As the cool night breeze stirs the acacia trees, jackals sing their weird, yowling complaints. Baboons bark, sounding like human coughs, and kudus large antelopes also bark, sounding like a hoarse dog. And out in the bush, an Anatolian Shepherd dogs bark overpowers them all, signaling that its on the job, protecting the native peoples sheep and cattle herds from marauding predators.
primary job as a post-doctoral fellow is collecting cheetah semen samples
for the Smithsonian
National Zoological Parks Department of Reproductive Sciences.
But as she pursues her research, theres one sound she hopes she
never hears: that of a frustrated farmer or herdsman shooting a cheetah.
Crosier, who earned
her B.S. and Ph.D. in the Animal
Science Department in the College
of Agriculture and Life Sciences, enjoys her work and Namibia, home
to the worlds largest known cheetah population, as well as the
worlds largest Feline Immunodeficiency Virus-free population.
reproductive physiology project is going very well, she says.
Weve conducted 55 procedures on both cheetahs and leopards
to date, with 12 of these on wild-caught animals.
study focuses on different ways to freeze and thaw cheetah sperm to
increase post-thaw efficiency and viability, primarily works with the
delicate but demanding task of enhancing cheetah sperm quality following
cryopreservation, all in the field.
But not long after
beginning her two-year in-country stint a year ago, Crosier recognized
The CCF and the
Livestock Guarding Dog program give local farmers Anatolian Shepherd
dogs to scare off the cheetahs that prey on animal herds.
says Crosier, are large dogs with a loud, aggressive bark. They stand
their ground between their herd and any potential danger but do not
run or chase, which would trigger a cheetahs hunting instinct.
the Anatolians work so well, she says, is they are placed
with the sheep or goats from the time they are 6 weeks old. It is key
that the dogs bond extremely closely with their herd. The dog has to
always want to be with the herd and protect it day and night.
But the Namibians
sometimes feed these dogs poorly because they dont understand
the importance of a proper dog diet and usually cant get or afford
dog food. CCF has even taken dogs away from farmers because the animals
were poorly fed.
So Crosier contacted
animal nutritionist Kimberly Ange, her friend and colleague in the Colleges
Animal Science Department. Ange teaches companion animal and other courses.
Crosier and the
CCF hoped Ange and her husband, Dr. Eric van Heugten, an assistant professor
of animal nutrition in the College, could obtain high-quality dog food.
Ange contacted Dr. Bill Schoenherr, a former N.C.
State professor whos now head nutritionist for Hills
Pet Food, which makes Science Diet. Hills donated more than
1,000 pounds of dog food, which arrived at CCF in time to feed one of
this years litters.
In June, Ange and
van Heugten traveled to Africa to observe and document the project.
The puppy food had arrived, the pups had flourished, and all of the
most recent litter was placed.
involves all animals, from cattle to cheetahs to dogs, Ange says.
People in all aspects of animal science benefit from projects
This chapter in
the Smithsonians cheetah project book had a happy ending, but
Africa offers plenty of other challenges.
dog program, Crosier says, is just one of the ways that
CCF works with farmers to help reduce the loss of livestock to predators,
including the cheetah.
challenge is the lack of education of people that live with the cheetah
on their land every day, she says. School children are one
of our biggest targets for education on the plight of these animals
in the wild. We also work very extensively with farmers in the area
to both educate them about the cheetah and to encourage communication
with CCF and other conservation groups.
says Crosier, the Cheetah Genome Resource Bank, includes the establishment
and maintenance of a frozen repository to warehouse biological materials
including sperm, skin, serum and, hopefully in the future, oocytes and
embryos. This work hedges against unforeseen disasters, such as disease,
that could unexpectedly threaten the cheetah population.
resources in a systematic collection contributes to the future biological
and genetic viability of many endangered species, she says.
with the Cincinnati Zoo on another
ongoing CCF project. We look at estrus synchronization and induction
in young female cheetahs, she says. To do this, we use fecal
hormone analysis and daily behavioral observations. We need to know
if female cheetahs display normal estrus cycles if they are housed together
in such places as zoos. Normally, females in the wild would live completely
on their own unless they have cubs. But in zoos they are often housed
together, which may suppress normal reproductive cycles.
specialty could be viewed as exciting, she doesnt necessarily
recommend it for everyone.
of research in endangered species is small and very competitive,
she says. Funding is limited for both the variety of ongoing projects
and those needed in the future. I would tell anyone who wants to pursue
a research career in this field that a combination DVM/Ph.D. degree
would best qualify them. Also, they have to be willing to travel and
move around a lot!
One of the
biggest challenges to me personally is communication. It took me quite
a while to get used to very limited e-mail and phone and no Internet
access, not to mention no library. I have to rely on my colleagues,
family and friends to help find information I normally could easily
Africa, she says, has been the most wonderful experience
of my life. It is hard to imagine doing this kind of research anywhere
else other than where the cheetahs live.
The people involved in this project here at CCF are some of the most dedicated Ive ever met. They are willing to give up just about anything for themselves to help save the cheetah and its habitat.