After learning about the primary producers (vegetation) and their primary consumers (herbivores), we moved on to discuss those animals higher up the food chain. Carnivores play crucial roles in ecological systems – they keep prey species’ populations in check, allowing for natural regenerating of grazed areas on the landscape. They also cull sick animals to control parasites and disease. Losing carnivorous species can have drastic impacts on environments.
A disproportionate amount of research focuses on large, iconic carnivorous predators, such as the African lion. In contrast, scientists still know very little about the ecology of small carnivores (clocking in around 15kg or less). Yet small carnivores impact ecological systems just as much, if not more so than the large carnivorous species that are so well known. In fact, as large carnivorous predatory species become endangered, small carnivores take on their former roles in these systems.
Dr. Adam Ferguson is another researcher here at Mpala who kindly shared his experience in and knowledge of small carnivore research with the TBI students. Dr. Ferguson uses his small carnivore expertise here at Mpala by studying several different species. The data collected from these studies will help us understand more about their specific ecological roles here at Mpala, and about small carnivore ecology more broadly.
The students and I were very fortunate to take part in this research by helping Dr. Ferguson set up human, baited traps around Mpala. The traps were set in the hopes of catching any nocturnal small carnivore species. We were in luck and successfully trapped a common genet (Genetta genetta). Genets likely share a common ancestor with the sister families of hyenas and mongooses.
Dr. Ferguson, together with Dedan Ngatia developed a safe, humane and efficient method for collection scientific samples from the animal. All of this data collection occurs while the animal is anaesthetized, so they don’t feel and pain or fear. Additionally, a soft cloth mask is placed over the animal’s eyes and ears to block out any startling movements or sounds. Each animal is provided with an ear tag for identification.