Our Big Cat Research Project brings small teams of volunteers to Kruger National Park to gain research experience in the field. Kruger is one of the largest wildlife reserves in Africa, with a wide range of habitats supporting abundant plant and wildlife species. Kruger provides the perfect environment in which to study South Africa’s big cats; lions, leopards and cheetah. Though our research is focused on big cats, Kruger offers an excellent opportunity to work in close proximity to a wide variety of wildlife including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and myriad other species. Our primary task while we’re in Kruger is to gather data from our research vehicle while on game drives and at observation points set up at water holes and kill sites.
Student researchers participating in our Big Cat Research Project engage in hands-on activities such as photo and video identification using facial “mug shots”, as well as comparing spot patterns, ear tears and scarring. Other skills include learning and utilizing animal tracking techniques and marking GPS locations of each cat sighting and kill sight. GPS data collected will also be used to map home ranges and movement of individuals. The information our team gathers each season is added to an extensive database / photo identification catalog and census focusing on big cat distribution, hunting patterns and success rates, as well as tracking tuberculosis and anthrax infections within the study area.
As human development continues to spread across the globe, big cats and the habitats they require are increasingly encroached upon. Our research is vital to identifying trends in cat behavior, movements, and tolerance to human activity.