Bringing Jaguars to Alabama

For almost a decade, I have been working with my partners at Inspire EdVentures to bring student groups to Belize on edventures. Sometimes these edventures are college courses, other times they are groups of adult learners who want a different way of experiencing the natural wonders of Belize. But regardless of the age or educational level of the participant, one of the highlights is always our lessons on jaguars.

Several years ago, we learned that there had been signs of jaguars close to our camp at the Sleeping Giant Resort, just south of Belmopan Belize on the Sibun River. One of our amazing local guides took us to a location where we had the change to make a cast of a jaguar print

Since then we have accumulated hundreds of pictures of the big cats of Belize – the jaguars, pumas, ocelots and jaguarundis. In addition we have captured photos of many other rainforest animals – from tayras to tapirs. For the most part, we have used these to build background articles and presentations to prepare participants before they venture with us on a trip.

However, that changed in 2020 when COVID-19 shut down international travel, and thus our planned edventures. Shortly after the shutdown, Dr. Andy Coleman from Talladega College in Alabama contacted me to talk about how we could help his upper-level biology students complete their field work projects for graduation. I have known Andy for years, he was a graduate student at Appalachian State when I was the general biology coordinator, and we have kept in touch over the years through social media around his Urban Turtle Project.

After brainstorming about potential projects, we decided that we would have the students analyze our photo database, not only for the presence of jaguars, but also their prey species. The project involved having our project coordinator, Kayla Windelspecht, load batches of photos from our six cameras in Belize. The students would then need to identify what animals were present, time of day, and other parameters. After a semester of analysis, the students would need to present their data to Andy.

In the short podcast below, Andy and I talk about the impact that this project has had on the biology students at Talladega College and how it enabled them to complete part of their degree requirements.

These types of projects are important for me for a number of reasons. The most important, of course, is the fact that they enable students to experience some of the wonders of Belize who may not have the time or means to visit the country. However, another bonus is the ability to create a truly innovative educational experience that may spark some interest in these students, many of whom are interested in medical fields, of pursuing careers as conservation ecologists. To date we have had 4 students complete the projects, and we are looking to continue it well into 2022.

For more information on this project, check out the link below:

Or follow me on for more sessions like this. If you have an interest in learning more, drop me an email at [email protected]