Dr Simon Dowell explores Thailand in search of endangered species
01 May 2012
Jungle trekking in Thailand became all in a day's work for Dr Simon Dowell from the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology recently when he was invited to join the advisory committee for a Thai PhD student as part of the prestigious Golden Jubilee Scholarship Scheme, funded by the Thai Government.
The student, Niti Sukumal, is from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), just outside Bangkok, where he is part of their Conservation Ecology Program, led by Dr Tommaso Savini and Dr George Gale. Much of their work takes place in some of the last forest wildernesses in Thailand including the Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in the west of the country, close to the border with Myanmar.
Simon comments: "As part of my role as an advisor to Niti, I was lucky enough to be allowed to visit the Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a wild, remote and intensely beautiful place where the Thai Forest Department have a number of field stations deep in the forest providing simple accommodation for researchers to investigate the ecology of the area.
"Niti is embarking on a detailed study of the habitat requirements and ranging behaviour of the endangered Green Peafowl, a highly threatened relative of the more common Blue or Indian Peafowl that is sometimes kept in captivity in the UK. We saw several of these handsome birds during our visit and Niti's research will gather data that will enable us to target conservation efforts to ensure their future survival.
"Methods will include radio temeletry to determine home range and the use of Geographical Information Systems to develop a predictive model of distribution for its whole range in Thailand and neighbouring countries that will then allow conservation efforts to be targeted to the right areas. This research will be demanding, however, as the environment presents a number of challenges including dense jungle, weather extremes, leeches, biting insects and dangerous wild animals.
"During my visit our jungle trek included wading up the Huai Kha Kaeng river, accompanied by an armed ranger to guard against wild animals like elephant, tiger and buffalo. We were rewarded with sightings of other spectacular wildlife such as gibbons, hornbills and otters, and I was able to meet some of the dedicated researchers who are studying them."
Towards the end of Niti's PhD studies, the scholarship scheme will provide funding for him to visit LJMU to work on his data analysis and investigate bird conservation research in the UK.
As well as advising Niti, Simon is working with Dr Tommaso Savini to set up opportunities at KMUTT for sandwich student placements to allow LJMU students to work as research assistants for Dr. Savini's team. It is hoped that these will provide exciting placement opportunities for biological sciences students with a real sense of adventure.