Rain is usually the bane of a field scientist's existence. It gets into your tent and then your reprints and field notes are reduced to paper-mache; it gets on mist-nets so that bats and birds see them from a mile away; pouring rain also makes birds quiet and keeps many other animals
|Ocelot in the Forest. © Carol Farneti|
in their dens or nests. There is a silver lining, however. The rain leaves the perfect venue for animal tracks. Everyday we get up early in the morning to see what we can find!
In Guyana, the jaguar is the largest of the wild cats and the smallest is the tiger cat, which has a body size similar to that of a domestic house cat. Here is an ocelot, one of the most common small cats in South America. The ocelot's coloration varies with the habitat it lives in – the base color of its fur being a yellowish-cream in more arid locations to a darker yellowish-brown in forested environments.
The agouti is a large rodent, which looks like a cross between a groundhog and a
piglet. Not only are agouti an important food source for wild cats, but they help assure the survival of a tree species, which in turn, helps the local economy and could provide an alternative to logging the rain forests. Agoutis love to eat Brazil nuts, from the Brazil nut tree. By gathering and storing the nuts, the agouti helps assure the survival of the Brazil nut tree by helping disperse its seeds to more remote locations. The local people
also consume the Brazil nut and harvesting these nuts has become a profitable business, which has also created employment. Because of this, some people would rather save the natural habitat where the Brazil nut tree grows than log the forest. Who would have thought a simple rodent like the agouti would have such a key role in Amazonian habitat conservation?
Here we also have the hoof prints of the shaggy, tiny-horned red brocket deer. I followed one at dusk – they are not at all shy of people here and it grazed in the swampy shadows ten feet from
|Red brocket deer tracks. |
me. Compared to other deer species, the red brocket can be easily preyed upon, even by common dogs. But these small deer are exceptional swimmers, and have been seen crossing rivers over 300 meters wide.
How do you take home a footprint? RAP uses a few ways. The first is with Plaster of Paris casts, the second is with pictures like these or tracings on plastic film. Not only is tracking a great way to identify species in the forest, but it provides the RAP scientists with a good indicator of where we should put the camera traps.
If you would like to learn more about animal tracks and actually make your own plaster of paris print, visit our Pantanal Expedition for instructions.
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