Sophie Feather-Garner of Nashville Studies Conservation in Africa,
Presents Findings at Wellesley College’s Tanner Conference

October 31, 2008

Molly Tarantino, Public Affairs

WELLESLEY, Mass. —Wellesley College senior Sophie Feather-Garner learned an important lesson about savanna life during the first lecture of her semester abroad in South Africa: If an ostrich is chasing you, lie flat on the ground, but when a rhino charges you, climb a tree.

Sophie Feather-Garner with mammals

Working with the Organization for Tropical Studies in South Africa, she undertook research projects examining how elephant overpopulation affected dung beetle diversity and explored the economic value of river conversation. She also looked at the effects of seed-eating small mammals on the African savanna ecosystem and aimed to answer questions such as, “What species are the most prevalent seed predators?” and “Which seeds are the tastiest to them?” In addition to reading and analyzing data, she sorted through thousands of smelly dung beetles by candlelight, performed taxidermy on a mouse and tracked an elephant through the forest to collect fresh droppings.

Feather-Garner, a psychology and economics major at Wellesley, is the daughter of Dan Feather and Susan Russell of Nashville. She discussed her research in the presentation, “Tough Nuts to Crack: Seed-Hungry Mammals in an African Savanna,” at the annual Tanner Conference on the Wellesley College campus, a day-long event held Oct. 28.

Sophie Feather-Garner with children

“The perspective I gained from my unconventional study abroad is far more complex than that of a safari tourist,” she said. “I've explored the intricacies and ever-shifting balance of an ecosystem, from the mammoth mammals to the soil composition. I've seen the progress being made from within by small groups of citizens working for their country's health, wildlife and children. I've become friends with young South Africans who, though their lives are quite different from mine, share the same concern for the Earth's future and commitment to sustainability.

The Tanner Conference brings together students, faculty, staff and alumnae as they share their off-campus studies. With projects ranging from “A Mosaic of Morocco: Life as a Nomad” to “Victim or Victimizer? The 2008 London Extradition Case of 1994 Rwandan Genocide,” Wellesley travelers return to discuss their experiences with the community.

This year’s conference represents the work of nearly 300 students, faculty, alumnae and staff. The annual event was established in 2001 through the generosity of Wellesley trustee Estelle “Nicki” Newman Tanner ‘57. For more information, visit

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries. For more information, go to