Ryan Long, Ecologist, University of Idaho

Ryan Long is a large mammal ecologist, who specializes in field research on different species of large herbivores like elk and deer in North America and kudu in southern Africa. Long is currently on the faculty of the University of Idaho. These comments were taken from interviews conducted in Africa and Moscow, Idaho, in 2014 and 2015.

Long assists the Gorongosa lion team

Long assists the Gorongosa lion team

“First of all, Gorongosa is a phenomenal opportunity to address a number of the fundamental types of scientific questions that I personally am interested in. There’s opportunities to do things in this part of the world that are just impossible in places that I’ve worked in North America. There’s a lot of interest right now in understanding how populations of large herbivores like antelope are reestablishing, following the end of the civil war back in the 1990s. And there’s very little known about the mechanisms that are driving those patterns of reestablishment. My hope is that we can do a better job of predicting the trajectory of populations of large herbivores here in the park over the next decade or two.”

This was the very first kudu that I darted from a helicopter at the initiation of my project at Gorongosa in 2014

This was the very first kudu that I darted from a helicopter at the initiation of my project at Gorongosa in 2014

“I’m interested in the role that termite mounds play in helping browsing antelope make it through the most stressful portion of the year, which is winter. Termite mounds are very large; these mounds tend to have higher concentrations of nutrients that plants like; and they also tend to hold water better than a lot of the surrounding habitat. They maintain trees and shrubs that are really high quality. So they’re very nutritious forage for browsing antelope. So those termite mounds serve as resource hot spots that presumably help antelope make it through the winter.”

“Prior to the civil war you had almost like a miniature Serengeti in Gorongosa, with lots of bulk grazers like zebra and wildebeest and buffalo. Now what you have is very small populations of those bulk grazers that seem to be having difficulty growing for unknown reasons; and instead you have thousands and thousands of midsized antelope, waterbuck and impala. And nobody really has any idea why that’s happening the way it is.”

A young bull elephant gets his collar removed

A young bull elephant gets his collar removed

“The two biggest threats to the continued success of Gorongosa are poaching and human encroachment into the park… the vast majority of the poaching that’s going on is being conducted by people who are extremely poor; they’re bringing in wire snares that they’ve crafted on their own and snaring whatever they can get a hold of and selling that bush meat on the market. That’s a little bit more difficult of a thing to track and put your finger on.”

“Here in the U.S. we have all these nice concepts about things like boundaries, and you say, hey, this is where Yellowstone National Park starts and you can no longer hunt here. It doesn’t necessarily work that way in Africa. It’s difficult for people to wrap their heads around that sometimes.”

Long uses a portable ultrasound on an anesthitized kudu to measure her nutritional condition

Long uses a portable ultrasound on an anesthitized kudu to measure her nutritional condition

“The Gorongosa restoration project has the high quality people that they need to deal with these interacting elements. And I think, although it is going to be a slower process than maybe Greg and others would like, I think it is going to be a process that continues in a positive direction. Ten years from now I expect Gorongosa to be even more amazing than it is right now.”

“It has changed my life in a lot of ways, both professionally and personally. Immersing myself in that different culture and experiencing different world views and different approaches to problem solving has broadened my own perspective of the world. And that is something that I strongly desire to share with others here in Idaho, as a faculty member at the University of Idaho. I hope to initiate field courses at Gorongosa that I could bring undergraduates from the University of Idaho to, for three or four weeks during the course of the summer, so that they can experience research and education on the ground at Gorongosa.”

My wife Kathleen and son Caden shared in the capture collaring and releasing of a wild African antelope

My wife Kathleen and son Caden shared in the capture, collaring and releasing of a wild African antelope

“It’s important to keep in mind that we live in a very interconnected world, and although it doesn’t always make intuitive sense, things that happen in other parts of the world have lasting impacts on us right here in Idaho. Losing the biodiversity that we have in a place like Gorongosa is not a small thing for anybody in the world.”