School of Environmental Studies Graduate Theses

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    Primates in Proximity: The Lives of Monkeys in Costa Rican Sanctuary Tourism
    Speiran, Siobhan I.; Environmental Studies; Hovorka, Alice
    The stakes for animals in the wildlife tourism industry have never been higher; the expansive, profitable market serves those who desire closeness to nature while leading to a mass of multispecies suffering. This thesis adds to growing scholarship about the lives of animals in the tourism industry, aiming to highlight animal interests, welfare, and sanctuaries as potential sustainable tourism sites through a case study of the lives of monkeys in Costa Rican wildlife sanctuaries. First, it applies an animal geography lens to wildlife tourism, highlighting animal stakeholders, ethics of care, and best practices (Ch. 3). Second, it explores the labour-based roles, circumstances and experiences of monkeys in wildlife sanctuaries (Ch. 4). Third, it assesses the extent to which wildlife sanctuaries satisfy 'sustainability' criteria in terms of animal welfare and conservation outcomes (Ch. 5). Theoretically, this thesis ‘stays with the trouble’ of wildlife tourism– exploring the messiness– and finding places to ‘bring animals in.’ Methodologically, I designed and implemented a non-invasive, field-based Conservation Welfare Assessment Framework to evaluate the impact of sanctuary attractions on animal welfare and conservation outcomes for involved species. From June to September 2019, I visited eight sanctuaries around Costa Rica, with 3-6 weeks spent at three focal sites where I employed mixed socio-ecological methods. The results demonstrate that each focal site, varyingly but positively, contributes to animal welfare and the conservation of monkeys– which is essential to sustainable wildlife tourism. Document review from sanctuaries across four regions revealed that electrocution from uninsulated wiring and electrical transformers accounts for around a quarter of primate rescues. Practically, I seek to improve the lives of monkeys in my research context through knowledge mobilization, as well as learn from and with sanctuaries in Costa Rica as collaborators to develop best practices and future research. Though more empirical research is needed, this thesis posits that wildlife sanctuary attractions– when buttressed by ethics of care, compassion, and a commitment to sustainability and justice for animals –have the potential to offer a kinder form of wildlife tourism.
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    Climbing up the Waste Hierarchy: The Devil is in the Details
    Dee, Gabriella; Environmental Studies; Hird, Myra
    According to the United Nations, the global human population generates an estimated 2.24 billion tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) each year. The waste sector is having a significant impact on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Although high-income countries only account for 17 percent of the world’s population, these same countries generate 34 percent of the world’s waste. Canada is only second to the United States in its per capita production of MSW, and is therefore a significant contributor to the triple planetary crisis. The Government of Canada recognizes the Waste Hierarchy (WH) as an instrument used to strategize and improve waste management practices. Best practices for the environment, human health and well-being prioritize waste reduction, reuse and repair while minimizing landfilling, energy recovery, and recycling. Three manuscripts using the WH as a common thread make up the chapters of this thesis. The first manuscript describes how waste is both governed and managed in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and gathers information from government websites, primary literature and semi-structured interviews with multiple stakeholders. An actualized WH for the City of Kingston is created to provide a visualization of the missing actions needed to impact the waste crisis. The second manuscript explores, through participatory observation, how landfill waste is reduced at a Kingston community arts and music festival. The limitations of scaling up the festival organizational structure to much larger festivals is discussed. The third manuscript, using the allegory of the (high-income earning) Three Little Pigs, explores the inaction of the straw-housers, the techno-fixes and circular economies of the wood-housers, and the implementation of a sustainable, shrinking economy through degrowth of the stone-housers to solve the waste crisis. A common thread throughout this research is that a stronger adherence to the WH is needed in all aspects of waste management. In order to reign in the amount of waste produced in high-income countries, top-down governing promoting reduce/reuse/repair initiatives needs to coincide with bottom-up responsible reduced consumption (ie: degrowth). Only in this way will we be able to climb the Waste Hierarchy and alleviate the current waste crisis.
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    Nature's Excess: Imagination in an Age of Planetary Emergency
    Young, Jason A.; Environmental Studies; Mick, Smith
    The environmental crisis is not only a set of identifiable problems requiring solutions, but also the ongoing manifestation of an event that reconfigures the world by continually transforming its horizon of possibilities. This dissertation responds to this sense of environmental emergency as a moment of both danger and emergent possibility. It begins by articulating the imagination as a mode of perception capable of participating in the emergence of nature prior to its identification with anthropocentric categories. The work then turns a critical lens towards conceptualizations of “the” environmental crisis as a set of problems requiring amelioration to maintain human progress. This leads to an interpretation of human’s continuity with planetary process, wherein the concept of Gaia is “deepened” to include its expressive, imaginal, oneiric, and poetic dimensions. The value of resonating with the relative ambiguity of these categories (rather than seeking to diminish or dismiss them) is emphasized as a means to think and feel beyond narrowly anthropocentric concerns. Finally, by developing a praxis of attention, disclosure and correspondence, the imagination is situated as that which can respond affirmatively to planetary emergency by participating more deeply in our uniquely situated involvements.
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    An assessment of microplastics in fecal samples from polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in Canada’s North.
    Iyare, Paul U.; Environmental Studies; Orihel, Diane
    We assessed the potential for plastic ingestion in polar bears (Ursus maritimus (Phipps (1774)) using fecal analysis. Two preliminary studies were conducted to ensure our methods could effectively recover and identify plastics in polar bear feces. In the first study, in which microplastics (film, foam, or fragments) were intentionally introduced into an organic matrix, recovery rates (mean ± standard deviation) averaged 95.8 ± 14.7% (n = 18), and were significantly affected by microplastic morphology, but not digestion status. In the second study, in which microplastics of three polymers were intentionally introduced to polar bear feces, recovery rates averaged 79.3 ± 21.6% (n = 8), and Raman spectroscopy successfully identified all polymers in 87.5% of samples. The main study then investigated whether microplastics are present in polar bear feces in the Canadian Arctic. Colon feces (n = 15) and scat (n = 15) were collected from 30 polar bears through collaboration with Indigenous communities. Microplastics (polypropylene, polyethylene, and/or polyethylene terephthalate) were found in fecal samples from eight polar bears, although concentrations were low (<1 particle/g dry weight feces, on average). This study provides new information on plastics in Canadian bears and suggests fecal sampling can be utilized in community-based monitoring programs.
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    Post-lambing Spatial Distribution of Dall’s Sheep in Southwest Yukon
    Environmental Studies; Danby, Ryan
    Dall’s sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) are a subspecies of thinhorn sheep that inhabit the rugged, mountainous environments of North America. Low-growing vegetation is important forage for Dall’s sheep and open, rocky slopes are important for predator avoidance. There is concern that climate change is reducing habitat availability for Dall’s sheep. One of the densest global populations of Dall’s sheep is in Kluane National Park and Reserve, in southwest Yukon. Since 1977, Park staff have conducted comprehensive aerial surveys of sheep on four mountain ranges within the park, forming what is now one of the longest-term datasets available on the species. I analyzed the spatial component of this dataset to assess the distribution of sheep on these ranges from 1977 to 2022 for the purpose of: (1) characterizing the habitat used by sheep (including by both nursery groups and ram groups separately) during the post-lambing period, and (2) determining whether the spatial distribution of these groups in the four surveyed ranges has changed over the monitoring period. A kernel density analysis was performed on the survey data to understand where sheep were being observed, followed by random forest modelling to understand the habitat characteristics of these areas. A pixel-wise Thiel-Sen analysis was performed on yearly kernel density distributions of sheep on each range to understand spatial trends in habitat use over time. These analyses showed that elevation and distance to glacial ice act as the two strongest predictors of Dall’s sheep habitat use, and that frequently used habitat can be characterised by mid-to high elevations on steep and rugged south-facing slopes. The relationship between sheep habitat and distance to ice differed between ranges. The analysis also showed that the majority of each range remains unchanged with respect to sheep habitat use, with only a few small areas of increasing or decreasing use on each range. Of these small areas of change, areas of increased use tended to be at higher elevations than areas of decreased use. This information will contribute to the management of Dall’s sheep in Kluane National Park and Reserve in helping prioritize conservation actions.