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Rae Wynn-Grant b. 1985

CARNIVORE ECOLOGY/ANIMAL BEHAVIOR

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URBAN CHILDHOOD

Rae Wynn-Grant grew up in big cities. Born in San Francisco, she spent most of her childhood in California. Her mother is a writer and her father is an architect, so it surprised everyone when she decided to be a wildlife biologist. As a kid, she remembers being fascinated by television shows about wild animals, when she was a teenager, Rae dreamed about hosting her own nature show on National Geographic. In middle school and high school, she struggled with traditional tests and found math and science challenging, but Rae loved the things she was learning about the natural world and didn’t allow less-than-perfect grades stand in her way.

ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

After high school, Rae attended Emory University where she learned about conservation biology, which focuses on protecting and restoring the diversity of life on Earth. She didn’t get to see her first wild animal until she traveled to East Africa when she was nineteen years old. Rae studied for a master’s degree in environmental studies from Yale University and then got a doctorate degree, studying how carnivores adapt (change) their behavior to adjust to landscapes altered by humans.

LIONS AND LEMURS AND BEARS

Rae loves bears. “They’re just like people,” she said in an interview with National Geographic Explorers at Work. “They just love to hang out.” After finishing her Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Columbia University, she did research called a post-doctoral for the American Museum of Natural History, studying the behavior and habitat of grizzly bears in Montana. Today, she studies bears in the mountains of Nevada and New York and does research on lions in Tanzania and lemurs in Madagascar. Dr. Wynn-Grant is interested in learning how animals, such as lions, change their movement and hunting patterns when humans live nearby. Her science work is dedicated to helping people and carnivores coexist peacefully all around the world.

A DREAM-COME-TRUE

Rae currently works as a large carnivore ecologist for the National Geographic Society and studies carnivore conservation around the world. She is a Visiting Scientist at the American Museum of Natural History and a professor at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Wynn-Grant does some of her most important work as a science communicator, making environmental science accessible to broad and diverse audiences. Rae wants to show urban kids that they have a place doing work like hers. “Don’t confuse performance with passion” is her motto. Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant is living proof that passion and hard work can make dreams come true.

IN TODAY’S WORLD

As Earth’s population grows, people are moving into the habitat of wild animals. The work of Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant and other conservation ecologists is essential to the well-being of humans and animals who find themselves sharing space and resources.

CARNIVORE ECOLOGY/ANIMAL BEHAVIOR

Rae Wynn-Grant has spent many hours observing, tracking, and trapping wild animals to study their behavior. It’s fun to observe animal behavior in your own neighborhood or a nearby park. In this lab, study insect behavior by trapping ants using cookie crumbs, and observe and record the behavior of larger animals, such as squirrels and birds.

MATERIALS

  • Cookie crumbs
  • Small plastic bag
  • Rock
  • Notebook
  • Pencil or pen
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
  • Binoculars (optional)
  • Camera (optional)

SAFETY TIPS AND HINTS

  • Never try to pick up a wild animal. Keep your distance.
  • To find ants quickly, place the ant trap in an area where you’ve seen ants before.
  • If there are no wild animals nearby, study the behavior of pets, such as dogs, cats, and fish.

PROTOCOL

ANT TRAP

1 Put a few cookie crumbs inside a plastic bag. Fig. 1.

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Fig. 1. Place cookie crumbs in a clear bag.

2 Find an outdoor location away from foot and car traffic. Place the bag on the ground.

3 Make sure that the bag is not sealed tightly, so that ants can crawl inside to the crumbs. Place a rock on the bag so it won’t blow away.

4 Check the bag every few hours or the next day to look for ants. If you don’t see any after a day or two, move the bag to a new location.

5 Observe the behavior of the ants and record it in your notebook. Date your observations and describe the size, color, and any other features that might help you identify the ants. Use a magnifying glass to look closely. Fig. 2.

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Fig. 2. Study the ants you trap.

ANIMAL OBSERVATION

1 Look for wild creatures in your neighborhood such as birds, squirrels, and rabbits. Observe them out a window or go for a walk to look for animals and signs of wild animals, such as footprints, scat (manure), holes, and nests. Fig. 3, Fig. 4.

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Fig. 3. Look for signs of wild animals.

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Fig. 4. You may be surprised at what you discover lying on the ground.

2 Use a notebook and a camera to record what you find, including the date and time you see animals.

3 Take notes on what you observe the animals doing. Are they eating? What are they eating? How to they interact with their environment and other animals? Fig. 5.

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Fig. 5. Observe arthropods such as insects, too.

4 Describe how the animals look. Use binoculars for a closer look. Are they healthy? Note any characteristic markings or features that might help you recognize them if you saw them again. Fig. 6.

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Fig. 6. Use binoculars for a closer look.

5 Think about how human behavior might affect the habitat (homes), food supply, and behavior of the animals you see.

6 Watch for animals at the same spot several times. Do they appear regularly? What time of day are you most likely to see them? Fig. 7.

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Fig. 7. Observe animals with a friend and compare notes.

CREATIVE ENRICHMENT

Use a camera to photograph the wildlife you discover. Photographs can help you get a closer look at individual animals and aid in the identification of different species.

THE BIOLOGY BEHIND THE FUN

Studying animal behavior requires patience. Often it takes time to locate animals, and once researchers find them, their behavior must be observed over a long period of time. The famous primatologist Jane Goodall regularly spent hours, days, or even weeks sitting around, waiting for the chimpanzees she studied to come into view.

Whether observing birds, squirrels, or bears, scientists understand the importance of keeping enough distance between the observer and the wild animal. This is important for safety when studying certain animals. In addition, the presence of a human will cause most wild animals to change their behavior.

Modern technology has made it possible to attach tags to animals which allows scientists to track their movement from afar. Radio signal transmitters on collars can be attached to large carnivores such as lions and smaller ones, such as horned lizards. Tracking wild animals allows researchers to understand how they behave in the wild and how their movement changes as a result of human activity.

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