A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

D.C. Is Where the Wild Things Are

By Mariam Aburdeineh, BA ’13 on December 18, 2019

Ever wonder what creatures might be roaming in the dark when you’re not looking?

Across five continents, more than 100 Smithsonian Institution research projects collect a continuous stream of data on wildlife using camera traps—motion-triggered cameras that clue scientists in on what’s happening when humans aren’t around.

George Mason University alumna Jamie Fetherolf Jenkins, BS Environmental and Sustainability Studies ’19, contributed to the network during her senior year by setting up camera traps in Washington, D.C., and analyzing the data with Smithsonian conservation scientist Michael Cove at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC).

“This is the first time a project of this scale has ever been done,” says Cove, Jenkins’s project mentor and a Smithsonian postdoctoral research fellow. While most camera traps are set up in natural areas, this wildlife survey of Washington, D.C., placed the traps in urban environments like alleyways and neighborhoods, he explains.

Small mammals (including squirrels, chipmunks, rats, and mice) and their possible predators (such as foxes and coyotes) were the primary focus of Jenkins’s research. Looking at the captured photos allowed the duo to observe numerous behaviors and ask an unlimited number of questions.

Cove said the data Jenkins collected will help contribute to the understanding of wildlife in urban settings and will add to the Smithsonian’s current knowledge base.

Working side-by-side with a Smithsonian scientist on current conservation challenges was part of the thrill. “You don’t realize how amazing of an opportunity [SMSC] is until you’re there,” says Jenkins, noting that the world-renowned scientists and journal article authors she cited in her research papers were the same ones she worked with every day at SMSC. “It’s a huge networking experience that you will never have anywhere else.”

To see more photos from the Smithsonian’s worldwide project, visit emammal.si.edu.

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