Four prosper from SSAA bursary backing

Four more university students have been handed financial backing from the SSAA Academic Bursary to assist them in their studies. The fund, worth $10,000 annually, was created in 2014 to benefit pioneering scholars in courses related to recreational shooting and conservation.

The SSAA’s initiative has so far helped young people studying a variety of subjects such as game management, law, psychology and journalism. The focus enables Australia’s prime hunting and sports shooting organisation to bolster its connections with the academic and conservation ranks.

Meg Edwards is pursuing an ambitious PhD project in Wildlife Science at the University of Queensland and has been rewarded with a grant of $1800 after submitting her application to the SSAA.

Meg, 25, who hails from Forest Hill in Queensland, has embarked on a postgraduate venture investigating the effects that introduced predators have on the loss of native wildlife due to competition and disease as well as predation.

Meg has been following up theories that Australia’s wildlife are victims of prey naivety. This means that because they did not evolve in conjunction with introduced threats such as foxes and feral cats, they possess none of the necessary responses.

Specifically, Meg’s work is with northern brown bandicoots and greater bilbies to analyse whether they can be taught to recognise the dangers inherent in nearby predators. This has been carried out via a series of microchip-automated burrows, using tests based on odour, a model and finally live animals.

The captive-bred bilbies and wild-caught bandicoots have had their training monitored at the Hidden Vale Wildlife Centre near Grandchester. Once the nurturing is complete it’s hoped to release the animals back into the wild. The funds dispensed to Meg mean she will be able to pay for vital camera equipment used to record the reactions of the animals in this fascinating assignment.

Meg’s module has even seen her findings being taken to the international stage. In August she journeyed to the US and spent three weeks giving a presentation at the International Congress of Behavioural Ecology in Minnesota.

“It was basically a talk to the audience about what I’ve found in my studies so far,” said Meg. “I’ve done a few conferences before so I’m quite used to them but it was still a bit nerve-racking.”

Meanwhile, Lily Kars will be able to put her payout of $1500 to good use as she continues her undergraduate course in Biological Sciences at the Queensland University of Technology. The three-year curriculum leads on to a Masters option where Lily hopes to specialise in Conservation Ecology.

Lily, 20, has had to relocate to Brisbane from regional Tully in far north Queensland so the funds will help cover the cost of buying textbooks, assist with rent and utilities as well as opening up opportunities for new research and field work.

At the core of Lily’s learning is her desire to maintain the environment and provide balance to the natural ecosystem by way of targeted conservation. This was amplified when she volunteered for the World Science Festival in Brisbane to teach about turtle conservation efforts in Mon Repos, Bundaberg. At some stage Lily also hopes to study at a sister school to QUT in Vienna.

“Coming from a small farming community, I aim to be able to provide practice management to farmers for protecting native animals and ridding them of pest species in a sustainable and ethical way,” she said. “I was so grateful when I heard the grant application had been successful.”

Lily is also an avid sports shooter and goes into action alongside her dad Mark, who is a SSAA member, at the Silkwood Clay Target Club when she’s back in Tully. Her home venue in Brisbane is the Belmont Shooting Complex.

Another grateful recipient of the SSAA subsidy is Kyle Brewer from the Adelaide suburb of Valley View. Kyle, 25, is doing a postgraduate course in Pharmaceutical Science at the University of South Australia. He says his career goal is to become a transitional researcher in the fields of both chemistry and biology.

A sum of $1500 has been granted to Kyle which he’ll use to travel from Adelaide to Canberra for a period of up to three weeks to conduct field trials using bettong fur odour release devises. This analysis forms part of Kyle’s intriguing research into how invasive predators such as foxes are able to track native animals though their distinctive odour.

Kyle’s objective is to reproduce synthetically the odour of native animals so it can be used to saturate reintroduction areas. In this way foxes could be preconditioned to the odour so they develop a tolerance and ignore it.

The basis of Kyle’s PhD is to scrutinise and profile samples of bettong fur to produce a mixture that copies its properties and can be released in field trials. If successful, this technology could help to reduce the heavy economic burden caused by invasive predators.

“I was pretty much ecstatic when I hear the news of the grant,” said Kyle. “The cash means I will hopefully be able to go to Canberra and collaborate on the project rather than just be looking on.”

Kyle is a SSAA member along with his dad James and elder brother Gage. The trio are members of the Para Range and shoot there whenever possible. Indeed it was Gage who spotted the bursary details online and passed them to his brother, so it was almost a family effort.

The fourth student to gain from the SSAA program is Catherine Kelly who is studying Ecology at the James Cook University on the Townsville campus. Catherine, 27, is involved in a postgraduate course looking into the ecology of chital deer in North Queensland.

The task seeks to investigate primary causes of fawn mortality and which species are important predators of chital fawns using radio-tracking and monitoring. Understanding the factors that contribute to delayed population growth has important implications for the management of this breed as different aspects that limit or affect this issue can potentially be used as means of control.

A donation of $1956 will allow Catherine to invest in fuel for fieldwork trips, a headlamp for fawn spotting and an external hard-drive. A vital reading reference linking the connections with chital deer in the US is Exotics on the Range: The Texas Example by Elizabeth Mungall and William Sheffield. Catherine has already made contact with Elizabeth and now she’ll be able to buy this pivotal book thanks to the SSAA tender.

She’s originally from Hamilton in New Zealand but her studies brought her across the Tasman and the SSAA backing will assist her greatly. “The news about the grant was rapid and I was very impressed,” said Catherine. “I’m so grateful to get this support which is invaluable.”

It seems Catherine is a driven individual who knows where she wants her studies to take her. “I’m passionate about the environment with particular interest in management of pest species as I come from a hunting background,” she said. “Deer are my passion. I’d love to get into development management and really make a difference rather than just be bogged down in statistics. I may eventually go back to New Zealand although there are some wonderful job opportunities in the US.

“I’m also keen on the arts and am an active wildlife illustrator, having not only done illustrations for student theses, including my own, but also for publication.”

The quartet are admirable cases and the SSAA wishes them all the best in their future endeavours.

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