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Biology Students Study Wildlife in Yucatan


Conversations were deep. The questions were endless. And Assistant Professor of Biology Markus Tellkamp had an answer for each query. Such ready explanations were an impressive part of the tropical conservation Winter Intersession 2012 class, as were the questions of the 10 students from the Division of Sciences.

Students were impressed, and not only with their professor's knowledge on this five-day excursion into the jungle at Kaxil Kiuic: A Biocultural Reserve operated by Millsaps College in the Mexican state of Yucatán. They were impressed with the hands-on experience and with what each contributed to the exchange. The students' conversations, questions and their answers demonstrated the unbridled curiosity and critical thinking common among Millsaps scholars.

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Mist nets are used by Tellkamp and his students to acquire birds and bats of the region for study. Similar in appearance to badminton nets, mist nets are thin and black, and virtually disappear when spread amid jungle trees and vegetation. Mist nets contain a pocket at the bottom so when birds are stopped by them, the bird sinks to the soft mesh pocket to be held until researchers arrive to check nets, which occurs every 20-30 minutes. Catching and tagging birds (and bats!) and later releasing them were regular activities of the tropical conservation class. 

Without a doubt, Millsaps College programs in the Yucatán Peninsula offer varied ways for students to gain international experiences. This distinctive experience for students has included outstanding events such as an expedition where camera traps documented the first visual evidence of jaguars in the 4000-acre biocultural reserve operated by Millsaps College; for seven Millsaps students, it included being filmed by National Geographic during a summer 2011 archaeological dig that is featured in the documentary "Quest for the Lost Maya" broadcast on Public Broadcasting Service domestically and internationally in 2012.

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There may be no other study abroad opportunity like Millsaps', says Kaxil Kiuic Reserve Director James Callaghan, who states that now all of the five cats known to exist in the Yucatán Peninsula, such as the female jaguar photographed with the camera trap at Kiuic, are now documented to have a presence at the reserve.