Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Wildlife student Haines is unique among Javelina graduates

KINGSVILLE - May 05, 2006

Contact: Julie Navejar
kajam03@tamuk.edu or 361-593-2590


He is now Dr. Aaron Haines, but that doesn’t mean his learning is complete. Haines received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in wildlife science from Texas A&M University-Kingsville Friday, May 5, but will report soon to the University of Idaho for post-doctoral work. His wife, Eileen, and two daughters, were there to watch Haines during his hooding ceremony.

Haines is the first student to receive the independent Ph.D. in wildlife science since the College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences converted from the joint program with Texas A&M University in 2004. He also is the first person to graduate with an independent Ph.D. in the history of the university because doctoral students from the College of Education receive a Doctorate in Education (ED) degree.

He earned his doctoral degree working with Dr. Mike Tewes, professor and research scientist with the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at A&M-Kingsville. For his dissertation, Haines studied the population and habitat viability of ocelots in South Texas.

Haines, who also earned his master’s degree in range and wildlife management at A&M-Kingsville, impressed his mentors in the graduate wildlife program so much that his study was delayed eight months until he could complete his master’s requirements and join the Ph.D. program. “That is a true sign of confidence in his abilities,” Tewes said.

“Aaron is a bright, inquisitive and energetic student who was a pleasure to mentor during his Ph.D. program,” Tewes added.

“Aaron possesses all the qualities that graduate advisors seek in model graduate students—a strong work ethic, enthusiasm, self-initiative, intelligence, courtesy and professionalism,” said Dr. Fidel Hernandez, associate professor and research scientist for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. “As chair for his master of science graduate committee, I have seen his dedication, both to research and academia.”

Hernandez said Haines was unique even as a master’s student. “Most master’s students don’t even publish their thesis, but Aaron had two of his thesis chapters in peer-reviewed journals before his graduation.”

Haines has kept publishing and upon completion of his doctorate, already has an extensive list of published works.

For his dissertation, Haines looked at the population of ocelots in South Texas, the only place in the United States where the wild cats are found. Ocelots have been listed as endangered since 1982 with only two known isolated breeding populations in South Texas. He estimated there are between 80 and 100 ocelots in the region.

An adult ocelot weighs about 28 pounds, with rounded ears and a slender frame, Haines said. They are stealth hunters coming out at night and preying on rodents and small animals.

He used a population and habitat viability analysis to evaluate four recovery strategies, supplementing the population with ocelots from northern Mexico, reducing road mortality, restoring habitat and linking the two breeding populations for better conservation management.

With the primary goal of providing a template for evaluating ocelot recovery strategies in the United States, Haines worked out short- and long-term strategies for recovery. According to his research, short-term strategies should include reducing ocelot road mortalities and introducing ocelots from northern Mexico. Long-term plans should include the restoration of the habitat around the occupied ocelot patches and the establishment of an ocelot dispersal corridor between breeding populations.

Haines worked with data collected by Tewes. He developed age specific survival and reproduction rates and analyzed landscape data and identified habitat. “Ocelots like to live in thick cover.”

Haines said his love of wildlife and of the environment comes from traveling with his military family during his youth. He was born in Northern Ireland to a military father and an Irish mother; however, they left because of the dangerous situation there. He has lived in Scotland, Italy and various parts of the United States.

“I was a Navy brat,” he said. “I didn’t grow up hunting and fishing, but I always liked being outdoors and living in so many different places, I saw different environments.” “During my post doc work, I will be working in conservation biology with policy,” he said. “Taking the next step, implementing laws that are smart for the environment, working with people, looking at different options.”

Haines said he sees himself staying in wildlife research once he completes his post doc work. “I like the research, but I also would like to be in on developing policy and management prescriptions to benefit wildlife research.”

Before coming to Kingsville, Haines received his bachelor’s degree in forestry and wildlife management from Virginia Tech.

Over the past two years, he has taught classes as a teaching assistant including Conservation Biology and Principles of Wildlife Management.

Haines received the C.R. and Rebecca Palmer Graduate Student Scholarship for Wildlife Management in 2005 and 2006. He received the Graduate Student Excellence Award from the College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences for 2004-05 and 2002-03. He has been named to the National Chancellor’s List, was awarded the Student Presidential Scholarship, the American Conservation and Education Society Scholarship and the Quail Unlimited Wildlife Conservation Scholarship.

He is a consultant to the Ocelot Recovery Team, and a member of the National Chapter of the Wildlife Society, the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society, the National Audubon Society, the Texas Society of Mammalogists, the Southwestern Association of Naturalists and the Fellowship of Christian Conservationists.

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