Large mammal density at Calakmul Biosphere Reserve is very high and the forest is one of the last remaining strongholds regionally of endangered mammals such as spider monkeys, jaguar and tapir. Although these species are not hunted, indigenous people are allowed to hunt other large mammals such as peccary and deer (which are the preferred prey of jaguar and puma). As there are no rivers or streams in the reserve, forest structure is also heavily affected by distance from the few permanent water sources in the reserve known as aguadas. Prolonged periods of drought over the last 10 years have resulted in the disappearance of aguadas, especially in the core zone of the reserve. Operation Wallacea monitoring data suggests that ungulates and felids are leaving the safety of the core zone of the reserve and migrating into the South East buffer zone where the climate is more humid and the aguadas still contain water. This is a particularly concerning situation because once the ungulates range into indigenous community land they are extremely vulnerable to hunting, resulting in a loss in abundance of these species and a reduction in available prey for jaguar and puma that in turn can lead to increased human-felid conflict as felids start to attack livestock. The aim of this large mammal research project is to investigate the relationship between water distribution and large mammal ranging and to investigate the impact of hunting of preferred prey species on the abundance and distribution of felids. Mammal abundance data will be collected along a series of forest transects using patch occupancy sampling (based on tracks and signs of more). Additional data will be collected using camera traps, enabling comparison of density estimates produced by the different types of surveys. The survey transects are distributed across a wide range of forest habitat types and each transect contains a number of 20m x 20m habitat survey plots. In each of these plots, tree species will be identified, and DBH and tree height will be measured. Large mammal data from each transect can then be related to mean habitat characteristics for the transect and comparisons between mammal abundance and habitat variables may be investigated.
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (CBR) in Mexico is an UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture and Nature and is part of the largest expanse of neotropical forest north of the Amazon, filled with ancient Mayan ruins and supporting one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. The CBR is also an extremely important wildlife corridor that is crucial for migrating
birds and mammals with extensive ranging patterns such as jaguar and Baird’s tapir. Over the last 10 years the reserve has experienced a notable reduction in rainfall. Monitoring data on birds, bats, herpetofauna, butterflies, ungulates, felids and primates are being used to evaluate the impact of climate change and changing rainfall patterns on the abundance, ranging and diversity of fauna to help determine when and where mitigation should be used to restore water sources. Data are also used to assess the efficacy of a range of sustainable development projects with buffer zone communities designed to minimise forest encroachment. In addition, there are specialist studies on jaguar and their preferred prey, behaviour of spider monkeys and population demographics of Morelet’s crocodiles.
In Mexico it is hot and humid. Temperatures rarely drop below mid 20s even at night. It is unlikely to rain much, but you do get occasional heavy showers during the season.
Fitness level required
Medium in the forest, low on the marine site. There are some reasonably long walks through the forest, terrain varies by camp with some being almost completely flat and others more undulating. On the marine site lower levels of fitness are required (although you will likely be very tired at the end of the day after the in-water sessions).
Facilities in the forest are basic (sleeping in tents or hammocks in a camp site), with a mixture of dry and trench toilets. There are freshwater showers but water conservation is particularly important to bear in mind. There are some limited opportunities to buy snacks at some forest camps and there is no phone signal at any of the sites. On the marine site the facilities are a little less rustic – you sleep in bunk beds in dormitories about 10 minutes drive from the beach. There is good phone signal and the site is well supplied with shops.