As ecotourism revenues now rival those of livestock in much of the KAZA region, conservation of large herbivores that shape ecosystems and draw tourists is crucial.
With a freshly-minted Ph.D. in ecology from Duke University, Margaret (Maggie) Swift joinied the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine as an Atkinson Center Postdoctoral Fellow in Sustainability. She brings a computer science background and predictive modeling skills to work focused on how different livestock fencing scenarios in southern Africa might impact the migrations of wild mammals, especially elephants, and how alternative livestock disease management practices could protect both wild and domestic animals.
Her Cornell mentor is Steve Osofsky, DVM ’89, the Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy and director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, and her external advisor is Dr. Robin Naidoo, senior conservation scientist and lead wildlife scientist for the World Wildlife Fund. Maggie's simulation modeling skills bring an important new dimension to ongoing work in support of the five-nation Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA). Veterinary fencing crisscrosses much of southern Africa, protecting livestock from contracting diseases like foot and mouth from wild populations, but negatively impacting wildlife by preventing wild mammals from migrating seasonally to access grazing, water and other resources. Maggie’s project will use advanced computer modeling, drawing on existing datasets from radio-collared animals, to investigate how elephants and other mammals currently move about southern Africa's KAZA TFCA, the largest such landscape in Africa, and how elephant movement patterns might change if alternative approaches to livestock disease management less dependent upon fencing were adopted. By simulating migrations using real-world tracking data, potential scenarios for integrative, sustainable land-use management become easier to understand and evaluate. Using a One Health approach, this project will highlight the sustainable benefits of optimizing land-use planning at the interface of wildlife, livestock, and human health and livelihoods.