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Introducing Felicitas Oehler

The start of 2019 has been busy, with one Herd Hover masters student, Sven Lauke, entering the final stages of his thesis writing, and another, Felicitas Oehler, just getting started! Below, Felicitas introduces her plan for her thesis project, for which she will investigate movement and association patterns within zebra herds, and particularly how these change when the group responds to a disturbance (humans approaching on foot). Check back here for future updates from Felicitas and Sven!

“Sometimes great opportunities just pop up in your life when you are at the right place at the right time. That happened to me when I was looking for a job as a research assistant at the university, and saw Blair’s announcement for the field assistant position at the Mpala Research Center!

With the field assistant position in Blair’s ungulate project I got the amazing opportunity to accompany and assist Blair, Ben and Mike in the field, which means in the savannah in Kenya! Furthermore taking that position meant to follow up the work with a master thesis project in the Couzin Lab in the Herd Hover project with Blair and Ben. And that’s where I am at the moment. One month passed already since I’ve started with my master thesis.

In the thesis I want to analyze different aspects of social and collective anti-predation-behavior of the two zebra species, which have two different social organization systems. I want to focus on subgroup formation in a herd and the changes of group composition before, during and after the scare. Furthermore I would like to take the impact of the vegetation on their movement away from the scare impulse into account. Additionally I could imagine having a closer look at the line formation during and after flight and the underlying coordination, order and pattern of this line formation in zebras.

So far I’m diving in into data processing, annotations and track corrections of the existing drone footage, background reading and learning to analyze data with Python.

Having all these enriching remembers of the animal wildlife in Kenya and the great time working together with the group in my mind I’m very motivated to find out some nice and important facts about zebras and their behavior! Then this knowledge can help us to improve the understanding of the anti-predation behavior of ungulate species and the cooperation and interaction between individuals within herds.”

Felicitas with giraffe

Felicitas feeding a resident of the Giraffe Center in Nairobi. Photo by Mike Costelloe.