Erskine Graduate is Biologist in Africa

December 11, 2009

DUE WEST, SC – December 11, 2009 –  “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” was the joking reply Kimberly Kanapeckas gave a few weeks ago when asked in an e-mail by Erskine Alumni Director Buddy Ferguson, “Do you ever sleep?”

The 2007 Erskine College biology graduate is busy making her mark in Africa these days, but recently returned to the United States to serve as a visiting scientist in Montana. 

Kanapeckas is employed as a postgraduate scientist by the Mammal Research Institute (MRI) at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where she has already earned a master’s degree. Her research for that degree focused on parasites found in the blood of African buffalo. 

“This year I received full sponsorships to present this research at the International Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics in Durban, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society’s AHEAD meeting in Mozambique,” she said.

 Although she is based in South Africa, her work often takes her to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Swaziland. 

At the Mammal Research Institute in the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Pretoria, where she is also a Ph.D. candidate, Kanapeckas has developed the Zambezi Buffalo Project, in which she conducts research on African buffalo in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

 “To orchestrate this project successfully, I must secure sustained collective cooperation among our biologists, hunting clients and safari operators in remote parts of deepest Africa,” she said. “Not an easy task, but one that is remarkably rewarding.”

Buffalo dreams

Kanapeckas has logged a little experience to equip her for her current challenges. A trip to Africa with her parents in 2001 captured her imagination, and she dreamed of returning there. Just five years later, in the summer of 2006, she went back to Africa, pursuing an independent research project on the associations between tuberculosis and blood parasites among Cape buffalo on the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Game Reserve. 

Now in the United States for a few months, Kanapeckas will be at the University of Montana in Missoula until the end of 2009 “to do some molecular parasitology work on buffalo samples I’ve collected during this field season.”

Meanwhile, she reports that the first two original grants of her professional career have been awarded, funded by the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) Foundation and the Safari Club International Foundation.

Kanapeckas gives Safari Club International (SCI) high marks, praising its “proactive leadership in a host of cooperative wildlife conservation, outdoor education and humanitarian programs.”

Given her admiration for SCI, perhaps the most exciting item on the young scientist’s itinerary during her remaining weeks in the United States is the SCI Convention in Reno, Nevada, in January 2010 — where she will be a speaker.

“SCI-Reno is the largest and most well-respected international conservation and hunting convention in the world,” she said. “Former President George W. Bush will also be speaking, as will respected authors, a wilderness physician, legislation policy experts, TV personalities, and others accomplished in the industry.”

Kanapeckas is looking forward to her role at the convention. “As a postgrad scientist, I’m giving a seminar on the necessity of dangerous game conservation efforts and the implications of diseases in free-ranging wildlife populations, particularly African buffalo, on the economics and future of hunting,” she said.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for me to educate the general public about current matters concerning wildlife in southern and East Africa,” she added.

At home with hippos

Back in 2006, after spending most of the summer on the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Game Reserve, Kanapeckas spoke of her affinity for Africa, saying, “Africa is in my blood.”

Living and working there on the continent she loves for a couple of years hasn’t changed her mind.

“Africa will remain my home,” she said. “There’s nothing like hippo noises from the river to lull you to sleep, or the low growl of a lion to remind you that you’re only meat and your day will come.”

As much as she enjoys Africa, though, she says that to survive there it is important to “stay on ‘Africa time,’ expect that nothing will be working, be smart about crime, keep a joyful outlook even in long queues at border posts, not take yourself too seriously, and be focused on Christ.”

Showing off how well she has taken to life in her adopted home in Pretoria, Kanapeckas says, “We drive on the right side of the car and road; couldn’t function properly without biltong (jerked meat), braais (barbecues), and rugby; and switch between Afrikaans and English without a second thought.”

Kanapeckas came to Erskine College after graduating as valedictorian of her class at Dixie High School in Due West, where her family lives. She counts as mentors former Erskine professor Dr. Stefanie Baker, Professor Emerita of Biology Dr. Jan Haldeman, Professor of Biology Dr. Mary Lang Edwards and Professor of Biology Dr. David Ritland.

Her current mentor is Professor Elissa Cameron, director of the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Praetoria.

Kanapeckas has presented her research on African buffalo at the International Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics in Durban, South Africa, as well as at the Wildlife Conservation’s AHEAD meeting in Mozambique, and her article on crocodile culling will be published in the January/February/March 2010 volume of the African Sporting Gazette: Africa’s Premier Journal of Big Game Hunting.

More information about the work of Kimberly Kanapeckas and her ongoing research is available at the following link: