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URI grad student named Fulbright Scholar

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Cranston resident to study endangered elephants in Malaysia

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 20, 2006 -- A University of Rhode Island graduate student’s trip to learn about bats in Malaysia in 2003 opened her eyes to the need for research on elephants in that Southeast Asian country. Now she has been named a Fulbright Scholar to do exactly that.

Regen Jamieson, a Cranston resident who grew up in Walpole, Mass., has been awarded the prestigious scholarship to study what happens to nuisance elephants that are relocated to Malaysia’s Taman Negara National Park after damaging villages and crops.

“More than 600 elephants have been moved since 1974 as a management technique to stop human-elephant conflicts in Malaysia,” Jamieson said. “But no one knows what happens to them after they are released in the park. What little research has been done suggests that the animals move around in a wide area. I want to see if males and females react to the process differently, and if they leave the boundaries of the park and raid crops and cause more conflicts with humans.”

Jamieson earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from URI in 1997 and went to work for Earthwatch Institute, an environmental group that links environmental scientists around the globe with volunteers willing to help them with their research. As part of her job, she participated in research projects on elephant seals in the Falkland Islands, birds in Ecuador, whales in British Columbia, and the bat project in Malaysia.

“While I was in Malaysia, I stayed at the ranger station that houses their elephant management unit, and I watched a video about the elephant translocation project,” she said. “It turned me on to the fact that Asian elephants are endangered, and yet little is known even today about Asian elephant ecology, and virtually nothing is known about the fate of translocated elephants once they are released back into the wild.”

So she made some inquiries with U.S. and Malaysian researchers to learn how she could study elephants, and she enrolled at URI for graduate study.

“I feel compelled to do this,” Jamieson said. “It’s an important project with work that needs to be done. I’m very passionate about it. I don’t want to get a master’s degree just to get a degree. This is something that’s applicable and urgently needed if elephants are to remain viable.”

Her primary concern was whether she would be able to raise the funds to support a 10-month stay half a world away beginning in June. She applied for numerous grants and scholarships, and secured several for smaller amounts from the Denver Zoo, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Wild Asia, and the URI Office of the Provost. The Fulbright application was particularly challenging and she wasn’t confident she would be selected.

“It’s a very competitive program, and the application makes it even more so because you have to put your whole life together in one page – your hopes and dreams, what has influenced you, what you hope to accomplish, and more,” she said. “I’m ecstatic that I got it. It’s a huge honor.”

Named for the former senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, the scholarship is designed to foster mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges. Selected based on leadership potential, approximately 4,500 graduate students from around the world earn Fulbright Scholarships each year.

URI News Bureau Photo by Nora Lewis.