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Students in Belize Course Encounter Rare Rainforest Cat

margay

During this year's Field Study in Belize course, Meg Armistead (EcoBio, C’14) and Sarah Delong (EcoBio, C’13) were lucky enough to see a margay, a rare rainforest cat species.

While on a night hike in BFREE rainforest reserve, the students ran into Dan Dourson (resident biologist) who was able to point out the eyes of the margay catching the light of his headlamp. They walked silently up to the tree where the margay was crouched. After a couple of minutes of looking at the group, the margay climbed down the tree headfirst and loped off into the forest. Margays are the smallest of all the Belizean cats, not being much larger than a house cat. It is mostly arboreal and feeds on opossums, squirrels, monkeys and birds. Being nocturnal and very secretive, these cats are rarely seen in Belize. Margays are near threatened status, with declining populations due to their inability to adapt to human disturbance. 

“Field Studies in Belize” is a 10-day intensive immersion course in which Sewanee students study coral reef and rainforest ecosystems at two separate field stations in Belize.  The course is led by Professor Jon Evans of the Biology Department and assisted by Jordan Casey (EcoBio ’09) who is currently a PhD student in marine ecology at Cook University in Australia.  This year, 10 students participated in the program from May 29 – June 9.  After extensive field exploration and natural history study, students conduct a research project at each site.  This year at the BFREE rainforest field station, students studied bird distribution along a tropical river, land snail diversity, and the population structure of two rainforest tree species.  At South Water Caye on the Belizean Barrier Reef, students examined the territorial behavior of different damselfish species, the association of goby cleaner fish with different coral species and documented an apparent mass mortality event in sea fans.