School of Life Sciences

Mammalian ecologist, Dr Craig Cordier.

Camera Trap Research Culminates in Doctorate for Mammalian Ecologist

Dr Craig Cordier’s PhD demonstrated the value of camera traps as a research tool for understanding human impact on forest mammalian communities and capturing data on the activities of rare and elusive species.

Cordier focused his research on the southern Afromontane Mistbelt forests in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands which have been subject to heavy logging and are still under considerable pressure from anthropogenic activities. Understanding how mammal communities use their transformed habitats will assist with conservation management decisions, and Cordier sought an innovative way to capture information about how these species behave.

Many of the forests suffer from poor management with effective conservation measures being scarce. Cordier, supervised by Professor Colleen Downs and Dr David Ehlers Smith and Dr Yvette Ehlers Smith, hoped to provide a deeper understanding of the needs and behaviour of mammals living in these environments to improve management strategies.

Drawn to UKZN by its ecological sciences research strength, Cordier chose to pursue his passion for conservation at the University, completing all his studies there. He benefited from the wisdom and expertise of Downs, a luminary in the field and the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Originally from Empangeni, Cordier has spent most of his life in Pietermaritzburg and is grateful for the valuable friendships he has formed at UKZN as well as the support he received from his supervisors.

Battling depression and anxiety during his studies, a PhD seemed like an overwhelming task, particularly the year of intensive fieldwork that Cordier had to carry out. However, a valuable perspective Cordier gained was to take his PhD one day at a time instead of seeing it as an insurmountable obstacle. The support and understanding he received from Downs was an immense help as was the friendship and encouragement he received from fellow researchers in Downs’ lab.

Cordier is continuing with postdoctoral research at UKZN focused on how land use impacts mammals and herpetofauna in north-western KwaZulu-Natal, where he is excited about incorporating his passion for herpetology.

Cordier expressed gratitude to Downs, saying she enabled him to attain his PhD. He thanked his girlfriend, Ms Jessica Young, for her constant support and companionship through every challenge as well as his friends, Dr Cormac Price, Mr Euan Genevier, and research partner Dr Nasiphi Bitani, for their support. He acknowledged his parents for their love, support and availability throughout his studies.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini