing this modeling approach, they are generating empirical data on allele-specific expression in genes under selection in natural populations using cell culture in which controlled manipulations can be done. They have also focused on large scale resequencing studies of candidate genes in natural populations using sequence capture arrays, analyzing as much as 16 million bp per individual in a sample of over 400 wolves. They are also currently analyzing over 100 genomes from domestic and wild canids to reconstruct demographic history and patterns of variation along the genome, including adaptive and deleterious variation.

A long-standing interest of his is using new approaches to address problems in biological conservation, and specifically, how gene expression enables a rapid, first line response to climate change. For example, his students are assessing gene expression responses to stressors in wolves as a function of habitat disturbance and as a function of toxicants and petroleum derivatives in dolphins in near-shore environments. He encourages new students to develop their own projects that follow their specific interests and passions and address fundamental questions. This often results in students working in areas somewhat distant from my fields of expertise, but he is open to nearly any topic in evolutionary biology as long as there is a common thread of molecular genetic techniques. UCLA provides very competitive fellowships, but he expects students to endeavor to raise support especially for field or lab work outside of the scope of current supported projects. Being bold in constructing a novel PhD project that goes beyond existing projects in his lab is a critical exercise that is fundamental to students becoming independent, creative researchers.

Marine Drouilly, PhD Candidate, Karoo Predator Project, University of Cape Town

Marine has been an active supporter of the project from the very beginning. When Dr. Serieys arrived to South Africa, she had never even seen a caracal, let alone captured one! Marine played a key role in prepping Dr. Serieys for the field component of the project. She has also provided samples for the genetic component of the Urban Caracal Project. By providing samples from the Karoo, we can make comparisons between the genetic variation in the isolated Peninsula population, and populations that should have baseline genetic variation because they are found in large open spaces with high degrees of habitat connectivity.  

Joleen Broadfield

Email: Joleen@urbancaracal.org

Joleen has played a critical role in making the Urban Caracal Project a success.  Joleen grew up in France, passionate about alpine wildlife and the mountain environment. When she entered the University of Science in Nice, South of France, she didn’t imagine she would end up in Australia and New Zealand the following year, traveling for 8 months before heading for new horizons on another continent : South Africa. Initially for a 2 year work experience in Cape Town as a tour operator, 4 year later she is still in the Western Cape where her passion for the environment shaped her career, leaving tourism for conservation. She joined Cape Leopard Trust on its PEACE project in Namaqualand, Northern Cape early in 2014. She had a keen interest to explore research in human-wildlife conflict. As a predator research technician, she learned about the behavioural ecology of caracals and leopards in farmlands and protected areas. PEACE project included investigating predator diets using both scat samples and GPS data information from collared predators, movement patterns and habitat selection. Back in Cape Town, she was very curious to learn more about the effects of urbanisation on caracals in the Cape Peninsula. Although she started as just a volunteer on the Urban Caracal Project, she quickly showed with her dedication that the project couldn't do without her!  She took over managing the field aspects of the project, giving Laurel more time to attend to fieldwork herself, but also all the boring admin!

Justin Johnson, M.Sc. – GIS Assistant

Justin grew up in Washington State, where he attended the University of Washington and received dual degrees in Environmental Science and Philosophy. While at university he completed a research project in Peru which investigated the anthropogenic influences on Peruvian cloud forest vertebrates, which is where his passion for international conservation began. Justin has research interests in the fields of spatial ecology and population dynamics, especially in the context of urbanization and climate change.

Justin was the first full-time volunteer to join the Urban Caracal Project, donating his time and resources to travel from the United States to stay in South Africa and work on the project for 5 full months! Through the Urban Caracal Project, refined his field skills and increased his exposure to the benefits and challenges of implementing a large scale ecology project. He continues to assist with the project remotely from the United States with GIS components. Continuing on the project, he hopes to gain insight into critical thinking in a scientific context as well as possible research ideas for a graduate school project.

Deborah Winterton, M.Tech.: SAN Parks liaison
Debbi is employed by South African National Parks as the Science Liaison Officer at the Cape Region's Scientific Services node (aka the Cape Research Centre) and is based in Tokai Cape Town. Debbis primary responsibility in her position is the co-ordination of research projects within the Cape Parks (Agulhas, Bontebok, Table Mountain, West Coast, Tanqua and Namaqua National Parks) including the registration and issuing of research permits. Its is through this avenue that Debbi became acquainted with and subsequently involved in the Urban Caracal Project.

Born in Cape Town and growing up along the city's west coast, Debbi cultivated a deep love and appreciation for the incredibly rich and threatened biodiversity of the city and is particularly interested in the functioning and health of the ecosystem. Debbi studied Nature Conservation at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and graduated with a B-Tech in 2011.