University of Washington researcher Carol Bogezi on Monday will receive the $100,000 Bullitt Prize for work that includes efforts in Uganda and the Northwest to ease conflicts between wildlife and people who make their living from the land.
As a child in her native Uganda, Carol Bogezi knew her boarding-school tuition was paid through sales from her family’s farm.
So when she labored there, she joined in the never-ending struggle to chase away the civets that stalked baby goats, the mongoose that pursued the chickens or the monkeys that invaded the corn and tomato fields.
Yet, from early on, she was drawn to these wild creatures, and balked at using a bow and arrow or other lethal means against them. Indeed, her favorite places on the farm were fallow patches of land where she could watch the animals come and go without having to worry about the damage they might cause.
“This is where I first experienced wildlife. And I was fascinated with them, and didn’t want to kill them. Even when I was throwing stones at the civets, I didn’t like it,” Bogezi recalled.
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Those early years kindled a quest to learn more about wildlife, and how to ease their conflicts with humans. She’s now 33, and her research already has ranged from tracking the movements of elephants in northern Uganda to studying cougars in the Pacific Northwest, where she is pursuing a doctorate in wildlife science at the University of Washington.
On Monday in Seattle, Bogezi will receive the 10th annual Bullitt Prize, a $100,000 fellowship offered each year to a graduate student from an “under represented community” who shows extraordinary potential for environmental leadership.
“It’s basically no strings attached, and an act of faith,” said Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, which sponsors the award. “… She has the ability, and the personality and the drive. She is going to matter.”
Bogezi plans to use the money to finance her next two years of studies in Washington, where her focus has been on two large mammals.
West of the Cascades, she has worked with state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Brian Kertson in on ongoing effort to map the movements of radio-collared cougars through and near residential areas.
Since her 2012 arrival in the Pacific Northwest, Bogezi also has spent time in Northeast Washington, where she has interviewed 46 ranchers about their attitudes toward wolves and their participation in efforts to reduce predation on cattle. She found many were tired of people from Seattle trying to tell them what to do. But they often warmed up to her as she shared details of her own upbringing.
“It did help a lot being an international student, and one that actually has had a livelihood based on a farm,” Bogezi said. “ I understand the challenges … and they would speak more openly to me.”
School and farm work
Bogezi grew up in central Uganda amid a landscape of rolling hills, where her father built three homes — one for each of his three wives and 17 children.
From early on, Bogezi says, her father and mother both encouraged education for their girls. She was enrolled at a boarding school in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, where the morning tasks included work in a food garden. There, too, wild creatures were causing conflicts, and Bogezi figured out a way to keep squirrels from climbing up nut trees by putting oiled plates around the base of the trunks.
“I cannot remember Carol getting into trouble. She was one of those serious girls,” said Grace Nkata, a primary-school classmate who now lives in Seattle.
When school was not in session, Bogezi would join her family at the farm, which was some 30 miles from her home outside of Kampala. As she was finishing up her undergraduate university degree in zoology, she lost her mother to cancer; her father died just six month later.
Bogezi, then 22, feared her uncles would take over the farm and not share the revenue, which would doom the chances for her and her siblings to finish their educations. So she stepped forward as manager of the farm’s four workers, and for her final year as an undergraduate she commuted from there to the university in Kampala.
“It was a bit stressful, but this was the best thing do,” Bogezi said. “I didn’t want to see the property just sold off and the money squandered by relatives.”
After graduation, Bogezi went to work for a professor dusting tables and helping to maintain a museum.
Her career soon took off as she assisted in small-mammal surveys, and then, at the age of 26 was hired by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society to lead field work in Uganda.
She would head up teams of some 20 people — mostly men — who traveled to remote areas to survey a multitude of species, and some of her colleagues chafed at the notion that this young woman was their boss.
She recalls one camp along the Nile River, where she admonished a team member who spoke disparagingly of the local people, and her criticism triggered a broader backlash against her leadership.
So one night around the campfire, Bogezi confronted the team about those divisions. “ ‘If you have a problem right now, let’s resolve it because we have to work together,’ ” Bogezi told them.
People talked, and morale improved, she said.
Her subsequent work included research that determined a crocodile found at Kidepo Valley National Park in Uganda was not the more-widely distributed Nile species but a different species — the desert crocodile — and was at risk.
“This was globally important, but no one had paid any attention to it,” said James Deutsch, the former Africa director for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “And catching and tagging crocodiles, and taking DNA samples from them in the middle of the night, is not easy for anybody.”
Bogezi also led other wildlife surveys in northern Uganda, which at that time had just opened up to researchers after several decades of insurgency warfare that uprooted many villagers.
The elephants they found there were part of a remarkable rebound of populations in Uganda — from fewer than 1,000 in the 1980s to more than 5,000 today — a hopeful trend that runs counter to the broader decline in elephant populations across Africa.
In 2012, Bogezi received a Wildlife Conservation Society scholarship for her initial years of studies at the UW, and she moved to Seattle. She was joined by Joel Masselink, then her boyfriend, now her husband. A Geographic Information System specialist, he works at Vulcan, where he helped analyze the data from a continentwide survey of elephants funded by Vulcan’s founder, Paul Allen.
While at the UW, Bogezi has kept her focus on North American wildlife, and is planning a considerable amount of follow-up work with wolves.
She is searching for fresh approaches to turn wolves into an economic benefit for ranchers who work to minimize the conflicts. One idea is to develop a kind of premium market for what she calls “wolf-friendly” beef, and she is planning to use some of the Bullitt award to fund a survey that would gauge public support for the product.
This is part of a broader trend in conservation strategies that goes beyond compensating ranchers and farmers for losses.
In northeast Uganda, for example, 20 percent of the revenue from the Kidepo Valley National Park is shared with local communities, and the villagers are hired to blow trumpets to scare the elephants away from cultivated fields, according to Michael Schwartz, a wildlife conservation researcher who wrote about the effort in a National Geographic online posting.
“The lesson that emerges from lots of different places is that it is better to incentivize people to live successfully with wildlife than it is to compensate them for living badly with wildlife,” said Deutsch, the former Wildlife Conservation Society director for Africa who now heads up Wildlife Conservation at Vulcan.
Bogezi said she plans to return to Uganda in a few years, and would like to help map elephant corridors where new human settlement would be discouraged. While there may be other opportunities that arise in the U.S., friends and colleagues expect she will follow through.
“My country can be frustrating,” said Nkata, her childhood friend. “But the Carol that I know will go back.”