Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cats!

One of the objectives in the Wildcat project is to gain information about some very elusive creatures. Our main targets are 5 cat species! Just for fun, here is an introduction to each cat (in size order), and an excuse to post photos of each! (All of the following photos are taken with our infrared camera traps)

Panthera onca is the third largest feline in the world! They are solitary animals, and have large home ranges. They often travel during the day, and hunt at night. Each cat can be identified by it's spots (rosettes), like a fingerprint. Being a large, biologically and anthropologically significant animal, much research has been done with Jaguars. The population in Belize is currently healthy, but all over the world the survival of the jaguar is being threatened by habitat fragmentation.

Puma concolor is a cat of many names! Here in Belize we simply call it a Puma, while in the states it's called a cougar, lion, mountain lion, or panther. They are solitary animals, and feed on medium to large prey. They have adapted to many habitat types and therefore have the largest distribution throughout North, Central, and South America. Go Cougs!

Leopardus pardalis is a much smaller cat, comparable to a golden shepherd. Like the Jaguar, this cat is also spotted, with some differences (the spots tend to turn into somewhat striped pattern on the neck). Like the larger two cats, the Ocelot spends it's time on the ground, not in the trees.

Puma yaguarondi is a cat of mystery. Not much is known about this felid. It is smaller than the fore-mentioned Ocelot, but still larger than an average house cat. Solid in color, they have two phases, a red and brown.

Leopardus wiedii is the smallest wild felid in Belize. The Margay are nocturnal and live in the trees. This makes them very difficult to find, and as such, little is known about them. They are also spotted, have extra long tails for balance, and extra large eyes for nightvision.

Belize is an ideal location for working in the natural world. The diversity here is astounding, whether it be plants, mammals, or birds . I find it very interesting that the Jaguar and Puma coexist on the landscape, since they rely on a similar prey base. Also interesting is the fact that so little is known about two separate cat species.

Now, I would like to take a moment to introduce one of my favorite furry friends, with a series of photos obtained at one of our camera trapping sites!

El Jefe (The Boss)
Even the big kitties need a catnap!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Things That Bite

May I present to you, a post dedicated to the creepy crawlies and such critters that make life oh-so interesting here at Lamanai. Despite their size, the things I will call “bugs” in general, have a not so small influence on life in the jungle. These pint sized miracles of nature come in many shapes and habits, and are very skilled at infiltrating any location where they don't “belong.”

Las hormigas. Ants. Depending on the type, a single one can get you to scrambling to get your hand up your pant leg, or have you wishing to drop your pants completely, as you're covered with hundreds before you've even realized you've disturbed their home. On one particular morning, heading into a new area to install a camera station, I was unaware that I would be introduced to the second type. Working with a Mennonite landowner named Jacob, my partner and I ventured out into a forested area surrounded by swamp. After choosing a spot for our camera site, we began to clear the area of unwanted vegetation. As fate would have it, on the very tree that was slated to have a camera on it, there was a nest, an abandoned termite nest. Once this nest was knocked to the ground, it's current inhabitants, unbeknown to us, were eager to let us know that they did not appreciate the new location of their home. Within seconds they were everywhere, covering us head to toe, and I mean head to toe, they were on my hat! These ants were small, and had a mean little bite, that stung. This was not a particularly painful bite, just an annoying one, especially when occurring simultaneously all over one's body. There was only one solution. Fire. Jacob had the brilliant idea of smoking out the ants. Although this method allowed us to quickly finish our work, we were still finding ants on us hours later.

Ticks. With little experience with ticks upon my arrival, I've gotten to know these little blood suckers well, or rather they've gotten to know me well. Usually, when you think of insects in the jungle, you probably think of extra large bodied, exotic bugs, this is quite the opposite for ticks. The ticks here are tiny and very hard to find! They cling to a persons' body, and wander to any location they find suitable and latch on often in hard to see/reach locations! So far I can count on my hands how many I've found on my body, and hope to keep it that way!

Leaf-cutter Ants
Others. Of course, there are plenty of other biting nuisances. At any given time I have multiple swollen bumps on my body, caused by mosquitoes, doctor-flies (given this name because you can't feel them as they cut you open) chiggers, and spiders. There are always new attack sites, before the previous ones have healed, leaving my body somewhat spotted with different secessions of scabs. No, being in the tropics isn't all glamorous. I'm not complaining though! At least I don't have stories about the varying poisonous plants!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Glass Half Full

Halfway. Belize has been my home for 6 weeks, now. Saying 6 weeks sounds like such a small amount of time,“a month and half” sounds quite a bit longer! I am so fortunate to be here, and at this small milestone I am glad to still have a month and a half more.

For the project, we've installed 9 new camera sites in the study area (now totaling 20 sites). All expanding the camera trapping grid in various strategic directions.
To the South: on Carlos' property (actually all forested, of which he uses to hunt), and on the papaya plantation, Eagle Produce. Both were big steps in expanding our grid further south, where we hope to meet up with another camera trapping gird in the protected Programme for Belize lands.
To the East, into Mennonite lands: we've gained 3 more participating landowners, two of which have two camera locations, and 1 of which with one camera location. At our arrival, we had one currently participating Mennonite landowner. Building these relationships has been significant to accomplish, and very rewarding (one landowner, Jacob, even dropped off a gift of three large papayas and kettle corn at the lodge, muy sobroso!).
The Wildcat project is unique in that we are working within the community, in what we call a human dominated landscape. Many studies similar to ours lack the dynamic of installing equipment on private lands, whereas they can place cameras in an organized manner (on public/protected lands), we must be opportunistic, ask permission, and seek out individuals to build relationships with. This type of experience in the realm of conservation is rare in the States, where public involvement in research is a new concept. This opportunity is priceless, and I'm glad I have a month and half to continue working with all the people I have met here.

The Road to the Ruins and Lamanai Outpost Lodge

Personally, I've fallen in love with this country. Staying at the lodge has been amazing (of course), and I'm ecstatic to call it home. Many guests become jealous when they hear that I've been living at the lodge for 6 weeks, and have more time to come! I love the small town atmosphere everywhere you go. Everyone knows everyone, and I'm constantly waving and wishing others to have a good day. The lodge staff are great, they are personable to everyone they meet, and work so hard to accommodate all guests, including the long-term ones. I thoroughly enjoy getting to know them, seeing them each day, and the thousand genuine thank yous they continue to receive from me.

Reaching halfway has caused me to look back on my time thus far in Belize, and momentarily I was sad. I've become somewhat attached to the people here, and take pride in working with the Wildcat project, to the point that I don't want to consider leaving just yet (don't get me wrong, I've come to miss home quite a bit now too). Then I realized, I still have 6 more weeks! There is no need to fret about leaving projects unfinished, and brand new relationships behind, at least not for a while! The glass is half full! I will keep working, and enjoying my time in Belize, up until the very last day!
Morning view from the lodge!