8 weeks of research with Opwall in Calakmul (Mexico)

Finally I found some time to start writing about my experiences in Mexico. So far everything went great.

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.

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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.

Ocelot track

Ocelot track

Occelated Turkey

Occelated Turkey

Measuring tracks

Measuring tracks

Besides the tracking we also set up a little cameratrap 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 of some species from other parts of there home range. This said, we got some great footage of wildlife, including almost all the animals we wished for, from jaguars and pumas to the small agouti’s.

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.

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

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Now it’s time to talk about my wildlife sightings :-)
In a change to increase my wildlife sightings I often drove the monkey team in the morning (5:45am) to their research site about 7km from camp. Or 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 caught them myself. Most of them where about 1m in length, but still pretty powerful.

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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 an other night we caught quite some interesting bats, but on the way back (at around 3am) 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.


some random wildlife pics:

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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.

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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 party and now I’m on the island of Holbox to take a bit of rest.

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Yesterday we went snorkeling with whalesharks and watched flamingo’s.
In a couple of days I’ll move to Celestun, still on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. After that I ‘ll make my way to Belize.

So far my update for now.


1 thought on “8 weeks of research with Opwall in Calakmul (Mexico)

  1. Alyson

    You finally saw your jaguar!! So awesome! Hope you are having an amazing time with the rest of your travels!
    -a crazy bat team member :P


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