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Notes from the Field: Stephanie Sila - Learning with Leopards

Leopard in Botswana

Our day in Moremi began on safari with the search for big cats. While one car had already had their first leopard sighting the day before, the other was more eager than ever to see the elusive cat. After meandering through the less traveled roads we found ourselves on the main road driving from island to island. That’s when I saw it. In the distance hidden behind the tall grass in the shade of a termite mound, the subtle shift of rosettes. Sure enough when we approached there she sat, a female leopard basking in the shade, her young cub lying in the grass right behind her. We watched the pair as they relaxed and eventually walked off heading to a small tree where they’d stashed a fresh impala kill. To spend time admiring these remarkable animals from so close was a truly unique experience which really brought to attention the magic of the delta and why conserving it is so important. 

Learning about DNA sampling in the field

Upon arriving back in camp we made strides towards a lab goal to aid future conservation efforts with the Out of the Box Into The Cloud Initiative: Ellie taught students how to perform genomic-level sampling in the field while testing the effectiveness of the Oxford nanopore MinION device in a field environment. 

Camera trap photo of a leopard in Botswana

It is truly an irony and coincidence of life that after dark while we all celebrated the day’s many successes, a leopard walked right through our campsite, unseen and completely undetected if it hadn’t been for the camera trap at the entrance to our camp. So while we began our day with the search for big cats, it ended when they found us.

Stephanie SilaStephanie Sila is a Stanford undergraduate conducting research in the Hadly Lab