Friday, August 21, 2015

Water Sampling and the health of the Chobe River System:

The Chobe River system is as complex and diverse as it is beautiful, and understanding the manner in which adjacent human populations affect this crucial regional artery is of the utmost importance for conservation, community health and sustainability. As part of Dr Kathleen Alexander's ongoing Coupled Human-Natural Systems project (conducted through a partnership between CARACAL and Virginia Tech and funded by the NSF), the Chobe River is regularly sampled by her team. These are some images captured during this week's sampling, during which the team collected data at 28 points along the river. 

A number of issues are at play here. Perhaps most crucial is the role played by antibiotic resistance. Dr Alexander recently published a paper on this issue (we posted a link to it here), and this has since been the subject of a number of articles (most recently on SciDev.Net and AChangingWorld ). The current water quality analysis follows on from the previous study by tracking antibiotic resistance in E-coli present in the river system, and samples are taken at each of the sample sites specifically to test for the presence of resistant colonies.

Of course this cannot be assessed in isolation - we also need to understand the manner in which the river flows and a whole host of other variables which might affect the presence and abundance of these bacteria in the water-column, including the presence of sediments, river-traffic, effluent drainage points, seasonal variation in water-levels, annual flood-surges, variations in temperature, and many more. 

In effect, then, this study is about much more than just antibiotic resistance. This, certainly, is one of the most important research outcomes, but this study also aims to measure the overall health of the Chobe River System and -by extension - all the people and ecosystems dependent upon it. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

National Science Foundation Article on Water Quality and Health:

Dr Kathleen Alexander's Coupled Natural Human Systems research program (conducted through a partnership between CARACAL and Virginia Tech, and funded by the National Science Foundation) features this week on the NSF's home page! The NSF is an independent US federal agency "created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare..." It is perhaps the most prestigious research organisation in the world, and has an annual operating budget of $7.3Bn! Click on the link below to read the NSF's full article on Dr Alexander's program, which is working on the interconnectedness of human and natural systems and the manner in which wildlife species provide clues as to the spread of antibiotic resistance in Africa and around the world:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Help Ethel the aardvark! | Kathleen Alexander's Fundraiser on CrowdRise

Help Ethel the aardvark! |  Fundraiser on CrowdRise


In January 2015, Ethel, the aardvark, was attacked by domestic dogs in the Chobe Enclave, Botswana. The community and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks rescued Ethel and brought her to CARACAL (our NGO in Botswana) for care. Unfortunately Ethel had suffered significant injuries from the attack and was transported down to Maun to undergo surgery for a broken leg. After a month of recovering from surgery she has returned to us here at CARACAL, however, she is still in poor health. While we can provide expert veterinary care for Ethel at CARACAL, we do not have the funds that are required for her treatment, care and future life with us. Ethel's veterinary bills from her surgery were expensive and the costs of her ongoing care and treatment are escalating. When Ethel recovers she will require a custom built nocturnal enclosure at CARACAL where she will become an important ambassador for her species.

We are hoping to raise $10,000 to cover these costs, but the more funds we can raise, the better we can build Ethel’s new home. With a larger enclosure we can accommodate other rescued nocturnal animals (such as the two bush babies living with us) and create a homely environment for Ethel and her friends.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Project identifies widespread occurrence of leptospirosis in wildlife in Botswana - causing a disease of global importance

Leptospirosis is an enormous public health threat that affects predominately the poor. CARACAL and Virginia Tech are working hard to understand this problem. Dr. Alexander has been leading a program of study on this important disease and together with her post doctoral student, Dr. Sarah Jobbins, they have made important discoveries. Not only have they identified the presence of this pathogen in Botswana, but the widespread occurrence of infection among wildlife. Many questions remain - does this pathogen affect any other species? How does leptospirosis move across the landscape? Although leptospirosis has not been reported in Botswana in humans - does this disease impact people and we just miss it because there are so many other disease that present with fever? We are working hard to find out!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Our work in Northern Botswana is focused on understanding the interaction between the environment, humans, and animals including wildlife and the implications this has to infectious disease transmission dynamics. Our previous work on diarrheal disease identified critical relationships between the environment and human and animal health.

We have launched a new and exciting component of our research. With community project partners, we are looking at how sanitation can influence diarrheal disease. In particular, how fly densities might be influenced by environmental drivers and how, in turn, flies might influence human health.

The Conservation, Food, and Health Foundation ( is providing critical support to this important work.

Joseph Berger, (CC)

Our Wild World | VoiceAmerica™

Our Wild World | VoiceAmerica™

Dr. Alexander interviews with VoiceAmerica to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Alexander and Sanderson highlight critical elements of predator management in complex systems.

Monday, January 27, 2014

With Allee effects, life for the social carnivore is complicated - Online First - Springer

With Allee effects, life for the social carnivore is complicated - Online First - Springer

From small to large, social carnivores are under complex pressures. Our work on carnivores highlights the important interaction between infectious disease and group living species and Allee Effects. We must seek to engage complexity as it will determine the success of our management approaches for system health. Dr Sanderson and Dr. Jobbins (Post Doctoral Research Associates in Dr. Alexander's Lab) work together with Dr Alexander to try and understand the dynamics of infectious disease at the environmental- human-animal interface.

Assessing elephants in the region for infectious disease.
Understanding infectious disease dynamics accross a spectrum of animals both domestic and wildlife is central to our program. Information gleaned is integrated with our active research directed at understanding human behavior and its influence on animal behavior.

Our recent publication (see above) on carnivores and Allee Effects, highlights the importance of understanding the complexities across human, animal, and environmental systems.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Here are a few of the 70 students in CARACALs  Kazungula Primary weekly Conservation Club. We teach them to respect and protect the environment with lessons, crafts, games, interactive activities, and countless bad jokes.  I tried to get a picture with one of them, and this is what happens. I adore my students! -Erica

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Science Daily - Researchers Help People in Remote Africa Respond to Diarrheal Disease

Our new publication provides information on diarrheal disease which might provide important insight into this persistent public health threat in Africa.

Kathleen Alexander, associate professor of wildlife, and Mpho Ramotadima, community extension officer at the Center for African Resource: Animals, Communities and Land Use (CARACAL), check water quality at a public faucet in a Botswana village. Alexander conducts research through CARACAL, a nonprofit nongovernment organization she co-founded in Botswana. (Credit: Virginia Tech)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mpho Ramatadima and Cysco Charlie play a key role in our research program. Here with Dr. Alexander - Mpho is contributing to our knowledge of how aggression over human waste can increase health threats to wildlife and also continues to monitor ecological aspects of our study banded mongoose troops in addition to his work with local communities. Cysco uses his unique skill base in animal tracking to identify where and why animals move across the landscape. This information is key to identifying how humans and animals are linked across the landscape and how our impacts can change the health of the system.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Water quality work continued this field season with both graduate students and undergraduates working on the project. Here Tyler, a PhD graduate student,  and Greg, a Virginia Tech undergraduate, work on the Chobe River during the biweekly sampling of the water and sediment. This long-term study is designed to provide unique insight into the impacts and interactions of human medicated environmental modification and related water quality changes. Keep up the good work guys!!!
Our summer was busy!!! Hundreds of children arrived at the biodiversity center to learn about animals and the research CARACAL and Virignia Tech are conducting. The core component of any meaningful research is the inclusion of education and outreach. Here, Dr. Alexander presents to a school group excited to see the Center.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Banded mongoose offer a unique model to evaluate the impact of human activity on the environment. In our study site, mongoose live closely with humans and are also impacted by their activities both in the form of behavioral change but also disease. Understanding the nature and consequences of these impacts will allow us to better understand how humans are linked to the environment and the feedback that occurs to both humans and animals.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Program research paper profiled on the home page of NSF

Jobbins, Sanderson, and Alexander have recently published a paper identifying the presence of a  public health threat in Botswana previously unidentified - read more at

Sarah Jobbin's (left) tests samples in the Botswana field laboratory. Human waste in these systems (below, left)  can be ubiquitous and can  influence contact between humans and wildlife and disease transmission in these systems.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CARACAL UNTAMED - Alexander Laboratory reaching out to assist Botswana

CARACAL UNTAMED - fundraising event and party night!

This amazing event and all the supporting materials were prepared by Claire Sanderson, a post doctoral associate on the NSF project! Way to go Claire!!! We need more people with your heart!

check out our event video 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

 Our program attempts to integrate research with outreach and education. Waste is an important threat to humans and animals in the system. Our educational program incorporates research results into action. Here, children in our conservation and education program participate in a trash pick up day! They had a wonderful time and also contribute to a culture of change where ecosystem function and service is identified and valued. We need to work to sustain those services and the health of the ecosystem, and ultimately the health of the  humans and animals that depend on and are affected by the ecosystem.

Dr. Alexander collects data and water samples from public taps serving the community in Northern Botswana. Water quality changes occur not only in river but at collection points. Waste and water around the tap attracts both domestic and wild animals to the area. Increased interaction between humans - wildlife - and waste has the potential to greatly transform the landscape change pathogen transmission potential and risk. As humans change the environment, these change come back to influence the health of animals and humans. Our recent work identified that the highest level of drug resistance in banded mongoose (above) occurred  in the Chobe National Park. Under this program, we are attempting to identify landscape features that promote exchange of microorganisms and the spread of antibiotic resistance. Where are the linkages between humans and their natural environment?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wild Animals Found Resistant to Antibiotics- project publication

Wild Animals Found Resistant to Antibiotics
A journalist assesses the work of our team and the implications to human and animal health. You can download this paper at

Friday, April 19, 2013

 At the an environmental fair, CARACAL staff use the animal collection to provide hands-on experiences of nature for the community in the study area. Even the elderly joined in and experienced the un-experienced!

Stefanie, a CARACAL staff member, climbs into the fun!

Kennedy, A CARACAL staff member, encourages everyone to try and touch a snake - no mean feat in Africa!!!

Experiencing nature and learning about its wonders in a safe environment provides the opportunity for communities to develop an appreciation of resources value that is identified at a personal level - a key to developing improved stewardship.