The Small Carnivore Research and Parasite Study (SCRAPS) is a
multi-disciplinary investigation into how anthropogenic disturbance
along Kenya’s human-wildlife-livestock interface influences the
behavior, immunity, and parasite dynamics of a guild of small carnivores
inhabiting Laikipia County, Kenya. Our research team is composed of a
diverse group of individuals including Kenyan, US, and UK scientists
from a variety of backgrounds. This project forms the basis of a long-term, collaborative effort that is working to establish genets as a model organism for understanding the multiple roles of mesocarnivores in disease dynamics in East Africa. Through collaborative work with Dr. Paul Webala of Karatina University (KU) and other Kenyan colleagues we will examine the behavioral ecology and parasite communities of genets under different land-use practices to better understand their role in disease dynamics across Africa’s human-wildlife-livestock interface. Using field-intensive monitoring efforts in Kenya’s Laikipia District combined with laboratory work, we will answer three inter-related questions: 1) How does anthropogenic habitat modification affect aspects of host ecology and behavior that influence exposure to parasites (e.g. activity patterns, space use, exposure to domestic animals)?; 2) How does anthropogenic habitat modification influence aspects of host physiology that affect host susceptibility to parasites (e.g. nutrition, body condition, and immunity)?; 3) How do changes in host ecology/behavior and physiology resulting from anthropogenic habitat modification affect macroparasite infection? Results from this study will provide vital information for understanding the role of locally common wildlife species in parasite transmission dynamics. Such information could have profound policy implications regarding how zoonotic diseases are managed for small carnivores in rural Africa.
Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts
Intellectual Merit :
Understanding the interplay between
behavior, physiology, and parasite communities is vital to improving knowledge of disease
transmission dynamics for wildlife species that can affect zoonoses in multiple ways. Growing
evidence suggests that mesocarnivores may prove to be one of the most important biological players
in disease dynamics across Africa’s human-wildlife interface (Woodroffe et al. 2012; Lembo
et al. 2008; Purnell et al. 1970), yet little is known about most of these species (Do Linh San
et al. 2013). This study will provide one of the first explicit investigations into the interplay between behavior, physiology, and parasite communities for one of Africa’s most abundant and widely distributed mesocarnivores: genets. Using genets as a model, this project will help elucidate how mesocarnivores 1) link humans, livestock, and wildlife at the local and
landscape scales; 2) regulate host reservoirs (i.e.rodent control); and 3) act as reservoirs for diseases of zoonotic (e.g. helminths) and conservation concern (e.g. canine parvovirus). The
combination of descriptive and manipulative experimental approaches will facilitate a mechanistic
understanding of parasite influences on host ecology and physiology, furthering our comprehension of the dynamic process of disease transmission in wild
Broader Impacts :
This project will establish an interdisciplinary and multi-national research team of Kenyan and US scientists working on disease dynamics in one of Africa’s best-studied landscapes: Laikipia County. Construction of a diverse network of professionals, including conservation scientists, veterinarians, university faculty and students, museum scientists, and community development specialists will be one of the most important and lasting outputs of this project. As part of this partnership, students will be directly involved in field and laboratory research,
developing and implementing complimentary studies for advanced degrees in the natural sciences; the
supporting scientists have agreed to use our partnership as an opportunity to fully support one Kenyan graduate student from Karatina University as well as undergraduate volunteers from Kenya and other countries. Lectures and co-taught courses and seminars in wildlife management will provide international teaching opportunities for Kenyan undergraduates. Participation from local communities is vital to the success of this project.
Such interactions will be used to train Kenyans in transferable skills in conservation science as well as to provide community outreach and educational opportunities regarding zoonotic diseases and mesocarnivores. Ultimately, information gathered from this project will contribute to our understanding of the role of wildlife in disease transmission along Africa’s
human-wildlife interface, a frontline for emerging and neglected zoonotic diseases with high human health and economic impacts.
Funding, Permits, and Certifications
Funding for this project came from a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology awarded to Dr. Adam Ferguson and Dr. Paul Webala (Award No. 1402456).
Permits Obtained for this project including the following:
- Kenya Wildlife Service Research Authorization Letter (KWS/BRM/5001)
- National Commission for Science, Technology, and Infrastructure Research Permit (NACOSTI/P/14/7357/2062)
- Director of Veterinary Services Research Authorization Letter (PUBS/1/VOL.XX/17)
- Student/Research Internship Pass from the Kenyan Office of Immigration Services (Ref No. 549357)
In addition, permission for handling live vertebrates was obtained through the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History’ Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (Animal Study Proposal 2014-11).
Experiences Drafting Prior Informed Consent and Mutually Agreed Terms (Benefit Sharing)
My project ended up in a somewhat gray area as although Kenya became a signatory of NAGOYA in 2012, implementation by the various permitting agencies in the country were not clear and not being practiced when I applied for permits in 2013-2014. The requirements for PIC and MAT documents was not implemented until I discussed exporting my samples from Kenya to the US. This process began in 2016 and by this time the requirement of an additional permit from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) which has authority over genetic resources, was being required and used as the main reason for implementation of NAGOYA based protocols at that time. My current understanding is that there is no separate Mutually Agreed Terms document but that the language associated with such a form is encompassed in the required PIC document. In addition, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) requires a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) between them and the foreign organization receiving the samples. Fortunately, I was able to obtain example PIC and MTA documents under review with KWS, the agency responsible for issuing export permits for wildlife or wildlife products, from a colleague working in country and modified these for my project. Neither my PIC or MTA have been approved, which means I cannot apply for the NEMA permit, which also means I cannot then apply for an Export Permit from KWS. After several in-person meetings with staff at KWS regarding these documents I was told I cannot receive an Export Permit nor have my PIC and MTA approved as there was a typo in my government issued NACOSTI permit and my Letter of Authorization for Research from KWS signed by the Director in 2014 was addressed to my collaborator and not me directly, although I was mentioned as an approved researcher in that same letter and the project proposal we submitted with the application for the letter was under my name. Needless to say this left me quite frustrated and deflated, and the samples (more than 1,000 of them) remain in Kenya in a colleagues -80 freezer to this day, more than 5 years after they were originally collected. Of particular importance is the fact that the export includes only samples of blood, tissue biopsies, and feces and no physical specimens, all of which have been permanently deposited at the National Museums of Kenya.
Meeting the Mutually Agreed Terms
The two most difficult requirements outlined in the MAT for me were the statement that “All collected biological materials will remain the property of Kenya” and that “Biological materials collected pursuant to this agreement shall not be transferred to third parties without prior written consent from KWS”. I was not sure how the first statement regarding the ownership would align with our museum’s policies for legally accessioning specimens into our collection, something I am still in the process of exploring. The second challenging requirement has to do with the lack of clarity as to which individual at KWS is responsible for providing “prior written consent” should the material be transferred to a third party. This is also ambiguous enough so as to limit the ability of the team to collaborate with and/or transfer specimens to other team members, including Kenyan partners, as under the agreement they too would be considered “third parties”. This limits the ability to use collected samples for other projects, especially if receipt of such written consent is not timely nor straightforward, as has been the case in obtaining approval for the PIC.
Small and medium carnivores have the potential to significantly impact disease transmission dynamics in a variety of ways. These
adaptable mammals consume prey that are important reservoirs of human diseases
(e.g., rodents), carry diseases important to human health themselves (e.g., rabies), and are often found living in close proximity to people and their
domestic animals, thereby increasing their chances of transmitting diseases across the human-wildlife-livestock interface. East Africa maintains a diverse assemblage of these species, including jackals, mongooses, and genets. Unlike
their North American and European counterparts, the small carnivores of Africa have been understudied when it comes to their roles in disease transmission dynamics. This project sought to remedy this knowledge gap by developing an interdisciplinary and multi-national team of Kenyan and US scientists to examine the impacts of human presence on the behavior, physiology, and parasite communities of small carnivores in East Africa. Our work in Kenya’s Laikipia County indicated that small carnivores respond to human disturbance in a number
of ways, including the need for more space in disturbed versus undisturbed sites, reduced parasite burdens in areas with high human and therefore high livestock density, and poorer body conditions for those living in disturbed
sites. On the other hand, small carnivores seemed to respond positively to small-scale human disturbance to parts of the landscape, benefiting from rotational livestock practices used by East African pastoralists through an increase in prey abundance driven mostly by dung beetles. From our trapping, tracking, and camera trap results, it is clear that small wild carnivores do interact with larger carnivores of conservation concern (e.g., lions, hyenas) and domestic carnivores (e.g., domestic dogs), with potential consequences for
important diseases such as rabies. The significant impact of rabies on the health of humans, wildlife, and domestic animals in the study region together
with a national effort to eliminate dog-mediated rabies in Kenya by 2030, resulted in the establishment of a grassroots campaign to vaccinate domestic dogs against rabies (the most effective means by which to reduce the disease incidence in humans). During 2014-2017, the Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign’s (LRVC) entirely volunteer-led team vaccinated a total of 13,155 domestic dogs across 17 communities. This grassroots effort was by definition multi-disciplinary and multi-national, incorporating conservation scientists, wildlife biologists, veterinarians, museum scientists, and university students from 5 countries and 15 organizations to tackle this deadly albeit completely preventable disease. Lessons learned from implementing a One Health approach, a holistic methodology that incorporates human, environmental, and animal health to solve problems associated with diseases, included a need for greater post-vaccination monitoring efforts of dog populations and community-specific vaccination strategies. The culmination of the LRVC into a sustainable, Kenyan-led, effort to mitigate an important disease tied to wild carnivores represented a substantial achievement related to the project’s initial goal of establishing a diverse team focused on tackling disease dynamics in East Africa. In addition to supporting novel research related to the role of small carnivores in disease dynamics, the project also allowed for ample time for
training the next-generation of scientists. This training resulted in one Kenyan student earning a Master of Science degree in Natural Resource Management, another Kenyan student completing her senior undergraduate thesis on small carnivores, plus two additional undergraduate students completing international internships
tied to the project- see here for project personnel. In addition, ample opportunities for training larger
groups of students in both a traditional and non-traditional classroom setting were realized, with more than 90 Kenyan students participating in 6 workshops or formal courses in biodiversity informatics, wildlife ecology, and museum science.
The SCRAPS project was dependent upon community involvement as half of our study was conducted in community lands with permanent human settlements. During our sampling in these communities, we met with community leaders (both the local chief and the elected community chairman) before hand to both obtain permission to conduct the study and to find ways that our presence could be mutually beneficial to community members. One of the major benefits of was created by providing employment opportunities for community members. In consultation with community leaders, we hired 4 individuals for the 12 month trapping period that worked every month with us to monitor small carnivores in their own backyards. We also hired community members to assist with the Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign, an effort that provided no-cost vaccinations against rabies for more than 1,000 dogs in the two primary communities where the study was conducted (Il Motiok and Koija). Members of the SCRAPS team participated in numerous community outreach opportunities during the project, including a Tick Day hosted at Mpala Research Centre in December 2015. We also worked with the Northern Kenyan Conservation Clubs to develop a lesson plan on rabies that was implemented across 12 primary schools.