PhD Study Puts Large-Spotted Genets Under the Spotlight
Despite the negative effects of urbanisation on biodiversity, some species manage to persist and even thrive within an urban landscape. Little is known about carnivores in such an environment from an African perspective.
That is what spurred Dr Craig Widdows to undertake a study of the Large-Spotted Genet in urban areas for his PhD in Ecological Sciences.
Widdows, who always had a passion for wildlife and ecology, worked under the supervision of award-winning Terrestrial Vertebrate Biologist, Professor Colleen Downs, who is based in the School of Life Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus.
‘From discussions with other students it was obvious that UKZN had a fantastic Biology Department, whose staff shared the same passion as I did for African ecology,’ said Widdows.
Widdows was motivated to study Large-Spotted Genets not simply because of the lack of knowledge regarding this species, but also their ability to live and thrive within human-dominated environments. ‘As urban areas continue to expand, species that are able to survive in urban areas provide a model,’ he said. ‘I wanted to understand the characteristics and traits that allow this species to live where other mammalian species often decline.’
Widdows conducted a dietary study of the animals, investigating its home range and habitat use within an urban landscape and examined community perceptions of the creature. He demonstrated how the genets use human structures and food and have changed their behaviour to persist within an urban environment. His examiners judged his work ‘a significant contribution to the ecology of an African carnivore in an urban environment’.
Downs described Widdows as a gentle person able to work independently and very diligently.
Widdows thanked his parents for giving him the opportunity to attend university. ‘They have always encouraged me to go beyond what I thought was possible,’ he said. He also thanked Downs for believing in his abilities from undergraduate level and for her passion for research and its integration into the public sphere.
‘Finally, I would not have completed my PhD without the love and support of my wife,’ said Widdows. ‘She was (and still is) the best research assistant in the world and has spent more nights in the rain watching genets than anyone else. It is her achievement as much as it is mine.
‘I would encourage everyone to follow their passion, no matter what it is. Just do what makes you happy. Once you find your happiness everything else will follow.’