Investigational work: looking for Jaguar tracks

dezembro, 21 2010

Federico Gemésio Lemos, a 29 year-old specialist in mammalian fauna and assistant professor of zoology and animal ecology at the Catalão campus of the Federal University of Goiás.

By Ligia Paes de Barros

The 3rd Scientific Expedition to the Terra do Meio - Serra do Pardo National Park, had a 12-member team of researchers all experienced experts in their fields and highly keen on their work. For several days and nights they walked up and down the trails looking for indicator species for local biodiversity. Learn a little about those scientists’ research work and find out more about the plants, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians that they came across during the expedition.

Federico Gemésio Lemos, a 29 year-old specialist in mammalian fauna and assistant professor of zoology and animal ecology at the Catalão campus of the Federal University of Goiás.

- What is your research routine like here?

My colleague Allan Nilo da Costa and I usually set out along one of the trails at five thirty in the morning and try to actually spot the local mammals. Because that kind of visualisation is not easy to achieve, a good part of my work involves tracking the animals, that is to say, looking for signs of their presence like tracks, faeces, smells, or scratch marks on trees. It is investigative work aimed at identifying which animals passed this way.

There is also complementary work that consists of setting camera traps where an ordinary photographic camera is connected to sensors that detect movement and infrared heat. They are hung among the trees so that they will be activated when any animal goes past them. I go out walking first to check the field, to look for tracks, fruit bearing trees, or even water; the kind of places the animals are sure to visit, and then set up traps there. The camera works for 24 hours and sometime later I go back to the spot and retrieve it. However, I will only actually find out whether any animals were caught on film when I get back to the city and develop it.

Another very useful method is to talk to local people. In this case I talked to the members of the logistics support team who had all done a lot of walking through the forest in the region and they gave me information about the animals they had seen around here.

- What kind of animals have you identified in the Serra do Pardo National Park?

We have found more than twenty-five species of large and medium-sized mammals. That is very encouraging because among the species there are some that are hunted intensely in other regions of the Amazon and even in the Cerrado savannahs and for that reason are rapidly disappearing. Here we have found tapirs, peccaries with their young, spider monkeys with their young, giant otters with their young and many others That shows that not only have we found many individual representatives of species that are of special importance because their existence is threatened in other regions, but we are finding them together with their offspring, which means that they are reproducing.

In addition to those species we registered the presence of the giant armadillo which is a very little known species and naturally rare. In seven years of expeditions and frequent field trips, I have only came across one once.

We also registered the presence of predators at the top of the food chain like the jaguar and the puma. They are excellent indicators of the quality of the environment because the presence of creatures that are at the peak of the local ecosystem means that the ecosystem below them is necessarily in a healthy state.

- What does taking part in an expedition of this kind mean to you as a researcher?

Being in the field is a part of my normal routine but taking part in an expedition like this as part of such a highly experienced team is a real privilege. This is not my first expedition in the Amazon , but this particular expedition in the Serra do Pardo National Park, which is an unknown area where very few people have ever trodden, even in the globalized world of today, is absolutely marvellous, both personally and professionally. It is all the more special because it is an area that nobody knows. As an example, everyone believed that there were jaguars here but nobody knew it for a fact. Now however, we have registered the presence of jaguars and we can authoritatively affirm it.

- Aren’t you afraid when you walk in the depths of the forest that you might meet up with a jaguar or some other creature that you cannot defend yourself from?

Look, it is so hard to spot an animal like a giant armadillo or a jaguar in the forest and I am always so anxious to actually see them that I wander around as if I were in a trance and there is not much room left for fear. It is actually what I like doing most of all.

To know more about the Scientific Expedition to Terra do Meio 2010:

Pesquisador de mastofauna, Frederico Gemésio.
Mammal fauna researcher Frederico Gemésio.
© WWF-Brasil / Adriano Gambarini
Pesquisador de mastofauna Alan Nilo da Costa.
Mammal fauna researcher Alan Nilo da Costa.
© WWF-Brasil / Adriano Gambarini
Ariranha encontrada no rio Xingu durante a expedição.
Meeting up with an otter in the Xingu river during the expedition.
© WWF-Brasil / Adriano Gambarini
Macaco-aranha no Parque Nacional da Serra do Pardo.
Spider Monkey in the Serra do Pardo National Park.
© WWF-Brasil / Adriano Gambarini