Otterly Incredible Efforts In East-African Wildlife Conservation

Think about elephants invading your backyard. It’s complicated, and just the issue Dr. Tom Serfass, professor of biology and wildlife ecology here at Frostburg State University, pursues to solve. In East-Africa, conservation of wildlife is a growing issue, and Dr. Serfass has been working to shine a light on the increasingly problematic reality that wildlife faces in East-Africa.

Dr. Serfass is an intelligent and highly-admired professor, who believes that a difference can be made. Having ten years experience of working towards conservation with the Tanzania National Park Service, he can still say that, “it’s a very complicated issue in Africa.” Staying mainly in Tanzania and Kenya, many graduate students of his have joined his research team in the parks of East Africa. “Making it more affordable,” for graduate students is a large aspiration of his because the chance of taking part in this research in the wild of Africa is a once in a lifetime opportunity that Dr. Serfass hopes every student can pursue.

Finding large crocodiles along streams while herds of hungry hippos travel under the water “wiggling their ears” is the norm for a day in the life of a researcher. Although the habitat of so many animals, such as zebras, flamingos and rhinos is rich of food and water, there are countless disadvantages of being trapped in a “giant zoo,” as Dr. Serfass puts it. The landscape has the potential to carry many animals but the surrounding environment has the habitat of villages and towns, polluting any source of water for animals and attracting a lot of tourism.”Now human activity is really getting in the way of wildlife.” Even though tourism is quite valuable and potentially financially profitable, “not much money goes to conservation because most wildlife tourism is done by Europeans, Westerners.” Tourism also attracts hunters, and some hunters enjoy trophy-hunting, which is the illegal hunting of wildlife for personal gain. Conservation teams such as the one that Dr. Serfass is a member of, work everyday to bring issues such as trophy-hunting to the public.

In an effort to expose the true nature of wildlife, hunting, and tourism and how it all relates, Dr. Serfass has taken part of a national project with otters as their flagship species, stating they are “a species with a charisma.” The otters chosen were the Cape Town clawless otter and the spotted-necked otter. The goal of this movement is to publicize the problems facing conservation using the chosen otters. “How do we ethically impose on other cultures?” Dr. Serfass asks. The problem of shedding light on this is the cultural boundaries to cross. In which culture is it perfectly fine to kill? Can a person be told they are wrong? These are the questions Dr. Serfass faces. “The complexities dealt in North America are every bit as complex in East Africa.” Problems are every bit as important in the ever-growing landscape in East-Africa. Dr. Serfass is working very hard, and despite his efforts he feels, “very unfulfilled. There’s much more we could do. A lot of research to publish, but more to do. I want to give back.”

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