National Geographic recognizes U of U professor as top risk-taker

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SALT LAKE CITY – One University of Utah professor is known for pushing the limits; he’s faced bears, lynx and even people with machetes as he works to help conserve wildlife around the world.

Cagan Sekercioglu is now being profiled by National Geographic as one of the world’s top risk-takers.

Sekercioglu’s work has put him in some dangerous situations, like the time he ran into a bear in eastern Turkey.

"This was a really robust bear, basically a grizzly, same species, a male that weighed about 600 pounds, a lot of muscle," he said. "Just as I was telling people, ’Clear out. Get all the equipment. It's gonna wake up,’ and I'm like standing above its head.”

Fortunately the bear went back into the forest. This close call may have deterred some, but not Sekercioglu. When he isn’t teaching biology at the University of Utah, he works to document and prevent animal extinctions.

Sekercioglu mainly focuses on birds, but he’s ended up in more than 70 countries, where he’s worked to save many different habitats. He did some of his work in his home country, Turkey.

"Conserving lakes, helping set up Turkey's first wildlife corridor and right now trying to save the Aras River wetlands: eastern Turkey's richest wetlands for birds… now is about to be destroyed by a dam," he said.

Only 22 risk-takers were chosen by National Geographic, and Sekercioglu is among daredevils like James Cameron, who ventured to the deepest point of the Earth, and Felix Baumgarter, who skydived from 24 miles above Earth last year.

Sekercioglu’s resume makes him more than worthy of the list. In addition to the bear, he was charged by an elephant in Tanzania, carjacked in Ethiopia and attacked with a machete in Costa Rica.

"They came out of the dark,” he said of the machete attack. “No lights. No warning. Hurling rocks, which exploded our windshield all of a sudden, and with sticks and machetes they caught my friend and slashed his hand open with a big machete.”

But none of this has stopped him. He said the experiences may seem outrageous to some, but for him it’s just another day on the job.

"If you're always worried about risk you can't live your life, and stuff happens anyway,” he said.