We Are Here
by Dr. Carlos López González
I am a wildlife biologist and have been researching
wild cats and other carnivores at Chamela since 1992.
As predators, the carnivores play an important role
in the forest ecosystem. Their feeding patterns directly
impact the number of prey small mammals, reptiles,
birds, and insects in the entire forest.
This dry forest is thought to have a large number
of carnivore species six kinds of cats, two members
of the canine family (coyote, gray fox), and a variety
of smaller animals including three types of skunk.
However, we know very little about these animals
how many different species there are, which areas of
the forest they visit, and how they relate to one another.
For example, are carnivores such as pumas, ocelots,
and coyotes competing for prey? How large an area do
jaguarundi or foxes need to survive? What elements of
the habitat are most important for conservation? The
goal of our research is to find answers to these questions.
We are using different methods to document and track
carnivore activity. One method is to place over 60 'live'
traps along trails and riverbeds to capture the animals.
These traps are like the ones shown in the photograph.
The larger wire-cage trap is used to catch medium to
small carnivores like ocelots and coatimundi (a relative
of the raccoon). The smaller traps are used to catch
the pygmy spotted skunk, a species of skunk found only
in the Mexican dry forest.
Soft-catch leg-hold traps are used for the larger
carnivores such as coyotes and jaguars. We have captured
only one jaguar in five years! Several coyotes have
'Live' traps are designed to keep the animals alive
and minimize any harm to them. The traps are baited
with chicken, sausage, and other tasty items to lure
the animals into the traps.
If a 'study' animal is caught, we take measurements
and examine the animal carefully to assess its health.
The animal is then tattooed and released. Some animals
like ocelots, coyotes, and skunks are fitted with radio-transmitter
collars so that we can track their movements after the
animals are released. Coatimundis are the most frequently
captured species 47 'coatis' since 1992, followed
by pygmy spotted skunks (36 total), and ocelots (28
We use two other kinds of traps: a 'camera' trap and
a 'scent station' trap. These are not really traps because
they do not capture the animals. The camera trap takes
a photograph of the animal as it goes by. The scent
station is a small area of the trail that we prepare
with a smelly pellet to attract animals. We then check
In the next field report, I'll show you how we interpret
photographs and tracks, and you can try out your skill
identifying some 'mystery' animals.