Hayley Dieckmann - Uganda

This summer I had the amazing experience, facilitated through the Global Programs Office, of traveling to Uganda to conduct a field research project on African lions.  My project was focused on determining stress in the lion population of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The stressors I explored were fires, undertaken in the park as part of vegetation management, and human settlements. These boundaries with the human communities in the park pose a risk to the lion, as retaliatory killings by the villagers in response to lions attacking livestock is relatively frequent. My aim was to help determine baseline stress for a vulnerable species in the wild, as well as provide a basis for improving management protocols within Uganda and beyond.

Working internationally on wildlife research is something that I want to incorporate in my career so I hope this project will be a stepping stone towards other projects and research that I will do in my future. My aspiration is to be a zoo veterinarian and I am very interested in working to better understand species in order to conserve them in the wild and improve their husbandry in captive settings. Therefore, this project offered the unique opportunity to learn more about lions and also more about the trials and successes of field work.

My project incorporated an amazing team of veterinarians and PhDs from across the world, who are committed to wildlife conservation and research. Dr. Ben Sacks from UC Davis was my faculty mentor and genetic expert, Dr. Andrea Goodnight of the Oakland Zoo helped me conceive of the plan and mentored me through every step of my journey, Dr. Ludwig Siefert was the vet in Uganda who had an incredible knowledge of the park and every lion within its boundaries, Dr. Corinne Kozlowski was my lion endocrine specialist extraordinaire, and James Kalyewa who was the best assistant and scat spotter I’ve ever met. This team of highly engaged and incredible people worked with me every step of the way to create a project that is unique and applicable to improving living conditions and conservation of lions.

During my time in Uganda I lived very rurally in a national park. But this was the perfect vantage point for existing with the animals – in fact, elephants, waterbuck, warthogs and even some smaller carnivores visited my backyard daily. During the day I surveyed the park for lions using radio telemetry. I was very fortunate that the Dr. Siefert had radio-collared dominant individuals of the prides in the northern section of the park so finding the lions was relatively easy in such a vast and varied landscape. Once we found lions I observed them and collected samples whenever possible. This time with the lions was irreplaceable. I feel so lucky to have spent many days close enough to hear their grunts and noises of happiness as they interacted with one another and dozed in the hot sun.

Uganda is a beautiful country not only for its wildlife but also for its people. During my time there I met people who were funny, inviting, and genuinely interested in my work with the lions. It is a country working towards improvement, especially in aspects such as wildlife tourism. I had the opportunity to meet with many park officials who wanted to know about my time in the park and what I thought of their country. I felt encouraged by what I hope will be an increasing commitment to wildlife conservation. I am so thankful to all the people who welcomed me in Uganda, the lions who are always on my mind, and my incredible support network, especially the Global Programs Office for the adventure of a lifetime. 

Hayley DieckmannHayley DieckmannHayley Dieckmann