Field work for graduate wildlife students often involves a great deal of patience. You might spend days tracking wolves or grizzlies before you catch a glimpse, or even have to wait months trying to spy your first lynx.
Not so for Carol Bogezi, a first-year Ph.D. student at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). She struck pay dirt on her first time out, capturing a full-grown, 150-pound male cougar in the North Fork Creek drainage of the Marckworth State Forest, east of Duvall, Wash. She had set out to the study site with Dr. Brian Kertson, a SEFS alumnus and cougar expert who now works with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, when they came across the treed cat.
“When you see one in a tree, you think it’s just a big kitty,” she says. “But when you have it down and are measuring it in your hands, it’s really big!”
Bogezi grew up outside of Kampala, Uganda, and moved to Seattle this past September to begin graduate work with Professor John Marzluff. Back home, she had most recently been studying the habitat and distribution of crocodiles in Kidepo Valley National Park, and she had done similar work with elephants and lions. What drew her to the University of Washington was the chance to study in a totally new environment, and also to focus on the human dimensions of wildlife interactions and management. Studying cougars in western Washington was a perfect fit.
She’s still fine-tuning her research question, but Bogezi is especially interested in investigating how wildlife responds to human activities, such as logging or hiking, in natural areas. Also, as in the case with cougars, how do you mitigate conflicts—especially within her study area, which extends up to the Seattle suburbs and the Interstate 90 corridor? Or, in cases where perception can be more damaging than reality, can you change human attitudes toward wildlife and facilitate greater community understanding and tolerance of local species?
Beginning later this spring, she’ll get another opportunity to explore some of those questions in a separate joint research project with Marzluff and Professors Stanley Asah and Aaron Wirsing. The study, recently awarded funding by the Institute of Forest Resources at SEFS, will approach the management of wolves in eastern Washington—specifically, whether it’s possible, via rancher compensation or other economic incentive programs, to support a healthy and sustainable wolf presence in the state.
Bogezi says the challenge with wolves is similar to situations she experienced in Uganda involving elephants damaging crops, or lions taking livestock. She recalls showing up to heated meetings with farmers who had lost animals, or who had their fields trampled, and sometimes they’d even come waving spears. “If it’s touching their livelihoods, that’s where there’s conflict,” she says.
But the issue with wolves could be more emotional than practical—in part, Bogezi believes, because we’re raised on stories like “Little Red Riding Hood” that teach kids to fear and even hate wolves. Whatever the root causes or potential solutions, though, Bogezi is excited to get out and learn firsthand what’s driving perceptions. “I want to find out what people really think about the wolves,” she says, “and get ideas from the ranchers themselves about how to manage this conflict.”
When she completes her graduate work, Bogezi hopes to return to Uganda and, if possible, continue working there with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). She would love to replicate her research here back home, and to help mitigate wildlife conflicts in other geographical areas around Uganda and Africa.
By then, she’ll be thoroughly field-tested, having handled crocodiles, held a full-grown cougar in her lap, and stared down spears in the line of research. Certainly makes you wonder what kind of challenge she’ll take on next!
Photos courtesy of Carol Bogezi.