Kulalu Camp, Galana, Kenya


Sarah Overby

 May 19, 2017

Woke up at 5:00am to find giraffe samples between 6 and 8pm so that the time points for swabbing would be optimal. Searched for giraffe by SUV with a scout, the warden, and two other Pwani Students. We found a group of giraffes in the conservancy and observed a giraffe behind a bush. When we drove to that bush, we identified a fresh faecal sample. We had photos of this specific giraffe and described it as male, white-ish colouring, young adult. We GPS’d the location and collected our first sample at 7:55am, with the initial time of defecation around 7:35am. We collected swabs throughout the day at 1hr, 2hr, 4hr, 8hr, and 16hr past time-0hr. We saw a lion about to make a kill on zebras in the middle of the road in the afternoon. Time 16hr was at midnight in the same area of the lion so caution was taken to survey the area by scouts before swabbing at midnight.

May 20, 2017

Sample at time-32hr was at 4pm. We travelled with Kiera to get her impala swabs first since her time point is around the same time as my time points. There had been a little rain this morning at camp. It could have drizzled a little bit out in the field but can’t be sure.

May 21, 2017

This morning we woke up and were informed that nine lions had been sighted. In the night, they had killed a hippo in a 3 hour battle. The whole camp went out in covered SUVs to observe the lions eating their kill on the banks of the river. Across the road close by, there were males fighting for the affection of a female in season. JB photographed an adult, male Tsavo lion defecating at 7:38am. We parked the SUVs in a square around the sample for protection from the lions still only meters away from us. JB took 4 samples for us because it wasn’t safe to leave the vehicle. Later that day we worked on building an observation tower in the Lali hills, which will be used for research in the future. Afterwards, we left to swab Andy’s elephant sample and we stopped by the lion sample to see if the lions had left the area. There was a female still eating the hippo and a male lion a few meters away from the scat sample. Therefore it was unsafe to swab it again since we were only in one vehicle. We will go out tonight to try for giraffe and impala but it may be unsafe to collect these as well.


May 22, 2017

Last night Kiera and I tried to swab our impala and giraffe samples but there were about 5 lions still hanging around the river meaning there were others in the bush. JB made a call saying it was unsafe to collect swabs therefore we have no data for the 64hr. Today I stayed in camp to recover from being sick.

May 23, 2017

JB, Kiera, and I went out at 6am to find our second giraffe and elephant samples. It was steadily raining when we first went out, but then the clouds quickly dispersed later on and the sun came out. We followed some giraffe and elephant together near the boundary of the conservancy. Initial time of defecation around 8:20 – 8:30am and took my first swab at 8:40am. Female adult giraffe. We took swabs at the 1hr, 2hr, 4hr, 8hr marks. We also took an opportunistic sample of a tree where elephants like to scratch. JB has decided that we are no longer going out at night due to the dangers. We will get a sample in the morning instead of the midnight sample.

May 24, 2017

We went out this morning to swab the second giraffe sample at 8:46am. We checked JB’s camera traps at a small wallow where we saw a water buffalo to see if any animals left droppings on camera. We saw a striped hyena on the camera but no faecal samples. We took an opportunistic swab of an oryx. We also returned to the lion sample to swab again at 10:30am.


Kiera Thurman

19th May, 2017

We woke up early to try and find impala to sample between 6-9am in order to have a time scale that was feasible given the dangers of travelling at night for sample collection, the samples are near the river. With our driver and scout we were able to find a herd of impala by 7:15am and because the impala were moving out of the area I was able to collect the first sample at 7:20 and the second just after. A third impala had been identified, but by the time I arrived to sample it, dung beetles had already rolled it away. We drove about 10 minutes further to another impala herd and I sampled an impala there. All three impala were adult females, from herds of females and children with one buck each. The first three time points were taken out in the field, and the fourth later in the afternoon. Sarah and I with John and scouts and the warden then went out near midnight for our night samples. That was time points 0-16hr. Because of the activity of predators at night, and Sarah’s sample being in a lioness’s territory, extra precautions were taken during all night samples.

20th May 2017

The sample for this day was at 32 hours which was 15.20. We travelled with Sarah in order to have a smaller team out, and visited my samples first in order to hit the correct time points. This and the previous day had been overcast, and there may have even been some light rain in the area in the morning.


21st May, 2017

As Sarah has summarized the lion event quite well, and I have nothing to add, please refer to her section for details on male lion faeces sampling. The rest of the day was spent assisting with the building of a new watchtower. We attempted to drive back through the lion’s area from the morning to take samples, but it was too dangerous with a male lion sitting just next to the faeces. And again, as Sarah said, the samples tonight for 64 hours, we will go out early to try and avoid the prime nocturnal animal activity, but both impala and giraffe samples are in lion area and may not be possible to be collected.


22nd May, 2017

We were unable to collect the giraffe and impala samples the night before due to lion being in the area, and we had seen a couple of them as well. This day was dedicated to helping try to finish or move-along the research room here in camp—building and painting as possible. No sampling today.

23rd May, 2017

This day was, for us, dedicated to finding at least one more individual for both Andy and Sarah to sample. We went out with JB, and another group went a different way, to look for Giraffe and Elephant. It was rainy and chilly most of the morning, before clearing off and being very clear and sunny the afternoon and evening/night. We were able to identify one additional sample faeces for both Andy and Sarah. The first time points were taken. An opportunistic swab was taken of a tree that the elephants have obviously used for years to clean mud off of their tusks after visiting the neighbouring Walla. I took a sample swab of some smooth, cleaned wood, and one of some of the caked-on (dry) mud on the tree; these were taken at 12.15pm. Samples were collected for 0, 1, 2, 4, 8 hours for both giraffe and elephant.

24th May, 2017

We went out early today to take the 16hour samples for yesterdays elephant and giraffe. No more night samples are being taken due to the lion-presence that may or may not be continuing, and just the overall safety concerns with having people out at night taking samples. Those midnight samples are therefore being taken in the early morning after the midnight time. Opportunistic swabs of two oryx were also taken this morning. We were observing a herd of them and saw the defecation. I took one swab for each of the two faeces piles at 9.45. We then also took a set of swabs, at 10.30am, from the lion faeces initially collected 21 May, 2017.

Andy Tighe

 19th May, 2017.

We left camp at 6am to try find some elephants. We found a group of three at 7am and followed them in the hopes of collecting a scat sample. Unfortunately they headed into thick bush and couldn’t be followed anymore, so the search was called off for the day as we had missed the optimal starting time point.

 20th May, 2017.

We found a large bull elephant at about half 6 wandering into the conservancy from Tsavo East and followed him. He stopped and relieved himself at 7:42 am and I could get my first sample at 7:49 am as he had moved on. We then stayed nearby and I could take samples at 1 hr, 2 hrs and 4 hrs. When we came back to collect the 8 hr time point swab, a lot of dung beetles had discovered the sample and were beginning to break it down. We went back at 11:49 to collect the 16 hour sample.

 21st May, 2017.

Today we helped build a new watchtower. Afterwards I had to leave with John to collect my 32 hr sample. We then stopped by the lion scat that John had swabbed earlier, but unfortunately couldn’t take another sample as there was a male lion lying about 10 metres from the sample.


22nd May, 2017.

We had no samples to collect today du to our time intervals. We spent the day helping to build the new research building/tower.

 23rd May , 2017.

We left camp at 6am to collect samples for a second elephant. Due to time and logistical constraints we had changed the time intervals slightly so that the first 8 hours remain the same but instead of continuing at exponential intervals the 6th time point was changed to 24 hours. Simon found both elephants and giraffe on the west side of the conservancy near the Tsavo border. Soon after we arrived we noticed a bull elephant leaving us a fresh sample, at 7:42am. We stayed in the area and collected samples at 8:15 am and then 1hr, 2hr and 4hr intervals. When we came back later, a very large group of elephants had moved into the area and we noticed a female defecating at 5:45pm and noted where it was with the intention of coming back in the morning to collect a sample which had only been exposed to night time influences. At 7pm we collected my 64hr sample for the first elephant. It was originally planned to be taken at midnight but a large pride of lions had moved into the area so it was not safe to be out late at night.

 24th May, 2017.

Today we left camp at 7:45 to collect a 24hr sample from the second sample. After Sarah had taken her sample we went to the sample which we had seen at 5:45 the day before. I took one swab from the top of the sample. We then went back to the lion scat sample and Sarah took another swab. We spent the rest of the day watching the Pwani stundents collecting river samples.


New Area52 Publications

Hot off the press two new papers from Area52 researchers.



Congratulations Dr Vartia


Salla Vartia successfully defended her PhD entitled Development and application of molecular tools for the study of farmed and wild Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) stocks. Her external examiner Prof. Stefano Mariani of Salford University stated that Dr Vartias defence was impeccable.

Charlotte from Kenya – Part 2


After the initial two days of  sampling, I carried on with the rest of my sampling plan for the next ten days.  It mostly went without a hitch.  However, naturally, there were some problems encountered. At first, I ended up taking more samples than I needed. I admit, that’s probably the opposite of a problem. In science, it’s always better to over-sample than to underrepresent whatever species, population or ecosystem you’re trying to investigate. It did mean, however, that we were quickly running out of ethanol which I was using to preserve my samples.  Thankfully, I’d brought a back-up plan. Silica beads are an excellent alternative, and I used them to dry out/preserve the faecal samples I’d taken from giraffe. Most people are familiar with them as the little packets of silica that come with new clothes and shoes, clad with huge warnings saying “DO NOT EAT!”

I collected around 100 samples in total, which I personally think is pretty good going for only 12 days! A week into my trip came the arrival of Dr. Jens Carlsson, the principal investigator for Area 52 and my thesis supervisor. He helped me ensure that I was doing everything correctly, and liaised with John Byrne about the rest of my sampling. The project could not have gone forward without them.

An exciting part of my trip was the memorandum of understanding agreed between UCD and Pwani University, Kenya.  It meant that myself and Dani Shannon (doing her MSc in World Heritage Management and Conservation) were the first students sent over from UCD to Kenya under this memorandum, and it also meant that we had the pleasure of meeting three undergraduate students from Pwani, who came on the trip too. Paul, Robert, and Terry wanted to learn all about eDNA, so helped me with my sampling. They held tubes, passed me pens, had to put up with me stressing about my sampling, but hopefully learned at least one or two things! They were an absolute delight and taught me a lot about Kenyan culture, as well as becoming new friends. Hopefully the students will get over to UCD at some point. Their lecturer, Dr Bernerd Fulanda, was also on camp and was helpful on game drives. He has kindly agreed to help oversee the shipping of my samples back to Ireland.


An honourable mention also goes to my friends who were volunteering with Friends from Ireland (FFI – the charity which helped to organise my trip). A few of them were asked by me “could you just glove up and help me hold a couple of these tubes?” So cheers to Ann, Dani, and Conall, and also to Sian whose extensive knowledge of the conservancy helped me track down zebra and giraffe. I could probably write a huge list of those involved, but I’d be here all day! So many thanks to all involved, I know that my project couldn’t have gone forward without you. Shout out to Ann Marie for making sure I was alive/feeding me and acting basically as a surrogate parent the whole time I was in Kenya. The trip was overall very successful and I would love to go back as a volunteer for FFI sometime in the very near future.


So where do I go from here? I am back in rainy Ireland and currently waiting on my samples being shipped from Kenya. I’ve been doing one or two things in the lab -trying more new extraction methods – and will write up my literature review/methodology until the samples arrive. Once they’ve arrived, the eDNA is extracted, ran through a PCR and an agarose gel, sent off for sequencing, and the results are compiled.  The experience has been fantastic and I look forward to getting the results from my samples. We will soon know the extent of DNA degradation in zebra and giraffe poo after it has been left in situ. That’s all from poo patrol for now.