Braving the wild: a scientist gets up close to the world's fiercest predators.
Quigley's interest in animals began when he was young. "My parents exposed me to fishing and camping," says Quigley. "I found that I had a real passion for understanding wildlife." Eventually, Quigley focused his interests on developing conservation programs to protect big carnivores.
"Large carnivores tend to need more [protection] than many other wildlife species because they are seen as a threat," Quigley says. As humans encroach on once-wild lands, conflicts with carnivores become more common. For instance, animals like cougars and wolves sometimes turn to landowners' domestic cattle and sheep for food. As a result, people have killed many of the wild animals. One of Quigley's goals is to learn where and when large carnivores hunt. By educating landowners and working with them to develop solutions, he tries to reduce these types of conflicts.
But studying carnivores is a challenge. "They tend to be very secretive," says Quigley. To help track the elusive hunters, Quigley and his colleagues sometimes tag the wild animals with collars that send out radio signals. Researchers can trace the movements of the animal by following these signals.
During one tagging expedition, Quigley got close to a roaring Siberian tiger. Quigley kept his cool while the female tiger--which can grow to be 168 kilograms (370 pounds)--threatened to charge. He calmly shot a tranquilizer dart into her shoulder. Once she fell asleep, Quigley and his colleagues were able to safely approach her and place a collar around her neck. "It is awe inspiring to have the honor of being close and even touching these huge, powerful animals," he says.
FOLLOW THE TRAIL
Once he's tagged a large carnivore, what's next? "The most important thing to being a wildlife biologist is to be a very good observer," he says. The signal from a radio collar shows scientists where an animal is traveling. But it's by observing their tracks that scientists can learn more about the animal's behavior. "We go out in the snow or dust and try to track the footprints of the animals to decipher what they were doing in that place," he says.
That type of careful observation helped Quigley uncover some clues about the lives of young cougars. By following a cougar mother's tracks, along with the much smaller paw prints of her four kittens, Quigley was able to determine that "all of the kittens had fed on an elk [that the mother] had killed, and then slept in the same spot--a tree 100 yards away," he says.
Quigley's childhood experiences in the outdoors helped to prepare him for his career as a wildlife biologist. But even a city-dweller can develop the skills needed for the job. "Even New York City parks have wildlife in them," says Quigley. "If you have a passion for it, there is always a way to discover more about wildlife."
RELATED ARTICLE: Justin Garcia.
FUTURE WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST
Sixteen-year-old Justin has always been surrounded by animals. "I have always had at least one pet," he says. In his biology classes in San Diego, California, Justin learned about the threats that many wild animals face, including conflicts with humans. "That made me want to get more involved with helping them," he says.
Justin's long-term goal is to become a wildlife biologist, but he is already making a difference by volunteering as a member of the Zoo Corps at the San Diego Zoo. As part of the program, zoo experts have taught Justin about animal conservation issues around the world. Then, Justin sets up exhibits to help spread the word to zoo visitors. "I am able to educate people on how they can help these animals and better interact with them in the wild," he says.
Justin also gets to go behind the scenes to see the day-to-day work of the zoo's scientists and animal keepers. "They allowed us to feed heads of lettuce to one of the hippos," he says. "Being that close to a hippo is not something you get to do every day".
How can you help endangered animals? Check out: www.fws.gov/ endangered/kids
Did You Know?
* Many of the animals that Howard Quigley studies are apex carnivores, or predators at the top of the food chain. By studying populations of these animals, scientists can assess the overall health of an ecosystem. "If you have healthy populations of cougars or wolves, then you probably have a healthy system on which they're living," says Quigley.
* To capture a cougar and tag it, Quigley and his colleagues sometimes use dogs to track the big cat in the forest. The dogs follow the cougar's scent and chase it up a tree. Then scientists sedate the cat and use ropes to lower it to the ground--where they can examine it and attach a radio collar.
* Students can learn more about careers in wildlife biology at this National Zoo Web site: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Education/WildlifeCareers/
* Read more about Howard Quigley's experiences studying Siberian tigers in the article "One Tough Tiger," by Rene Ebersole, National Wildlife, Dec/Jan 2004. Article available online at: www.nwf.org/nationalwildlife /article.cfm?issueID=65&articleID=877
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|Title Annotation:||Howard Quigley, Justin Garcia|
|Date:||Nov 13, 2006|
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