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UCF student's research with Disney giraffes may help conserve several species

ORLANDO, Jan. 29, 2007 -- Giraffe poop could hold the secret to protecting the species for years to come.

University of Central Florida doctoral student Jennifer Fewster is studying giraffe excrement at Disneys Animal Kingdom Lodge in Lake Buena Vista in an effort to figure out what the animals eat in the wild and to improve the nutrition of those in captivity.

Fewsters research, conducted in January and February, could potentially help conserve a wide array of herbivores, including endangered ones.

"I find it fascinating, but I forget people find it odd," Fewster said. "Its not the most glamorous work. In fact, it can be a bit boring at times, but the goal is worthwhile and it has applications for the wild and for the better care and nutrition of animals in captivity."

She spends her days sitting in a white Disney pick-up observing giraffes like Big Girl and Muhali, a curious mother and her 1 year-old daughter. They are among 11 giraffes that call Disneys 33 acres here home. They are curious creatures, walking over to investigate anything new on their savannah. As gazelle run by and kudu munch on grass, the giraffes flick their tails and chew on oak trees and occasional treats.

Fewster, a native of Willow Grove, Penn., and a resident of Clermont, watches it all taking notes and waiting for the giraffes to deliver their payloads.

Fewster worked with giraffes and other animals on Disneys property for several years as a zookeeper before she enrolled at UCF and began working with biology professor Graham Worthy. Fewster approached Disneys animal nutritionist Eduardo Valdes. He suggested that she investigate a technique the cattle industry was using to monitor what herds were eating to determine if it could be applied to giraffes.

The cattle industry uses alkane analysis of excrement. Alkanes are the long-chain hydrocarbons in plant wax. By analyzing the sequences, scientists can determine what p
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Contact: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
zkotala@mail.ucf.edu
407-823-6120
University of Central Florida
29-Jan-2007


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