Hello! My name is Rebecca O’Sullivan and I have just started the first year of my PhD. I am in cohort 5 of the QUADRAT DTP and I am based at Queen’s University Belfast in the School of Biological Sciences. My project is titled ‘determining buffalo behaviour, movement, disease and energy costs to assist their management and conservation’. I will be studying various aspects of African buffalo ecology to better inform conservation management in Great Fish River Nature Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
I grew up in the countryside in Cork in the Republic of Ireland. I have always been surrounded by an abundance of biodiversity and wildlife and spent my childhood caring for hurt hedgehogs and woodpigeons, listening to vixen calls and watching bats flying around outside my house at night. I studied zoology in University College Cork and my undergraduate project focused on the behaviour of Asiatic lions in Fota Wildlife Park. During this project I found that I really enjoyed doing research and studying animal behaviour so the next natural step for me was to continue on to do a masters. I studied animal behaviour in University of Sussex and I was lucky enough to travel to Malawi to do my project. After spending several months in a remote research camp, I completed my project on carnivore distribution and behaviour in a protected area. This project taught me a lot about fieldwork and human-wildlife conflict, but it also gave me my new hobby – camera trapping. I continued playing with camera traps when I got back home to Ireland and fell in love with Irish wildlife all over again (check out some of those camera trap videos here). Back in Cork, I also spent a lot of time volunteering with local conservation groups such as Cork Nature Network where I conducted ecological surveys, managed projects and did public outreach.
In the summer before starting my PhD, I spent several months in Tanzania working in collaboration with University College Cork, Ifakara Health Institute and Sokoine University of Agriculture. I was part of a team working on creating a new long-term conservation model in ILUMA Wildlife Management Area, which is a community-led protected area just outside Ifakara town in the Morogoro region. We spent our time mobile camping through ILUMA WMA, which involved working out of a tent for several weeks at a time and travelling on foot to new study sites every few days. We camped in beautiful wild locations, met incredible people and saw plenty of amazing wildlife. I think this set me up very well for the beginning of my PhD as it gave me a real-world context for the positive impact of community-based conservation methods on both animals and people. I also saw my first buffalo!
I am delighted to be doing this project through the QUADRAT DTP. The project itself combines all of my research interests and I am very excited to further develop my skills as a researcher. The DTP also provides a great training and support network and I can’t wait to get to know my cohort!