UNF students work with scientists to help protect endangered species

by: Kristy Wolski Updated:


YULEE, Fla. - Some of the world’s most endangered species are getting a second chance thanks to unique research by some local scientists.

Scientists with the Southeast Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation (SEZARC) work with a variety of endangered species. Their research aims to increase reproduction by timing artificial insemination, and solve fertility and mating problems.

The main SEZARC lab is based at the White Oak Conservation in Yulee, where many of the animals they study reside. There is also a laboratory at the University of North Florida, which is partnering with SEZARC.

The job may seem exciting, but scientists say a lot of the research is tedious.

“The people that work on these projects actually spend a number of hours a day working with poop samples,” said Dan Moon, chair of the UNF Biology Department.

The information extracted from the feces can actually change the future of an endangered population.

“What they do is they work on extracting hormones from those samples and from that they can actually determine when animals are ready to breed or when they’re at the maximum reproductive output,” said Moon.

The scientists work with a variety of endangered species including Grevy’s zebra, white rhinos and gerenuk with a goal of increasing the populations in captivity and in the wild.

“We do a lot of hormone monitoring which enables the managers to find out if the animals are pregnant, if they’re cycling, if they’ve reached puberty and even if they’re a little bit stressed,” said Linda Penfold, SEZARC director.

The University of North Florida partnership gives biology students like Kelly Hensley hands-on experience.

“In the classroom you’re really focusing on concepts and the way things should be,” said Hensley. “But when you get in the laboratory setting you find it’s a lot of problem-solving.”

SEZARC works with nine animal organizations including the Jacksonville, Dallas, Birmingham and North Carolina zoos and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.