Congratulations to Rachael Gross, who is the recipient of the Cherry Gertzel Bursary Award for 2022.
Rachael is a PhD Scholar at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. Her research focuses on how African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) are responding to climate change with a focus on their susceptibility to drought, and how decolonisation is the key to future elephant management and conservation. The project sits at the intersection of conservation and ecology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), community-based management, and climate change and focuses both on the Africa-wide population and is accentuated by some key case studies in Botswana, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Prior to starting a PhD in 2019, Rachael completed a Bachelor of Science with a major in Biology and minors in Biodiversity Conservation and Management and Indigenous Cultural and Natural Resource Management. This was followed by completing H1 Honours at the Fenner School in 2017. Her honours project was also on how elephants are responding to climate change but focused more on behaviour than broad ecology. Rachael also works as a lecturer, tutor and demonstrator for several Fenner courses and more broadly works in science communication and outreach.
Funds from the bursary will assist Rachael in finally completing her fieldwork, intended for six months in 2020. This fieldwork will take her to Botswana and Namibia. The data she collects will help inform an international management framework for managing elephants under climate change scenarios as informed by and amplifying the voice of local communities. Three main sets of data are to be collected: GPS collar data from several case-study elephants, vegetation survey data and interview data. The funds will also be used to help feed this data and management recommendations back into the communities most affected by elephant responses to drought by making it freely accessible and easy to understand and implement. The bursary allows Rachael to ground-truth data and integrate a genuine community connection into a community-based theoretical framework for the good of planning for and helping mitigate the effect of climate change on both elephants and humans.