Interview

An interview about my research is online today thanks to Anthony Salvagno! Click here or just read it below.

#Scifund Round 3 is underway and each day I will highlight a new proposal from the Challenge to give you a more in-depth understanding of each participant and their research.

Today I present Katy Williams. Her research combines the biological study of the brown hyaena with the sociology of human-hyaena interaction.

Tell us about yourself, where you are from, and where you see yourself going.

My name is Katy Williams and I am a PhD student from Durham University, UK. I have moved around a lot and lived in different countries when growing up but essentially I am British and American with a bit of a South African twang once in a while. I love using the South African ‘now now’ and ‘just now’ which confuses anyone who isn’t from southern Africa. I lived in Zimbabwe for two years where I worked on lion and cheetah conservation projects and I am currently living in South Africa. I love Africa, carnivore research, and working with people. I can see myself staying in Africa and continuing with research or becoming a field guide.

How did you get involved in your research project?

I was hired by the Durham University Primate and Predator Project as the Field Team Leader. In this position I have been leading primate behavioural research, trapping and collaring leopards, working with Earthwatch Institute volunteers, collecting leopard and hyaena scats, and camera trapping. I am very lucky to be supported by the project’s Principal Investigator, Dr Russell Hill, who helped me to start my PhD research on the elusive brown hyaenas and their relations with people in the Soutpansberg Mountains, South Africa.

Why is your research important to you? Why should others fund it?

Hyaenas have such a bad reputation and are killed by farmers who believe that they are killing their livestock. However there is so little known about brown hyaenas, especially in mountainous environments, and about how people perceive and interact with them. I am excited to work with communities to get to the root of the problem and to find new ways to think and talk about stereotyped problem animals. This research uses biological research to learn more about the species, and uses social science research to discover the human impact on hyaenas. With this information I hope to turn things around for hyaenas and people living in proximity with them.

Do you have a favorite story that came from working on your research project?

In order to trap large carnivores we use calf foetuses as bait. We hang them from trees and encourage the carnivore to walk towards them at which point they get caught in a foot trap. The foetuses are often rotting and have maggots on them. Sometimes they burst all over you. It is grim. One of my research assistants was walking by a trap site in the day when the trap was not set and he heard this growling noise coming from the trap area. He looked over and there was a honey badger on its hind legs hugging the foetus as hard as he could and growling to protect it. He wasn’t going to let it go!

Why did you decide to participate in the SciFund Challenge?

My husband who loves technology and science heard about the SciFund Challenge and signed me up. I wasn’t sure what it was at first but as the emails came in with instructions on what to do next I followed them, and, ta-da, at the end of the day I had a film made and a project launched. Easy! It’s been a really interesting learning process for me and it’s a really innovative way to gain funding for science.

What was the most difficult aspect of building your SciFund Proposal? What was your favorite?

The most difficult aspect and my favourite aspect of the process was making the film! I honestly had no clue how to do it. I was having a bit of a meltdown about not knowing how to make a film and so I went to the pub. That’s the solution to most problems in the UK! At the pub I randomly started talking to this amazing guy who is a filmmaker and he said he would help me. It was lots of fun working with him. We filmed at his house and had to work around hammering coming from next door and the sound of trains going by but we got there in the end.

Tell us something random. Something funny. Something borrowed. Something blue.

I ate live octopus and lived to tell the tale. You can feel the suckers sticking to the top of your mouth and it wiggling around as you try to chew it. That was in South Korea where I also ate dog. When you travel sometimes you just have to roll with it.

And to save you time from scrolling up, you can read about her project and contribute here. Thanks Katy for sharing your science!

Share