From the Field and in the Classroom: A Story of Wildlife Preservation

  Dr. Grigione holding Puma
    Researchers in Chile work with Dr. Melissa Grigione to document pumas.

From working with pumas in Chile to studying bears and bobcats in the Pleasantville campus’s backyard, Associate Professor Melissa Grigione, PhD, Environmental Science, shares her passion for wild animals with her students.

Dr. Grigione, who is Co-Director of the Graduate Program in Environmental Science, co-founded Bordercats Working Group (BWG), which focuses on improving the long-term health and recovery of three endangered species, the jaguar, jaguarundi, and ocelot, along the U.S.-Mexico militarized border. She studies movement patterns for these species as they disperse into the U.S. She works as an expert witness on legal issues between the U.S. Border Patrol and co-plaintiffs Frontera Audubon Society, Lone Star Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife as they negotiate ways to conserve these cats near the border.

Students Get Involved in the Research Action
In South America, Dr. Grigione conducts research with Pace students on Puma Conservation in Chile Patagonia. They work with sheep ranchers to determine the number of sheep that Pumas eat in order to compensate ranchers for damages incurred by these large, wild cats. Their goal is to conserve Pumas by reducing the number of these cats killed while keeping ranchers in business. The students study plaster casts of the paw prints of the pumas and maintain data on their size and movement.

Dr. Grigione is passionate about animal conservation and works tirelessly for the cause worldwide.

“Animals are fascinating in so many ways, that they have held my curiosity over the years,” said Dr. Grigione. “I have been a field ecologist for as long as I remember. The more I learn, the more I want to find out. The environment is threatened by many factors. I hope that my research can promote persistence for the many species I study so that others can be captured by their beauty like I have and the world can be a richer place.”

Dr. Grigione also works in Bolivia on a sustainable development project with wild camels, called vicunas, and local indigenous communities interested in sheering vicunas for their wool.

Preserving Wildlife Closer to Home
Back home in New York, Dr. Grigione is working with the New York Department of Transportation to study bobcats, bears, and coyotes in certain areas in New York to determine “hot spots” for highway crossings. The goal of this project is to build underpasses for these species in certain key areas to reduce animal collisions with cars.

In Westchester, Dr. Grigione and her team work on the Rockefeller properties to determine what habitats rare carnivores like bobcats, mink, weasels and coyotes are using for their home areas.

On Long Island, Dr. Grigione and her students are studying the impact of feral cats on endangered shorebirds as well as developing a red fox study about their ecological needs. In Brookhaven, New York, it is believed that feral cats are threatening the already endangered piping plover bird. A “feral” cat is a cat that was domestic but is now wild. Feral cats kill and eat small mammals such as mice, moles, shrews and sometimes birds and reptiles. The birds most threatened by feral cats are those that nest on the ground, such as the piping plover bird which has been a protected species since 1986.

Passing on the Knowledge
One environmental science graduate student at Pace, Theresa Pellecchia, who is working with Dr. Grigione on this project, will soon study the exploding feral cat population in Brookhaven, New York. She will set up cameras at various locations to record where the cats roam, what they look like and what they consume as well as collect feces to determine what they eat and if they are preying upon the piping plover bird. “I will trap these cats and put radio transmitter collars on them to track where they roam, what humans are feeding them and count the individuals in this population to estimate their impact on the ecosystem of Long Island,” said Pellecchia. “I will interview local people to find out if they value this wild animal and to determine what families are responsible for feeding the feral cats.” She also plans to visit schools and educate students about these wild animals and the role they play in the ecology of the area.

“If, after my research, I find that these feral cats are negatively impacting the ecology in Brookhaven, I will initiate the [trap-neuter-release] process in this area for the cats,” said Pellecchia. “After the TNR, I will use the radio transmitters and video cameras to continually keep track of the individual cats and the population numbers. Hopefully after the TNR is completed, the feral cat population will decline and an increase in the piping plover birds will result.”

Dr. Grigione continues to apply for funding for the research necessary for conservation efforts. Future plans also include initiating an urban ecology study of rats in New York City which will include the economic impact of rats on the urban infrastructure.

Reporting for this article was provided by Cara Cea, Public Information Office, Pace University.