Derek Lee, a third year student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) program, received a U.S. Student Fulbright Fellowship Award! Derek’s research focuses on spatio-temporal influences on demography of giraffes in Tanzania.
Giraffes have unique patterns on their fur and Doug Bolger, Derek’s supervisor, along with other Dartmouth College collaborators, has developed pattern-matching software for the purpose of tracking individual animals by using digital photos, rather than physically tagging them.
This new technique is useful because it allows Derek to forego the traditional tracking method, which involves the capture and sedation of the animal, in order to affix an artificial identifier. Traditional tracking involves great risk of injury to the researchers and animals, as well as the vastly higher expenses, meaning that far fewer giraffes could be tagged. The new, non-invasive tracking technology allows Derek to track larger numbers of giraffes, affordably and from a distance, without human interference in the lives of the study animals.
The population of Giraffes in Tanzania has declined 30% in the last couple of decades, so Derek’s research, tracing the survival, reproduction, and movements of giraffes, is very useful in determining the reasons for this drop.
“Giraffes live throughout areas with varied land management, such as national parks, and village lands,” Derek said, adding “we can use our data to determine if there are particular areas that are better for giraffes.”
Derek’s first research excursion was funded by the EEB program’s Cramer funds, small grants from the Sacramento Zoo and Explorer’s Club, and his own stipend, but these resources were limited and would not have supported him for continued research. The Fulbright Fellowship has allowed Derek to travel back to Tanzania to continue his work. It will fund him for 9 months—enough time for him to double his data set!
Asked about his experience at Dartmouth, whether it’s spent in Tanzania or on campus, Derek said, “I value the intelligence and keen scientific minds of the faculty and fellow grad students. Also, the staff are incredibly supportive and helpful. Dartmouth’s EEB program is a very high-caliber graduate program.”
by Tennile Sunday
photo by Tennile Sunday