8 weeks of research with Opwall in Calakmul (Mexico)

Our Research

So far Mexico has been great. Due to a lack of internet in the jungle, here is an update on my time in Calakmul National Park. I was a staff member of the awesome mammal team in a research project from Operation Wallacea (Opwall). Besides mammals, there was also research on bats, birds, herps, habitat, butterflies, monkeys, … every week we had a school group coming over the experience all these different facets of field biology.

base camp

Anyway, the mammal research had a couple of aspects. We walked transects in search for tracks. This part was very interesting and difficult, definitely in the beginning, as it is not all covered in snow like in Slovakia. But it was a great experience. We found mostly tracks of brocket deer and peccaries, but also some of the predators like jaguar, puma and ocelot.

Besides the tracking we also set up a little camera trap project along to road to the ruins, which the government wants to widen in order to get the tourists faster to the ruins… basically we don’t want that to happen because it will interfere with the wildlife and might cut off some species from other parts of their home range. This been said, we got some great footage of wildlife, including almost all the animals we wished for, from jaguars and pumas to the small agoutis.

Leaving conditions

The camp was very basic: water came in with a truck, electricity from solar power and a generator, sleeping in tents or hammocks, … A local family provided us with food every day. It was pretty good, although it contained a lot of beans and rice.

We also made a visit to the ruins, which were pretty impressive.

camp facilities
toilets at camp

Wildlife sightings

Now it’s time to talk about my wildlife sightings ๐Ÿ™‚
In a change to increase my wildlife sightings, I often drove the monkey team in the morning (5:45 am) to their research site about 7km from camp. Basically, I tried to be out as much as possible. Soon enough I saw a tapir. it was swimming in one of the aguada’s (pools in the landscape).

I went a couple of times crocodile hunting, although I didn’t catch them myself. Most of them were about 1m in length, but still pretty powerful.

I saw tons of stuff, but for my more interesting sightings, I had to wait till week 7, when coming back from dropping off the monkey team I saw my first cat species, an ocelot. Not the best sighting, but it was one. Anyway, when I was out with the bat team on another night we caught quite some interesting bats, but on the way back (at around 3 am) there was an ocelot walking on the road. We got pretty close and enjoyed the sighting.

An other great even happened when I was out with the bat team (again). although they went setting up their nets and I went to go to collect our camera traps in the evening… it got dark pretty fast and when I was on my way to pick up the last camera I saw big eye shines in the vegetation next to the road… I pretty soon figured out it must be a puma or a jaguar. We kept looking at each other for a while, and this creature was as intrigued about me as I was about it. Part of me wanted to go closer, part of me wanted to go back. In the end, I did a couple of steps forward and that was it. a bit later this creature stepped on the road and walked in the opposite directing on the road. I could see a big head and potentially some spots, although it was pretty dark. I took me a while to realize I actually saw a Jaguar. After this great experience, I decided to go back to the bat team and leave this camera to pick it up later, as the jaguar must have been very close to the camera. I was pretty relieved when I actually had some people around me, even if it were just crazy bat researchers :-).

On one of the last nights we went out to search for some more mammals, and with success… when walking on a path we had an ocelot coming from the opposite direction, and surprisingly curious. It was about 20m away from us and we watched it for about 5 min, probably longer, it even got closer towards us.

We also went out on a trip to visit a bat cave, which was pretty impressive seeing all these bats coming out of the cave around sunset.

ocelot sighting
bat roosting place

Time to explore the Yucatan peninsula

Overall I had a great time in Calakmul, southern Mexico. After 8 weeks with limited resources (internet and contact with the outside world) we made it back to Cancun for a celebrating partyย 

My next adventure lead me to the island of Holbox to take a bit of rest and snorkeling with the whale sharks: check out my adventure here.

You might like these articles:

Check out other projects/blogs:
Opwall 2015: Mexico
Opwall 2016: Honduras

Other blogs from this Central American adventure:

Cancun: Nightlife and Wildlife
8 weeks of research with Opwall in Calakmul (Mexico)
Volunteering with Panthera Belize: Part 1 [2015]

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