LSU graduate student Ahsennur Soysal is tracking foxes in Baton Rouge, and her preferred tools are social media and trail cameras. The LSU environmental science student created a social media campaign that asks Baton Rouge residents to post sightings of the elusive animals around town onto Facebook at Fox Finders of Baton Rouge, or on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #findfoxlsu. Originally from Turkey, Ahsennur has lived in Baton Rouge for more than 15 years. She hopes her research can help educate the general public about foxes, which Ahsennur argues are often incorrectly portrayed as dangerous nuisances in popular culture. Ahsennur’s innovative work, with the help of her camera-wielding neighbors, is slowly uncovering the impact foxes have on both our natural and built environments.
We recently chatted with Ahsennur to discuss her work and life. Read some highlights of the conversation below.
What led you to study foxes and not another animal?
I have always loved foxes and fables ever since I was little. It was actually my professor who suggested the idea of studying foxes to me. I really had no idea there were actually any foxes in Baton Rouge even though I have lived here for years. So she mentioned that foxes aren’t usually seen in Baton Rouge, but they are there, and that got me curious. I found out that foxes are so well adapted to city life that it is hard to spot them. Despite this, I found that if you looked closely you can see them. I thought about coyotes but they are even harder to see than foxes. What really amazed me was when I found there was a whole ecosystem of foxes here Baton Rouge.
Foxes are generally solitary creatures, but you’ve chosen a very collaborative approach to your work. Why have you gravitated toward that method of research?
We chose to use what is called “citizen science” through social media because it’s hard to study foxes just by ourselves. We needed the Baton Rouge community to help us study foxes and habitat. Social media is such an easy way to communicate all this information about the foxes. To me, the collaborative approach was the best way to go because then we don’t have to capture the foxes. People just tell our research team what they have been seeing. The people in the Baton Rouge community have basically become our eyes and ears for this study.
Citizen science has become an increasingly popular term of the years. Why, for you, is citizen science so important?
Citizen science to me is such a powerful and effective approach because it really lets researchers create a relationship with the community. Scientists can help the people understand the nature around them and the people can provide feedback and voice their concerns, ideas and questions. For me I believe that it is such a great way to interact.
Through your research, what’s something you’ve learned about Baton Rouge that might surprise people?
The fact that Baton Rouge and Louisiana as a whole are so hospitable is something that would surprise people outside of Louisiana. When our team had to go set up cameras to observe the foxes, people were so welcoming. Some foxes live under houses and people welcomed me and other researchers in and honestly did not mind at all that we were putting up cameras. They also did not mind if we came back at anytime to check on the cameras even when they were not home. Working with people in Baton Rouge has just been so fabulous.
What is the first place you recommend to visitors when they come to Baton Rouge?
There are a lot of places that I would recommend but the first one that comes to mind is University Lakes. It has such a beautiful landscape, it’s a great place to exercise, like riding a bike, and it’s also a good place to meet people and see local wildlife. I also recommend the Louisiana State Museum in downtown Baton Rouge. It provides a lively exhibit of the rich culture and history of Louisiana.
If you could switch jobs with another TEDxLSU speaker, who would it be and why?
I really like a lot of this year’s TEDxLSU speakers but the one that stood out to me the most is medical physicist Dr. Wayne Newhauser. I would love to switch jobs with him; his research is so interesting. The fact that he is using 3D scanning to help treat cancer is fascinating to me. Using a tool that is somewhat easy to use and applying it toward treating cancer is really admirable.
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go and why?
I would really like to travel to Istanbul, Turkey. Even though I am from Turkey I have never been to the most famous city there. I always hear about it from other people who have visited and hopefully I’ll be able to go in the future as a tourist. One day I would like to experience the unique history and architecture of Istanbul myself.
To learn more about Ahsennur or about TEDxLSU 2017, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to experience Ahsennur’s talk, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2017 speakers.