magazine-category: Alumni

Dancing with Wolves (And Lemurs, Foxes and Monkeys)

Christopher Lile
Gardner-Webb graduate Christopher Lile shares his gap-year experience working with lemurs in Madagascar and wolves and foxes at Wolfpark in Indiana with Dr. Joseph Oyugi’s ecology course on Thursday, April 10, 2019.

GWU Alumnus Christopher Lile ’17 Travels
Near and Far to Defend Animals

Christopher Lile with a goatFrom bottle-feeding a grey fox pup, to advocating for red wolves, and researching lemurs or studying red-tailed monkeys, Christopher Lile is passionate about protecting wildlife. Over the last several years, the 2017 alumnus of Gardner-Webb University has followed his interests to Madagascar, Africa; Issa Valley, Tanzania; Battle Ground, Ind.; Durham, N.C., Columbia, S.C., and his hometown of Waynesville, N.C.

“Although behavioral research is my main focus and my ultimate goal is to be accepted into a Ph.D. program in primatology, I am of the belief that research should never become an isolated bubble,” Lile stated.

“Therefore, I have also devoted my time to advocating for endangered species whenever possible.”

His research opportunities include three stints at Wolf Park in Battle Ground. The Park is a nonprofit organization dedicated to behavioral research, education and conservation of wolves. Lile’s most recent role there was as a primary caregiver for two grey fox kits (pups). For a month, he and one other person were with the foxes 24/7, teaching them that the humans at Wolf Park are friends.

“The fox kits will help educate visitors about wild grey foxes, as well as be involved in ongoing and future behavioral and cognitive research,” Lile related. “The pups need to learn at an early age that wheelchairs, golf carts, crowds, and loud children will not harm them, and are a part of a typical day at Wolf Park. They would naturally be afraid of these things if not for the training and desensitization protocols that are in place.”

Lile has also spent three months in Madagascar, studying lemurs as a volunteer for the Omaha Zoo’s Department of Conservation Genetics. In Issa Valley, he worked with researchers to collect data on chimpanzees, yellow baboons and red-tailed monkeys. In the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, he collected data on lemurs and grey foxes.

A biology and psychology double major, his research experiences at Gardner-Webb opened the door for these opportunities. With a grant from the GWU Undergraduate Research Scholar program, Lile worked with his mentor, Dr. Joseph Oyugi, professor of biology, to complete a survey of small mammals at the Broad River Greenway and the surrounding area in Boiling Springs, N.C.

The paper from the project won awards and was published in “Alethia,” the Alpha Chi Journal of Undergraduate Scholarship. “The Gardner-Webb Research Scholars Program gave me the opportunity to gain basic field research experience, which made me a more competitive applicant when applying to field research positions,” Lile reflected. “I would highly recommend the scholars program to anyone interested in a career involving research.”

The GWU faculty, particularly Oyugi and Dr. Tom Jones, professor of biology, helped Lile prepare for the future and secure research opportunities. “These professors were both especially helpful in advising me during the application process of many internships I had during my undergraduate career as well as for opportunities I’ve had since graduation,” Lile shared.

Oyugi also introduced Lile to the plight of the red wolf by inviting Christian Hunt from Defenders of Wildlife to speak at Gardner-Webb. Recent changes in U.S. Fish and Wildlife policies have caused the red wolf numbers to plummet. “This species, which once ranged from Pennsylvania to Texas, now has less than 30 individuals remaining in the wild – only in eastern North Carolina,” Lile affirmed.

To increase awareness about the red wolf situation, Lile coordinated a special fundraising event at his home church in Waynesville. “My love of music, passion for wildlife, and desire for the church to become involved in conservation inspired the idea of starting Concerts for Conservation,” offered Lile, who is also a pianist. “Because red wolves, a species unique to North Carolina, face severe threats to their existence, they were the perfect focal species for the event.”

The event raised more than $5,800 for Defenders of Wildlife. Lile continues to work for the organization to share the red wolf story throughout western North Carolina.

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