Sarah Benson-Amram

Lab Director

Assistant Professor
Department of Zoology and Physiology
Program in Ecology
University of Wyoming


Graduate Members

Lisa Barrett, Ph.D. Student

I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013 after obtaining a B.S. in Evolutionary Anthropology. Throughout my undergraduate career, I have been fortunate to gain various experiences conducting animal behavior research on a variety of species, including squirrel monkeys, bluebirds, and fox squirrels. After graduating, I studied Asian elephant behavior and cognition in Thailand for one year. This research assistantship with Think Elephants International, Inc. helped to solidify my interest in animal cognition (and convergent cognitive evolution) while also introducing me to interests in developing science education curriculum, fundraising for non-profits, and educating children and adults from all over the world about conservation. I am a doctoral student and NSF GRFP fellow in Zoology and I am investigating the interactions among personality, problem-solving, and conservation in Asian elephants. I am also studying the importance of zebra finch pair-bond formation in social learning, communication, and personality.

My research interests lie in the cognitive mechanisms that facilitate adaptation and successful problem solving. Specifically, I seek to understand how various aspects of cognition, such as innovation, learning, behavioral flexibility and personality, allow animals to cope with variation in their environment. Given our world’s current biodiversity crisis, it is increasingly important to examine how an animal’s ability to solve novel problems can increase its survival in a changing world. I will begin my dissertation research by investigating the advanced cognitive abilities of a familiar and highly adaptive species, the raccoon. By building an understanding of the skills raccoons employ when problem-solving, I hope to shed light on the cognitive processes used in successful adaptation to a variety of environments. Comparative studies between different populations, or among close relatives of raccoons, will further this understanding. I anticipate that the results of my work will have important implications not only for biodiversity conservation, but also for the welfare of ex-situ populations of animals living in captivity. Please click here to learn more about my research and work with the UWRP.


Undergraduate Members

Carissa Cooley

I am 22 and am part of the pre-vet and zoology undergrad programs. I am from the small town of Boring, Oregon and I transferred to UW in the spring of 2016 from Mt. Hood Community College. I am assisting the Raccoon Project with its puzzle box experiments and video coding. My career goals include doing my own research in conserving African Lions and other large cats and opening my own exotic animal veterinary practice.

Ivy Engel

I’m a sophomore and I’m dual majoring in Biology and Business Management. Animals are my love! I’m currently volunteering with the Raccoon project to track raccoons in Laramie using radio telemetry. I’m interested in the urbanization of animals and I hope to do some more research into this topic in the future.

Rachel Ziejka

I am a Sophomore at the University of Wyoming majoring in Zoology with an interest in animal behavior and genetics. I am currently working in the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab as a research assistant studying zebra finches and coding videos. In the future, I hope to do government research on large mammals with a focus on conservation.

Stephanie Hart

I am a sophomore at the University of Wyoming majoring in Zoology. I recently gained an interest in studying animal behavior and cognition, and so I joined the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab to help with research and coding videos of zebra finches. For my future, I hope to study and research large mammals in their natural habitats, with a specific interest in African species.

Rachel Graham

I graduated from Central Wyoming College in 2016 with an associate’s degree in Pre-Health and specialized in Pre-Medicine. I received the INBRE scholarship my first semester at CWC and have been conducting research at both Central Wyoming College and now at the University of Wyoming on the INBRE Transition Fellowship. My interest in research began very young and led me to being one of 30 middle school students around the nation to compete in The Society of Science and the Public Middle School Program in Washington D.C. Since then I knew I would pursue a career in science. Currently, I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Physiology and would like to advance to medical school with a specialty in radiology. In the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab I am working on the zebra finch project studying personality, communication, and learning.

Jahsh Sanchez

I’m now a “super-senior” working on majoring in Wildlife Biology and minoring in Photography. I joined the Raccoon Project to gain more hands-on experience with mesopredator behavior and management; I help code trail camera photos and PIT tag data, in addition to tracking raccoons using VHF telemetry. I’m interested in continuing studying nocturnal predators, particularly bats, and expanding my portfolio of wildlife photography.

Shannon Bowles

I am a Junior currently pursuing a Zoology degree. I grew up in Gillette, WY, always looking for places nearby to explore and observe wildlife. I contribute to the Raccoon Project by locating collared raccoons with radio telemetry, as well as assisting with trapping in the summers. My career goals are still very open, but I hope to play a role in educating upcoming generations about the importance of wildlife and how to minimize human/ animal conflict.

Livia Marchese, High School Student

I am currently a highschool student participating in a science research program that has led me to work with the Animal Behavior & Cognition lab. I am helping to code videos on the Zebra Finch Project to examine the role of communication in problem solving. I am very interested in animal behavior and cognition, and hope to continue to do research, and eventually pursue a career in the field.

Phoebe Ramirez

I am a junior transfer student from Arlington, Texas. I graduated from Tarrant County College with an Associates of Science and am now pursuing a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and Management with a minor in Zoology. I have always loved animals, especially large carnivores, specifically tigers. Through a recent internship with the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyd, Texas, I solidified my love for all aspects of animal husbandry, as well as my interest in animal behavior. Both of these aspects led me to join the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab, in which I assist with the care of zebra finches, as well as the study of personality and its effect on problem solving and communication. In the future, I want to work at an exotic animal sanctuary and (hopefully, eventually!) open my own sanctuary.

JoBeth Stuemke

Originally from Nashville, TN and St. Charles, MO, I am a senior in the zoology program and will be graduating May 2018. I am assisting with Zebra Finch Project research and coding. I am interested in working in a zoo when I graduate.


UWRP Technicians

Rachel Fanelli

I have a B.S. in Biology from the University of Wyoming and am the project manager for the UWRP. This entails overseeing and coordinating our trapping, tracking, and outreach efforts. I've worked with wild-caught raccoons in captivity, where I presented individuals with a puzzle box and analyzed their behavioral responses. I've conducted behavioral observations on golden-winged manakins and captured dark-eyed juncos for physiological experiments. Currently, I'm assessing the potential for information transmission among wild raccoons foraging at an artificial foraging site. Research interests: social behavior, disease ecology, and wildlife management.


Renee Fair

I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor's degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and Management in the fall of 2016. As a member of the Animal Behavior and Cognition lab, I work on the University of Wyoming Raccoon Project and help with video coding, trapping and processing of raccoons. Due to my work with the lab, I have decided to pursue a degree in Animal Behavior at a graduate level.

Former Members

Kody Knighten, B.S. in Zoology 2015

Sarah Daniels, M.S. in Zoology 2016

Jessica Marsh, B.S. in Zoology 2017

Alix Wimberley, B.S. in Zoology, expected 2018

Emily Davis, B.S. in Zoology 2016

Dianna Brutsman, B.S. in Zoology 2016

Hailey Barton, B.S. in Zoology and Equine Studies, expected 2018

Harley Steege, B.S. in Pre-Pharmacy, expected 2018

Brooke Byelich, B.S. in Zoology 2017

Kristina Bartz, B.S. in Wildlife & Fisheries Biology & Management 2017