Week 4:
Plot Twist


Cornell Fellow in Botanical Conservation

Gullele Botanic Garden | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

March 10, 2019

So we found the bushbuck.

I have to admit, it feels like I’ve been here for so long without seeing the reason for this research project (the bushbuck) that I was starting to think I’d never see the thing. ‘Ok,’ I told myself. ‘Be prepared for your research to fail and for absolutely zero data beyond windy branches.’
But then, on Thursday, as I was flipping through collected camera trap imagery, my first glance at photo #0031 revealed a grassy field and this strange dog-like creature.

Male Bushbuck

‘Okay that’s reasonable,’ I thought. ‘There are hundreds of stray dogs around.’ But, as I stared at the photo, I noticed that it’s ‘dog ears’ were much too pointy for any of the strays that I had seen, which all have floppy ears. This thing looked like a Doberman. So, I enhanced the photo and tried not to feel too hopeful (skepticism is the scientists’ friend after all). Upon editing the light in the photo, the ears revealed themselves to be horns. After double, triple, and quadruple checking coat coloration, body shape, and markings, it was confirmed.
We had our first bushbuck.
I was ecstatic and promptly celebrated by showing everyone on the research team (who have been very sympathetic to me and these bushbuck struggles) the photo. There was cheering and a lot of excitement. I felt so relieved and re-energized to continue the research and learn more about the bushbuck’s diet and habitat preferences.
The next day, on Friday, Ergua (an amazing lady on the research team) and I set out into the field to check our other camera traps. We were awarded with not just one, but two separate bushbuck sightings in person! It felt so surreal to see this animal up close.
After seeing the bushbuck on camera and in person I find myself overwhelmed with questions. The bushbuck present at Gullele seem to act slightly differently than other previously described populations. Now, I know I’m an undergraduate and I’m no ungulate expert, but something is strange here… the places these bushbuck frequent and the way they interact with humans implies… well, I don’t know yet. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but all I sense is that something weird is going on with this species behavior and that it might have to do with the fact that it lives on the edge of a major urban environment. Who knows–I’m speculating, but waiting for more data. Stay tuned.
Our next steps are to keep those cameras going and get specific with quantifying and describing the places we’re seeing the bushbuck (this will help us understand its habitat preferences). In addition, we hope to do some diet analysis either by video or germination tests. I’m excited to learn some new habitat survey techniques and see what else these cameras find… this week we also got a shot of a warthog family on camera (a species which has never been seen at Gullele before).
In short? The show will go on!

Warthog Family!

Talitha McGuire '19

Talitha is a religion and biology major from Flagstaff, Arizona.