Thursday, July 22, 2010
FROM KENYA TO THE KONZA, K-STATE BIOLOGY STUDENT FROM SPRING HILL STUDIES ELEPHANTS AND BISON
MANHATTAN -- What do bison and elephants have in common? Ask Mark Sowers, a Kansas State University junior in biology from Spring Hill.
Sowers became involved with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Amboseli National Park in Kenya when he was about 10 years old. He has taken three trips to Kenya, including one in 2009 when he spent the summer collecting data on how elephants communicate for a researcher from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.
Specifically, they studied how the family's matriarch responds to different sounds in the wild. The researchers would play sounds of other elephants and lions to see what the matriarch did.
"The older ones should be able to better deal with situations like threats, while the younger ones might not and panic," Sowers said. "The idea is that the more experienced ones are able to lead the family and take better care of them."
Sowers said the research project has been going for almost 40 years and the researchers know the life history of most of the elephants.
Sowers is a member of the K-State honors program, which requires an undergraduate research project. This summer he is a research assistant and is tracking a herd of more than 200 bison at K-State's Konza Prairie Biological Station. He spends most of his days on the prairie holding an antenna to search for the signals emitted from tracking collars worn by some of the bison.
"I may only see some far away, or they could be right next to the road," Sowers said. “I have a really good time watching their behavior. It’s just what I like about field research."
Sowers also is working with data from the project. He hopes to get his name on a published paper on the bison research before entering graduate school.
While K-State is a family tradition for Sowers, he almost decided to pick a different college.
"Kansas isn't the first place to go for African wildlife," Sowers said. "I didn't necessarily think I would go to K-State. My whole family has gone here. Deep down I knew I wanted to come here, so I learned more about the biology program, and it's good here."
At K-State, Sowers has received the Nancy Landon Kassebaum Scholarship, Civic Leadership Scholarship and Mark A. Chapman Scholarship, which helped support his 2009 trip to Kenya.
Sowers is active in K-State's African Studies Student Association, a group that raises awareness about Africa. The group is trying to increase participation in K-State's African studies program and is organizing a study trip to the Swahili region in Kenya next summer.
A 2008 graduate of Spring Hill High School, Sowers is the son of Paul and Diana Sowers, Spring Hill.