Monday, August 29, 2011

Bad Year for the Wildebeest, Good Year for Scientists Studying Dead Wildebeest

David arrived in the Mara about 2 weeks after the big wildebeest die-off event in which nearly 5,000 perished, but he was still able to see the remnant carcasses piled up in the river. However, near the end of his stay, another fairly large die-off occurred in the river, which gave him the opportunity to see this event firsthand. After receiving notice about the event from Brian Heath, Director of the Mara Conservancy, we headed immediately to the location to conduct a carcass count.

David counting wildebeest carcasses
 They were much easier to count fresh, although it's still difficult to keep track of individuals in the mass of bodies washed up on the rocks. 

Wildebeest carcasses in the Mara
It's very helpful to have two observers present, as well as a hand-held counter! During this event, we counted 590 carcasses.


David and Amanda counting wildebeest carcasses

Since this event, observations from us and others suggest that nearly 1,000 more have died in the river, with several months of river crossings remaining. Much of our research this summer focused on determining the effects these kinds of events have on the river. Some of our data supported our hypotheses, while others just raised more questions. 

I'm so fortunate that David was able to visit this summer and spend so much time in the field, observing the river and helping with research. Despite the long hours and challenging conditions, he absolutely overflowed with ideas and questions and thoughts for future research throughout his whole visit. We are really excited about pursuing all these ideas, and we can't wait for David's next visit to the Mara. Thanks David!

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