Opwall once again, Cusuco National Park in Honduras this time…

Opwall Honduras 2016: another Operation Wallacea season

The Journey to Honduras

(it took a while to get some updates on this blog… but here is a bit of an update about my stay in Cusuco – also check out the Honduras page)

Another field season had started in June 2016 (Opwall Honduras). My rough plans were going to Honduras for another field season with Operation Wallacea and afterwards head North the join Panthera Belize again for a short visit. So I booked my return flight to Belize City and from there I took an international flight from Belize City to San Pedro Sula in Honduras (Yes, one of the more dangerous cities in the world). This ‘International’ flight was a tiny aircraft for about 10 people, we were just 2 costumers. The flight was amazing as you fly low in a small airplane over the coast of Belize looking over the blue sea …

Belize Travel-flight over the ocean

All info you can read about San Pedro Sula (Honduras) is pretty much summarized by ‘leave as soon as possible, nothing to see’. I stayed in a hostel and asked to guy about safety and such, but it wasn’t too bad. He just gave me a map of the city and draw a couple of lines and told me I would be safe as long as I’m not crossing this lines, even in the middle of the night. Although it’s an interesting city, the main (one and only) tourist attraction is the cathedral. Anyway, soon enough I was going to meet up with the Opwall research crew to get out of civilization for an 8-week expedition in Cusuco national park.

The fieldwork

I was part of the mammal research team and we were going to investigate mammals using camera-traps and track surveys. Additionally, we did some (small) mammal trapping. The terrain was rough with lots of ups and downs, dwarf forest and a tropical climate. Luckily we had a local guide to take us to all the transects. This had a variety of advantages, he knew the area and the tracks, he was wearing a machete to clear the tracks and probably also for safety, etc. …

Different from my stay in Mexico, I was going to visit all the camps which were operating that year in the Opwall Honduras expedition. We also had a quite tough schedule and most of the times we had no students joining us.

The camera traps were used to apply the REM (Random Encounter Model). This model is used to estimate mammal densities without the need for individual recognition of animals (in contrast to a Capture Recapture design). The set up was a bit disappointing, as we aimed to set up 2 cameras per transect and leave them out for only 3 nights in order to monitor all the camps used during the Cusuco Opwall season 2016.

One of the highlights of this expedition was the jaguar tracks some of my colleagues found in one of the camps. Luckily they preserved it well so I could have a look and be quite confident they were jaguar tracks. We also found 2 more occasions of potential jaguar tracks during that week. Panthera found camera trap evidence of Jaguars earlier that year (https://www.panthera.org/blog/2016/06/15/surprise-2200-meters), so by the sounds of it, jaguars are roaming around Cusuco as well.

Furthermore, the camera traps revealed evidence of opossums, birds, mice, etc… but also some larger animals like a Tayra and an Ocelot.

As an additional try out, the mammal team tried some different set ups and played around with equipment. The first project was to set up an experiment to try to figure out some speed measurements of species, which is essential for the REM approach. We used camera-traps in a more or less hexagon shape with some food in the middle. We added some measurement indication in the view of the cameras in order to estimate speed. Unfortunately, we were not too successful in capturing animals, only some opossums.

Our second little project we tried to capture some of the medium sized mammals in Cusuco National Park in order to check what’s possible for future projects involving capturing animals. We used cat food and some left over chicken from meals as bait. We mostly caught opossums, but also some squirrels.

After the project I, enjoyed the rest on the island of Utila for a little bit before heading off to Belize.

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