Dr. Dawn Scott specializes in mammalian predator and prey ecology. She has more than ten years of research experience and expertise in mammal ecology, biodiversity, and behavior. Dawn is currently leading two Earthwatch expeditions in South Africa – one that focuses on rhinos and the other on scavenger species, such as hyenas and jackals.
What inspired you to study rhinos in South Africa?
I’m interested in human-wildlife conflict and how humans and wildlife can coexist. The rhinos are a very good example of that – of how a species is being exploited and how we don’t really value this species within its environment and instead how we value it as a commodity. So what really made this project start to come together is the urgency.
What's your interest in scavengers in South Africa?
Despite their bad reputation, brown hyenas are social mammals that live in tight-knit clans. Members will even help suckle each other's young. Like other carnivores and large scavengers, brown hyenas suffer from shrinking habitats and conflict with humans. Finding a way to live peacefully on land outside of parks may be the only way the fewer than 1,700 brown hyenas in South Africa can survive.
A great moment in the field:
This relates to our urban mammals research. We had several urban foxes radio-collared to monitor their movements. Someone told us that one of them, Cedric, had developed a limp. We decided to check that he was okay, and waited at a school gate in a busy area where we knew he was most evenings.
I heard a noise and looked up, but instead of a fox, I saw a fully grown badger emerge from beneath the gate and head down the street. Although badgers are found in cities, we expect them in suburbs instead of populated inner-city areas. I followed to find out where he would go, but soon he had disappeared between parked cars. Astonished that our largest carnivore was happily running round a busy urban area in the middle of the night, I walked back to the gate. As I arrived, there in the middle of the road was Cedric. He turned and ran off into the night, clearly showing a bit of a limp.
I am amazed by how these animals have adapted their behavior to survive alongside us, in a world created by us. I am keen to study both their ecology and roles within these new urban habitats.