Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UCF student's research with Disney giraffes may help conserve several species

31.01.2007
Giraffe poop could hold the secret to protecting the species for years to come.

University of Central Florida doctoral student Jennifer Fewster is studying giraffe excrement at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Lake Buena Vista in an effort to figure out what the animals eat in the wild and to improve the nutrition of those in captivity.

Fewster’s research, conducted in January and February, could potentially help conserve a wide array of herbivores, including endangered ones.

"I find it fascinating, but I forget people find it odd," Fewster said. "It’s not the most glamorous work. In fact, it can be a bit boring at times, but the goal is worthwhile and it has applications for the wild and for the better care and nutrition of animals in captivity."

She spends her days sitting in a white Disney pick-up observing giraffes like Big Girl and Muhali, a curious mother and her 1 ½ year-old daughter. They are among 11 giraffes that call Disney’s 33 acres here home. They are curious creatures, walking over to investigate anything new on their savannah. As gazelle run by and kudu munch on grass, the giraffes flick their tails and chew on oak trees and occasional treats.

Fewster, a native of Willow Grove, Penn., and a resident of Clermont, watches it all taking notes and waiting for the giraffes to deliver their payloads.

Fewster worked with giraffes and other animals on Disney’s property for several years as a zookeeper before she enrolled at UCF and began working with biology professor Graham Worthy. Fewster approached Disney’s animal nutritionist Eduardo Valdes. He suggested that she investigate a technique the cattle industry was using to monitor what herds were eating to determine if it could be applied to giraffes.

The cattle industry uses alkane analysis of excrement. Alkanes are the long-chain hydrocarbons in plant wax. By analyzing the sequences, scientists can determine what plants the animal consumes. Fewster worked with U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists in Brooksville to learn the technique.

Now she collects the giraffe samples, freeze-dries them and grinds them in a coffee grinder. After chemical extraction, she places them in a gas chromatograph at the Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Lab at UCF. It turns the powder into gas. The machine analyzes the gas and produces a print out showing chemical signatures in the sample – the sequence of alkanes.

Although zookeepers know generally what giraffes eat, little is known about what else giraffes in the wild eat and what the nutritional value is. If the cattle technique could be applied to giraffes, researchers would have another tool to figure out what the creatures do in the wild, which would help better mimic the landscape and food supply for animals in captivity, Fewster said. The process could also be expanded to endangered herbivores, helping to plan for the proper nutrition and landscape needed to save those creatures.

Disney is committed to research and conservation, said Valdes, who oversees the nutrition of more than 200 species at Animal Kingdom, Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Living Seas Exhibit at Epcot. Valdes sits on UCF graduate committees that review and evaluate students’ research before they earn their degree. He also was a member of a National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the nutrient requirements of horses, zebras and others.

"Generally speaking, giraffes are more challenging because they are browsers," Valdes said. "And we don’t produce the same things that they would eat in the wild, say in Africa. So we need to know, to better balance their diets and keep them healthy."

That’s why Disney has provided UCF with funding for Fewster’s research. Disney also has a post-doctoral fellow from the University of Florida and at least two other UCF students working on research in areas such as animal behavior and reproductive studies.

Valdes said he’s also involved with manatee and toad research in Florida and Puerto Rico, among other locations. Animal Kingdom has partnerships in research with the National Zoo and also regularly collaborates with researchers studying everything from African elephants to flamingos.

Fewster’s project requires her to observe the giraffes and their eating habits for five weeks in the summer and five weeks in the winter for two years. During the last two weeks of each session, she collects samples for later analysis.

Once the samples from the giraffes in captivity are processed, she wants to go to Africa to collect samples from animals in the wild.

"We need to know if it works," Fewster said. "The payoff could be great, and that would be very rewarding."

Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucf.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Preservation of floodplains is flood protection
27.09.2017 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Ocean atmosphere rife with microbes

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Neutrons observe vitamin B6-dependent enzyme activity useful for drug development

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

NASA finds newly formed tropical storm lan over open waters

17.10.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>