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
FIELD TEAM COORDINATOR
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 has taken over managing the field aspects of the project, giving Laurel more time to attend to fieldwork herself, but also all the boring admin!
VOLUNTEER FIELD INTERNS
Emily Carollo, M.S.
Emily grew up in a rural part of Northern New Jersey where the close proximity of wildlife and people fueled her passion for the field of conservation. She attended the University of Virginia where she played for the women’s soccer program and completed her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science. From there she attended the Pennsylvania State University where she played her final soccer season in 2013 for the women’s soccer program, and completed her Master of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries in May of 2016. Her work at Penn State used resource selection methods to understand selection by mule deer of agricultural resources in SW Colorado, and the placement of captive white-tailed deer facilities throughout the Pennsylvania landscape. During her time at Penn State she volunteered with several organizations, which included a local wildlife rehabilitation facility and the state wildlife commission that got her hands-on experience in the field of wildlife. She also worked temporarily at the university’s environmental center where she helped care for permanent avian and reptile residents and presented at many public outreach events. Towards the end of her master’s she left for SW Louisiana to work for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries where she collected biological samples from coyotes for a red wolf and coyote genetics project. After she graduated she worked with the Pennsylvania Game Commission where she helped trap black bears and manage game trail cameras for a predator abundance project.
For Emily this project is a great opportunity to get into the world of felids where she hopes to continue her future work. She is most interested in human-wildlife conflict, and especially in regards to large carnivores. She hopes to aid in finding harmony between the two groups so current at risk carnivore species can survive and thrive in increasingly human dominated landscapes.
Amaia Autor Cortés, M.S.
Amaia's passion for understanding animal behavior stems from growing up in a little village in Navarra (north of Spain) surrounded by nature. Driven by this enthusiasm, she studied biology at the University of the Basque Country (Spain) and received a master´s degree in zoology at the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). During her studies she conducted different projects including physiological comparisons between two species of clams (a native one and an invasive one) and studying the factors that influence extra-pair paternity behavior in blue tits. In addition, Amaia worked as a research assistant for the Pyrenaic Institute (IPE-CSIC) performing, among other things, common lizard field surveys for a study related to evolutionary ecology and climate change. Her main research interests involve social behavior, population dynamics, habitat selection, and predator-prey interactions.
For her this project is a perfect opportunity to get experience working with carnivores; an interesting group that she would like to study in her future. It is amazing to be fortunate enough to learn how urbanization affects the space-use and feeding behavior of this top predator of the Cape Peninsula which impacts the whole ecosystem via downstream effects. She is very glad to be able to help caracal conservation!
Shannon Dubay, BSc
Shannon grew up in Connecticut, USA, and has always been fascinated with animal behavior. She studied Biology at James Madison University, concentrating in Ecology, while also participating full time in the university varsity swim team. Eager to pursue her interest in behavioral studies, Shannon spent time in the psychology department as well, involved in multiple studies with field mice which investigated landmark usage in foraging behaviors.
During her studies, Shannon had the opportunity to volunteer at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah and Wild Dog Centre in the North West Province of South Africa, and was captivated by the African wildlife. Shannon has spent many months volunteering and interning at wildlife centers across the United States, which fueled her wildlife passion further. After spending time on a baboon behavioral research project in Cape Town, Shannon joined the Urban Caracal Project to expand her knowledge on radio-collaring techniques. She is excited to see how the GPS locations provided by these collars can give insight into the area usage and movements of these beautiful, elusive, and severely understudied caracals!
Rachel Findlay-Robinson, M.S.
Rachel was being hauled up mountains before she could walk and still spends most of her free time running and exploring the hills of her native UK, especially the Lake District where she usually resides. This early immersion in nature naturally led to a decision to study biology at the University of Sheffield, where she completed a four year Master of Biological Science degree. Following a Master’s thesis on insect immune systems and bacterial resistance to antibiotics, she spent the next couple of years working on population life-history studies with moths and soil mites, at the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds respectively. However, the wilds were calling, and in 2013 she left the University of Leeds to work for the University of Saskatchewan on a field project studying hibernation phenology in Columbian ground squirrels in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, progressing through two seasons to become the head field technician. Following the conclusion of her employment here, she spent some time travelling in Canada before returning to the UK to work in the outdoor retail industry whilst training for various fell running races and challenges, including completing the 66 mile Bob Graham Round. She is very excited to be working in research again as a part of the Urban Caracal Project, and is really enjoying learning new field and lab skills in a beautiful new landscape whilst helping to gather important data on an amazing and under-studied species.
Devin Johnson, BSc
Devin grew up in Alaska, where he gained an appreciation for the outdoors, wildlife, and adventure. He graduated in 2015 from Colorado College with a B.S. in Organismal Biology & Ecology. During his time there, he gained experience with many types of biological fieldwork in the Rocky Mountains. Devin traveled abroad to Costa Rica for a semester during his junior year, where he lived with a host family and worked on a 4-month independent research project involving the response of bird biodiversity and species composition to urbanization in a tropical forest environment. This study was developed into his undergraduate research thesis. His summer field seasons during college were spent in Alaska, working on several projects ranging from salmon telemetry to caribou forage analysis to marine mammal monitoring in the high arctic. Since graduating, Devin has been working with the Peregrine Fund on a Gyrfalcon project in remote Arctic Alaska, and hopes to shape that work into a master’s project in the future. He has always been passionate about conservation, and is grateful for the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. He is extremely excited to be a part of the Urban Caracal Project and to gain hands-on experience working with an amazing species in an amazing place.
Justin Johnson, BSc
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.
Julia Wilson, BSc
Julia is a recent graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and a B.A. in Science, Technology and Society. She has always been passionate about conservation, prompting her to intern for Earth Charter Indiana where she coauthored and delivered a proposal for Indiana to adopt a Climate Action Plan before the Environmental Rules Board. A lover of nature, Julia worked for the Center for Urban Ecology caring for her university’s urban farm and beehive where she enjoyed working outdoors. Her interest in biological research came to fruition while working in a developmental biology lab studying Drosophila oogenesis. The day after graduating, she hopped on a plane to Panama, where she worked as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. There, she worked in the bat lab on a project studying the predator-prey dynamics between eavesdropping bats and Tungara frogs, solidifying her love of fieldwork. She is thrilled that the Urban Caracal Project has allowed her the opportunity to be able to combine her passions for conservation and biology with her interest in urban ecology, and she hopes to continue studying urban ecology in a graduate setting.
Gabriella Leighton, BSc
Gabriella is a Masters 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.
Helen Turnbull, Cape Leopard Trust CEO
Helen is the CEO of The Cape Leopard Trust, and her job is to make sure the various dynamics of the project are managed transparently and efficiently. Her work includes relationship management with partners, fundraising, sponsorship liaison, financial oversight and communication, as well as building brand awareness.
No stranger to the bush and wide open spaces, Helen completed her Matric in the northern Cape, and then left for Europe where she trained in multiple aviation disciplines with Lufthansa and travelled the world. After sixteen years away from Africa she returned to Cape Town in 2001 and established a consultancy company specialising in developing sustainable and ethical business practice in tourism. Much of the focus was using tourism as a catalyst to aid conservation and social development, facilitating some of the South Africa's flagship responsible tourism projects.
Helen has always been involved in one way or another with conservation and amongst others has worked with Dyer Island Cruises and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, as well as Dr Will Fowlds and the Chipembere Rhino Foundation She joined The Cape Leopard Trust in January 2013 as Project Coordinator, assisting Dr Quinton Martins, Trust co-founder and then CEO. Helen was subsequently appointed CEO in 2015 when Quinton left the Trust to take up a new position in California as Assistant Director at the Snow Leopard Conservancy.
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.
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.
Max Allen, PhD
Dr. Allen a carnivore ecologist, author, and photographer. He was born and raised in central Vermont, and has lived throughout the American west and New Zealand. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Conservation Biology from Victoria University of Wellington in 2014, for his dissertation entitled The Ecology and Behaviour of Pumas (Puma concolor) in Northern California. He is currently working with the University of Wisconsin at Madison on numerous carnivore ecology projects. He was previously the lead biologist on the Mendocino Mountain Lion Project, and a post-doctoral researcher with the Santa Cruz Puma Project. He spends most of his spare time either sleeping or photographing animals. He has published over 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles, many National Geographic posts, and his first photography book was published in 2010. Max plays a key support role for the Urban Caracal Project by acting as a sounding board for Dr. Serieys, preparing and editing manuscripts, and helping to drum up ideas as to how to explore interesting behavioral observations made on the ground in the Cape Peninsula. Read more about Max's awesome carnivore work here.
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.
PAST PROJECT MEMBERS
Rene Brink, BSc – Worked with the Urban Caracal Project to receive her honours degree at the University of Cape Town in 2016
I am from the Western Cape of South Africa and have been raised in Cape Town my whole life. I attended the University of Cape Town, first as a Humanities student – but I could not ignore my love for nature, especially its animals. I transferred to the Faculty of Sciences after a year in Humanities and eventually majored in ‘Applied Biology’ and ‘Ecology and Evolution’. I chose to do my Honours course at UCT because I felt that it would give me more practical experience while also giving me the chance to focus more on animals as a ‘study subject’. In my Honours course, each student is expected to select a project to work on during the year – I chose to work on the caracals because I have always been passionate about mammalian predators and this could be a stepping stone to eventually reaching my dream of working on the conservation of wolves. With each day that I spend working on this project and these cats, I grow more excited at the results that we will obtain: how are they really being impacted by humans – not just in in their habitat usage, but also in their survival?
Bryan Havemann, Cape Leopard Trust Programme Manager
As Programme Manager at Cape Leopard Trust, Bryan plays an essential role overseeing Cape Leopard Trust project managers (including for the Urban Caracal Project). Bryan was born in South Africa in 1961 and after military service did a Nature Conservation Diploma followed by a B-Tech Degree in Veld and Game Management.
After a short stint at Londolozi, he spent 16 years in the Kruger National Park as a researcher, wilderness trails ranger and a senior game ranger with South African National Parks (SANParks). Bryan was the General Manager of the 5 Star Jock Safari Lodge in the south of Kruger, for 3 years.
After relocating to Kwa-Zulu Natal, Bryan became a lecturer for a Game Ranging and Lodge Management Diploma for 2 years in Durban, before taking on the role of National Director of Conservation for the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) from 2006 onwards, based at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve in Howick. During this period Bryan was also the Chairman of the IUCN Regional Committee for East and Southern Africa.
In early 2010, Bryan was offered the position as Project Manager for the Akagera National Park in Rwanda and CEO of Akagera Management Company, working with African Parks and the Rwanda government to lead the rehabilitation of Akagera National Park. As a Professional member of the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA) Bryan has also been actively involved in issues surrounding protected area managment and integrity.
Nadine Guichard, BSc: Volunteer Field Intern
My love for nature probably started when I was raised by my grandparents in the countryside of France. Initially, after high school, I have studied in the field of pharmacy but I quickly realized that I wasn’t made for it and decided to focus on biology. I completed my bachelor degree in science in France and just after, I started the first year of master in animal behavior. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted in the second year. In order to achieve my dreams of travel and also to gain some experience, I went in South Africa in the beginning of 2015 to study the caracal on a reserve of the Limpopo province. During that time, my passion for animals, especially felines, increased and staying in South Africa was a great idea. I decided to pursue my studies here and I just started this year my master dissertation though the University of Cape Town.
Jason Labrie, BSc: Volunteer Field Intern
Jason grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, USA where he lived alongside a state park and fell in love with the outdoors. He never realized his love could turn into a career until he went on to study at Villanova University in Philadelphia where he acquired a BS in environmental science and a BA in political science. During his time at Villanova Jason did research on the effects of coal waste on local plants in the once heavily mined area. Jason has had field experiences in many different types of environments. He spent one summer working for an environmental consulting and engineering company and another researching the ecological effects of the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Most recently Jason worked as a biological technician for the United States Forest Service in California, where he assisted in projects saving endangered and threatened species of frogs and fish. Although he has thoroughly enjoyed all of his experiences, Jason has found a true passion for working with wildlife and hopes that working on the Urban Caracal Project can help keep him set on that path. He is extremely excited to work with such an interesting species and believes that he will be inspired to go back to graduate school for wildlife biology.
Stephi Matsushima, BSc: Volunteer Field Intern
Stephi's passion for the outdoors and environment began while growing up near the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, USA. Although she ventured away from home to study at George Mason University near Washington, DC. Stephi earned a BS in Environmental Science and Policy concentrating in Conservation and a Minor in Biology while competing as a varsity athlete on the volleyball team. Stephi attended a semester at the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation, where she learned about the dynamics of managing for conservation and biodiversity in today's society. At the Smithsonian Stephi also had the opportunity to work with the ecology department on frog acoustic monitoring and with the center for species survival on behavioral studies conducted on maned wolves and a mammal population density survey in Thailand.
Stephi had the opportunity to complete two study abroad programs in Belize and Peru. Through these programs Stephi was exposed to many different facets of conservation including, ecotourism, coral reef ecology, rainforest ecology, and primate behavioral ecology. It was through these experiences that Stephi's passion for international conservation developed. Stephi joined the Urban Caracal Project to expand her knowledge on trapping and managing carnivores in an urban population while looking for potential areas of study for grad school.
Austin Merical: Volunteer Field Intern
Austin was born and raised in Knoxville Tennessee where he grew up fishing and camping in the Appalachian mountains. From a young age he knew he wanted to work with wildlife so at fourteen he started volunteering at the Knoxville Zoo. As a volunteer he did various jobs around the zoo ranging from education to helping take care of the birds at the zoo’s bird show. After High School he entered University of Tennessee, Knoxville to study Wildlife and Fisheries Management. Since entering college he has traveled the world and work on some great programs with some great people. So far his travels include studying genetics in the Galapagos, helping on an African wild dog and cheetah research trip in Namibia, both studying abroad and helping with jaguar research in Belize, and now volunteering for the Urban Caracal Project in South Africa! In addition to my international experiences, he worked with elephants as an Intern at the Knoxville Zoo and interned with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program. He is confident that the experiences he gains from working with the Urban Caracal Project will put him on a path to helping him achieve his goals of finding mutually beneficial solutions that allow for humans and wild carnivores to coexist in an urbanizing world.
Payton Phillips, BSc: Volunteer Field Intern
Payton grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, spending much of her childhood outdoors. Despite having a broad range of interests, she eventually chose to put her passion for nature to use as a Biology and Environmental Science double major at the College of William and Mary. A great lover of travel and eager to pursue research opportunities, she joined a professor studying the impacts of fire on red-backed fairy-wrens in Northern Territory, Australia. This experience ignited her passion for field work, if not for birds. She followed this experience up with a semester studying abroad with the School for Field Studies in Kenya and Tanzania. Having dreamed of traveling to Tanzania since completing a fifth-grade project on the country, She found the opportunity to see and study African wildlife more rewarding than she had ever hoped. This experience ignited her curiosity in the relationship between wild mammals and ever-expanding human settlements. She joined the Urban Caracal project to learn more about this important topic and to gain research experience. She is excited to understand how caracals are surviving and utilizing the landscape in the Cape Peninsula. She hopes that this experience will help determine her path in pursuing a graduate degree in wildlife conservation or a related field.
Katy Seeberger, BSc: Volunteer Field Intern
Katy graduated in 2013 from Brigham Young University with her B.S. in Biology focusing unofficially on wildlife studies. She grew up in southern Virginia reading and dreaming about wildlife, developing a passion for carnivore biology and behavior. Her interest in wild cats inspired three months participating in an animal behavior internship at an animal sanctuary for exotic cats in Florida, a home for rescued animals from private ownership ranging in size from Sand Cats to Tigers (including Caracals). Her love for field work came while participating as a field assistant studying Gamble’s Quail in the northern range of the Mojave Desert using radio telemetry. While in school, she worked at her university’s life science museum, assisting mainly in the mammal collection and caring for the flesh-eating beetle colony. She also helped with husbandry and data collection for two graduate students, one studying a different species of flesh-eating beetle and the other plotting GPS coordinates of black bear encounters across the state of Utah. After graduating, she took a job with Utah Parks and Recreation as an invasive species technician, acting to prevent Quagga and Zebra mussels from spreading into a reservoir in Utah. From there she took a two year break from biology to explore the United States recreationally and enjoy the outdoors. She has joined the project appreciative of the opportunity to get back into biology and gain experience doing field work with a species she enjoys while searching for graduate school prospects.
Check out this awesome article written about Tanner, a former volunteer with the project!
Benjamin Vanbaelenberghe, BSc: Volunteer Field Intern
Benji was born and raised in Belgium, first in a urban area then a more rural area. He's had a lifelong curiosity for nature. Luckily for his parents, he loved to play outside, catching insects, climbing trees, and hiking. Upon entering college, he decided to focus on nature-management and nature-development. His primary interests lay in habitat-restoration and the recovery of ecosystems. His bachelor's thesis focused on the documentation and restoration of a historic farming area in rural Flanders. After graduating, he went to Kenya where he volunteered with A Rocha as a research assistant. There he studied the migratory patterns of waders. He also assisted on a coral restoration project in the coral gardens at Watamu National Marine Park. He considers Cape Town one of the most beautiful places he's visited, and is very excited to be working on the Urban Caracal Project. One of his goals working on the Project is to widen his horizons, and gain new appreciation for research and conservation in a new place. The skills he develops while working on the project will be essential to enhancing his own research after attending graduate school.
Samantha Wilber, M.S: Volunteer Field Intern
Samantha Wilber is a recent graduate from the University of South Florida with a Master of Science degree in Ecology and Evolution and an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida. Her graduate thesis research focused on North American river otter distribution, and she aims to continue to work with wildlife in the Carnivora order. Sam grew up in Florida and New York and has always pursued her dream of working with wildlife. Her other experiences include working in animal care for Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and Big Cat Rescue, and working in zoo education for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. She has always been especially fond of African wildlife, and was fortunate enough to study abroad in South Africa and Swaziland during her time in undergrad. In her future she hopes to continue to care for and study carnivorans in both captivity and the wild in an effort to contribute to global wildlife conservation. She hopes that these future endeavors will continue to bring her back to Africa.
Deborah Winterton, B.Tech.: SANParks liason and field technician
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.