Pre-Trip Description

Photo of Group from Trip
Photo of Group from Trip

Research Description

This summer, five Nicholas School students are traveling to southern Africa to survey for lion and lion prey species. Working with a group of researchers of out the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) at University of Pretoria in South Africa, we will be traveling to the Tete Province in Mozambique. The Tete Province is a remote area in northwestern Mozambique and is bordered by Malawi to the northeast, Zambia to the north and west, Zimbabwe to the southwest and the Zambezi River and Lake Cahora Bossa divide it through the middle.

The Tete Province is adjacent to several protected areas, most notably the Lower Zambezi National Park. Locals report lion incidents, but reports are few and contradictory. No one is sure whether the lions are a resident population or simply migrants from the surrounding protected areas. We will be filling in these gaps of knowledge this summer for lion and lion prey by assessing the amount, locations and type of human/lion conflict. We will also collect data on lion density, but this aspect will be limited by time constraints.

We will be in Africa from July 18 – August 25 and will be in the field from August 2 – August 20.

Participants’ Bios

Derek Fedak
Derek will be a second year Ecosystem Science and Conservation in the Nicholas School’s MEM program. He is interested in biodiversity, conservation biology, geospatial analysis, and nature reserve design. He is focusing on how niches develop and change over time in relation to anthropogenic pressures as well as how landscapes can be managed using geospatial analysis. For his Master’s Project, Derek traveled to the Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica to assess the health of a mangrove system and how the Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa could improve its health while employing forms of ecotourism. In addition to the ecological assessment, Derek and his co-researchers engaged the community through education and with a mangrove clean-up day. The final goal is to implement strategies that will maintain the mangroves integrity and develop a low-impact educational boardwalk for locals and tourists.

Derek recently got engaged in Costa Rica to another MEM student, Kristen Pfau, and lives in Durham with her and their dog, Griffen.

Jason Riggio
Most people would not expect an upbringing in the North Jersey town of Paramus to set the stage for Jason’s passion for the outdoors and wildlife conservation. However, living in New Jersey taught him the importance of preserving open space and wildlife and fostered a strong desire to work in this field.

After high school, Jason attended the University of Vermont where he pursued two majors in Environmental Studies and Philosophy. With a solid conservation background beginning to develop, Jason moved to Durham, NC to study at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. There, he is in pursuit of a Masters of Environmental Management degree for Ecosystem Science and Conservation focusing on multivariate and geospatial analysis tools with applications in wildlife and landscape conservation. Jason will be continuing his work on lion distribution in sub-Saharan Africa this coming semester for his MP.

Megan Cattau
Megan Cattau is a recent Ecosystem Science and Conservation graduate from the Nicholas School’s Masters of Environmental Management program. She was generally interested in geospatial analysis, conservation biology, ecosystem services, land use change, and nature reserve design. For her Master’s Project, Megan traveled to the peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia on the island of Borneo to determine the density and distribution of a population of Bornean Orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus). She also used geospatial techniques to pinpoint potential habitat areas that are rich in carbon and that would increase functional connectivity of the fragmented orangutan population if they were restored. This demonstrated how projects intended for the carbon market could be used in wildlife conservation strategies.

Megan will be starting Columbia’s E3B PhD program in September, working under Dr. Ruth DeFries. She will be continuing her work in Indonesia, focusing on how biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits can be maximized on a landscape scale through careful land-use planning. Megan is also an aerial dancer and started an aerial dance company in Durham, Flying Night. She looks forward to living in NYC, both for the academics and for the dance! She loves her cat, cooking, cycling, and painting, and her favorite satellite sensor is the Landsat 7 TM (SLC on).

Lisanne Petracca
Lisanne Petracca is a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow and May 2010 graduate from the Nicholas School’s MEM program. Her academic interests include big cat conservation, biodiversity science, land use change, human/wildlife conflict, and geospatial analysis. For her Masters Project, Lisanne traveled to southern Belize to delineate a jaguar corridor as part of Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative ( She supervised a team that conducted 184 interviews with hunters and farmers in 38 villages to determine the locations of past jaguar sightings, as well as the relative abundance of the jaguar’s six main prey species. Her past fieldwork and travels have led her to over 35 countries, ranging from Costa Rica to the Marshall Islands to Tanzania to Southeast Asia. Her hobbies include singing, playing the guitar, and walking her beautiful bulldog Caroline.

Andrew Jacobson
Andrew Jacobson is a recent ESC graduate from the Nicholas School’s MEM program. While at Duke, he focused on geospatial analysis, conservation biology, land preservation, and nature reserve design. For his MP, Andrew traveled to Maui, Hawai’i to work for the Maui Coastal Land Trust. While there, he conducted interviews to identify important areas for conservation. He created a GIS tool that allows the user to place different weights on five conservation topics so that the user can investigate how different conservation strategies highlight different areas of land to protect.

Before attending the Nicholas School, Andrew majored in Biology at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. He worked for two years, primarily with the City of Saint Paul’s department of Planning and Economic Development between his BA and MEM degrees. Andrew loves to go canoeing and hiking, particularly in the northwoods of Minnesota.