Research Affiliates

Dr. Stephen Lee

Dr. Stephen Lee has spent the last several years conducting research on elephants and technology for counter poaching and wildlife conservation. His research and programs focus on partnering multiple organizations with common technical goals to create a community of interest and leverage resources for conservation and wildlife security in Sub-Saharan Africa. His basic research efforts are working together to help stop poaching before the animal is killed and prevent human-animal conflict. The research includes population genetics, smart fences, smart collars, military technology, unmanned air vehicles, and bush meat detectors among others. Dr. Lee is also serving as the U.S. Army Research Office Chief Scientist, which includes planning and developing the future vision of basic research for the Army Research Office while maintaining an active research program. Dr. Lee received a Bachelor of Science from Millsaps College, Jackson, Mississippi, in Chemistry and Biology and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Emory University in Physical Organic Chemistry. Dr. Lee was also a Chateaubriand Fellow at the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, studying origin of life chemistry. He is adjunct chemistry faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill working with Professor Michel Gagne in the department of chemistry. Previously, Dr. Lee was an adjunct faculty member at Duke University. His work at the Army Research Office includes basic research directed towards environmental hazardous materials management, including studies in decontamination, detection, and protection. He has been awarded the Army’s Greatest Invention twice for his work in the development of explosive detectors and chemical sensors. In 2008, Dr. Lee was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award from the U.S. Jaycees and in 2011 a Presidential Rank Meritorious Award.

 

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Katharina von Dürckheim

Katharina von Dürckheim is based at the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, and the Department of Animal Science, at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. 

She received her Master in Conservation Ecology cum laude from Stellenbosch University in 2011. Her Masters focused on long and short range movement of African elephants in the Kavango -Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), where she was based out of the Caprivi Strip. The research investigated landscape use of collared elephants across four countries, as well as the importance of elephant pathways as a spatial variable in crop-raiding location. She also worked with Conservation International, EFAF and the Elephant Pepper Development Trust,  on Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation with the Kwandu Conservancy villages using Capsaicin (Chilli) as a deterrent. Katharina is currently completing her PhD and is exploring the possibility of a "pachyderm perfume" -  her PhD, " Scent discrimination and olfaction in African elephants", aims to understand the olfactory mechanisms behind kin recognition in elephants. Odour-Gene Covariance is examined, in collaboration with local and international experts in genetics (MHC and MUPs) as well as GC-MS. 

Behavioural trials with RHCRU's habituated elephants complement the discriminatory aspect of olfaction research, and elephant ability to discriminate between individual humans has been investigated, while their ability to track people (poachers) is currently being explored. The forensic application of this research could be considerable, given the fact that elephants have the highest number of olfactory receptors (2000 OR genes), more than double than the best sniffer dogs in the world (800 OR genes).

With her supervisor Dr Alison Leslie, Katharina is part of the Majete Wildlife Research Programme in Malawi. This and other parks in Malawi are being restocked with wildlife (incl Big 5), managed by African Parks in partnership with the Malawian government. Our scientific programme has the privilege of conducting research on reintroduced wildlife species and their impacts on flora and fauna, for sustainable biodiversity management of the park. 

Katharina recently completed a modular MBA at Stellenbosch Business School in 2017, where her final thesis (cum laude) looked at "The use of mobile technologies in Conservation in South Africa". Increasingly, certain species are coming under threat due to the illegal wildlife trade - notably rhino, elephant, lion, pangolin - and her MBA explored the mobile technology requirements and challenges of the private wildlife sector in South Africa in an attempt to assist the sector in an increasingly technologically innovative space.

The role of elephant Loxodonta africana pathways as a spatial variable in crop-raiding location

 

Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade

Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade began her animal care career working with great apes in 1999 and has worked with a variety of mammals since then focusing on applied animal behavior research, positive reinforcement training, and animal wellness.  In her present role as Vice President of Living Collections, she oversees a diverse collection including the only all male African elephant herd in North America. Currently she is working with the Adventures with Elephants team to investigate trunk biodynamics and laterality, adapted feeding strategies, and seasonal feeding ecology.

Dr. Braccini Slade has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas; a Master’s in experimental psychology from California State University in San Marcos, Calif.; and a PhD in evolutionary psychology from University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland.

 

Dr. Andre Ganswindt

Dr. Andre Ganswindt is Head of the Section of Physiology, Dept. of Anatomy & Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa.

After receiving his PhD in Biology in 2004 from the University of Muenster, Germany, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Dept of Reproductive Biology at the German Primate Centre, before joining the Department of Production Animal Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa, as a postdoctoral fellow. Between 2009 and 2012, he was awarded a University of Pretoria Research Fellowship and joined the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria. In this regard, he established the Endocrine Research Laboratory at UP, addressing proximate and ultimate questions concerning regulative endocrine mechanisms in mammals, reptiles, and birds, thereby developing and validating non-invasive tools for monitoring reproductive function and responses to stressors in captive and free-ranging animals. In 2013, he became a permanent staff member (Associate Professor) at the Department of Anatomy and Physiology at UP, continuing his research in the field of wildlife endocrinology. In 2014, Dr. Ganswindt became section head of Physiology and was appointed Acting Head of the Department of Anatomy and Physiology in 2016. Since 2017, he has been holding a B2-rating from the National Research Foundation, and is an associated editor of the Journal of African Zoology and was also vice-chairperson of the International Society for Wildlife Endocrinology between 2012-2015. Dr. Ganswindt has published 57 peer-reviewed articles (h-index: 12), 3 chapters in books, and presented at over 40 (inter)national conferences and workshops. Two MMedVet, 11 MSc, and 3 PhD students graduated successfully under his (co)supervision, and he is currently (co)supervising another 5 MSc and 8 PhD students, and mentoring 2 Postdoctoral fellows.

Stable isotope turnover and variability in tail hairs of captive and free-ranging African elephants

Visualizing Sound Emission of Elephant Vocalizations: Evidence for Two Rumble Production Types

 

Dr. Angela stoeger

Dr. Angela Stoeger, Mammal Communication Lab, Dept. of Cognitive Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna received her Master in Zoology in 2002, and her PhD (honored with the Doc.Award) in 2006 at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, University of Vienna, Austria. Since 2009 she is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Cognitive Biology where she is head of the Mammal Communication Lab. Her research aims at understanding both mechanisms and the selective forces that shaped specific signals, skills and communication systems. Her main model species are African and Asian elephants, highly social mammals that combine a capacity for vocal learning with complex cognitive skills. She significantly contributed to the field by demonstrating imitative capacities in both species (Nature 2005/Current Biology 2012). Dr. Angela Stoeger is further eager to contribute with her ressearch to conservation. Elephants make extensive use of powerful infrasonic calls (rumbles) that travel distances of up to several kilometers. This makes elephants well-suited for acoustic monitoring because it enables detecting elephants even if they are out of sight. Her research aims at establishing the fundamentals for an automatic, acoustic detection and really warning system for humans living in HEC areas, and investigating whether it is possible also be possible to effectively modify elephant spatial appearance and behaviour using sounds, noises or vocalisations.

Visualizing Sound Emission of Elephant Vocalizations: Evidence for Two Rumble Production Types

Towards an automated acoustic detection system for free-ranging elephants

Sexual dimorphism in African elephant social rumbles

Establishing the fundamentals for an elephant early warning and monitoring system

Male African elephants discriminate and prefer vocalizations of unfamiliar females

Information content and acoustic structure of male African elephant social rumbles

Acoustic Detection of Elephant Presence in Noisy Environments

 

Ash Miller

Conservation Physiology, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand.

African Elephants are recognised as having exceptional scenting abilities, and Ash is part of the team involved in testing and assessing this modality. Anecdotal evidence of elephants learning to avoid land mine-affected areas within the once war-torn Angola piqued Rory Hensman's interest in whether these animals are able to smell TNT, and if so, to what extent. Ash and the team continue this work today.  Ash is also the lead investigator on a project which uses the elephants' keen scenting ability to assess whether certain ambushing snake species are chemically cryptic.  Her previous work has shown that at least one species is chemically undetectable to dogs, and now is working to assess whether this "scentless" state holds true when the detector species is changed to an animal with increased smelling ability (i.e., the African elephant). In addition, she is also using AWE's two meerkat, Timone and Trouble, to assess whether this species have improved detecting ability of these snakes given that meerkats are natural predators of many ambushing snakes.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) can detect TNT using olfaction

 

Dr. Henk Bertschinger

Dr. Henk Bertschinger is an emeritus professor in the Section of Reproduction of the Veterinary Faculty, University of Pretoria and is employed part-time by the HSI. Over the last 3 decades his interests have concentrated on wildlife reproduction especially that of cheetah, African wild dogs, lions, buffalo and rhino. Research questions over the past 15 years have addressed the use of contraceptives in large African carnivores, primates and African elephant. He currently heads the pZP production lab which provides vaccine for the contraception of elephants in 14 game reserves in South Africa. He is also conducting research into the control of androgen-related aggressive behaviour in elephant bulls and other African mammals.

Vaccination against GnRH may suppress aggressive behaviour and musth in African elephant bulls

 

Dr. Olga panagiotopoulou

Dr. Olga Panagiotopoulou is a functional anatomist and biomechanist interested in assessing the mechanical and physiological determinants of the locomotor and the masticatory systems in mammalian vertebrates from clinical and evolutionary perspectives. Her lab works with humans, non-human primates and large exotic animals such as elephants and their research aims towards developing new predictive clinical foundations, exercise protocols and surgical implantation that can improve health and wellbeing.

Dr. Panagiotopoulou received her PhD at the University of York, UK in 2010 and then joined the Structure and Motion Laboratory at the Royal Veterinary College as a 3 year postdoctoral fellow on comparative locomotor mechanics funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The last two years of her postdoctoral appointment, she was awarded a Marie Curie Reintegration Fellowship during which she rounded her experimental training on feeding mechanics. Currently Dr. Panagiotopoulou is a lecturer in Anatomy and Head of the Moving Morphology and Functional Mechanics Laboratory at the University of Queensland.

Statistical parametric mapping of the regional distribution and ontogenetic scaling of foot pressures during walking in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus)

 

Dr. Beaux Berkeley

Dr. Elizabeth V. Berkeley (aka “Beaux”) is an assistant professor in the department of Biology and Earth Science at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. She has been working with captive and free-ranging wildlife for the past 20 years. Her main interest is the validation and application of new methods to monitor health and reproduction in animals. Since 2017, Dr. Berkeley has been associated with RHCRU.  Current projects include: 1) Glycemic status in response to different diets.  She is evaluating how different feeds affect the blood glucose profiles in elephants with the goal of informing elephant managers which foods are better options for supplemental feeding.  RHCRU is the ideal site as the elephants spend most of their day eating native browse and also have supplemental foods.  2) Allostatic load in elephants. In collaboration with other RHCRU researchers, she is developing an allostatic load index based on examining changes in biomarkers in multiple organ systems secondary to environmental stressors.  This approach can be used to monitor long-term changes in both wild and captive elephant health to aid management decisions.

 Dr. Berkeley holds a BS in Biology from Hiram College in Ohio, an MSc in Veterinary Clinical Sciences from The Ohio State University and PhD in Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

 

Dr. Melissa Schmitt

Dr. Melissa Schmitt is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and the University of California Santa Barbara. Dr. Schmitt studied the elephants at AWE for her PhD affiliated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg. 

For her work, Dr. Schmitt studied various aspects of elephant foraging behaviour such as factors influencing diet selection and the use of olfactory (odour) cues to make food decisions, as well as created a carrying-capacity model to better predict elephant population sizes.  Dr. Schmitt established which plant species the elephants preferred to eat as well as avoided. She then collected these species and chemically analyzed them in a lab for their nutritional (crude protein and digestibility) and anti-nutritional factors (plant secondary metabolites which are chemicals in plants). Ultimately Dr. Schmitt was able to correlate elephant diet preference with these nutritional and anti-nutritional factors. One of her key findings was the elephant's use of odour emitted from plants to make diet selections

across multiple spatial scales, which advances our understanding of how large mammalian herbivores locate food resources. Finally, Dr. Schmitt created a more accurate carrying-capacity model for elephants using the data she collected from the elephants at AWE in order to predict appropriate population sizes. Her model included aspects of elephant feeding behaviour as well as food quality, specifically crude protein and tannins. In addition, Melissa also explored the role of salivary tannin-binding proteins in elephants that could possibly help negate the negative impacts of tannins.

A majority of Dr. Schmitt's work has been submitted to scientific journals and are currently in review but her carrying-capacity model was published in Ecological Modelling.

Incorporating secondary metabolites, tannin-binding proteins, anddiet breadth into carrying-capacity models for African elephants

 

Wildtrack

ConservationFIT is a new project that aims to conserve endangered species around the word using only their footprints. WildTrack, a non-profit based at the SAS Institute in the USA, Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) software enables us to identify footprints left behind in the mud, sand and snow. ConservationFIT aims to improve endangered species monitoring to help alleviate human-wildlife conflict by using WildTrack’s award-winning FIT software to identify species, individuals, sex and age. ConservationFIT is a community based project that reaches out to global citizens in all walks of life, with every kind of skill and experience, to engage them to help them resolve the species crisis by collecting data for the organization using their smartphones. The Rory Hensman Research and Conservation Unit has partnered with ConservationFIT to create an elephant print algorithm for non-invasive monitoring of wild elephants, spearheading their efforts in Southern Africa.

WildTrack Website

Conservation FIT Website

Collecting Elephant Prints

 

 
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Invictus K9

RHCRU proudly supports Invictus K9, a company specializing in canine solutions for counter-poaching and trafficking, law enforcement and counter terrorism. Invictus K9 offers a unique, holistic training and advisory package for the implementation of conservation dog programs that make a measurable, tangible difference to conservation. They have established dog units in Gonarezhou National Park and the Lower Zambezi National Park. Their most recent project was the establishment of a dog unit in Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, Lusaka. If you’re also interested in supporting the initiative on fighting wildlife crime, please feel free to contact Michael Hensman on mhensman@invictusk9.com or visit invictusk9.com