Professor Erik Olson has published multiple scientific papers, but a recently published paper was one of the most meaningful, he said.
Olson, along with Costa Rican collaborators, and most significantly his former student Parker Matzinger ’16, authored an article on Costa Rican jaguars—specifically one they named Macho Uno—in the Spring 2019 edition of Cat News.
Matzinger died in 2017 of natural causes while working on an unrelated research expedition in Panama.
In 2015, Matzinger was a student interested in international wildlife conservation. With the support of Costa Rican colleagues, he and Olson developed a camera trap monitoring project in Corcovado National Park, located on the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica.
As part of the project, Matzinger walked more than two hundred miles through the jungle. He mostly assessed the best and most efficient ways to monitor wildlife, a study he and Olson later presented at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology. The research also contributed to the first, nation-wide study of jaguar habitat in Costa Rica.
“Parker’s passion from a young age had always been wildlife research and conservation,” said his parents, Betsy and Jim Matzinger. “He was honored and elated to spend three months working under his mentor, Erik Olson, doing original research in Costa Rica as his capstone project.”
The very first camera Olson, Matzinger, and a Corcovado park guard, Alejandro Azofeifa, installed, captured a photograph of a jaguar they named, Macho Uno—first male. “It was one of the first sets of wildlife images we captured on camera,” Olson remembers, “We felt like this was a good sign.” Over time, Olson and his Costa Rican colleagues started reviewing other Costa Rican jaguar studies and found a 2008 image of a much younger Macho Uno.
“Having this male that is quite old living in the same spot for a significant number of years is good news,” Olson said.
Olson has detected Macho Uno on camera every year since he, Matzinger, and colleagues set up the first camera of the study. Identifying Macho Uno sparked a new question—what is the lifespan of jaguars in the wild? A question, that until recently, was unknown to science. To answer that question, Olson and colleagues searched the scientific literature and compiled a list of reported ages for wild jaguars. Olson, along with Costa Rican collaborators, published the results of that study in Cat News in autumn 2019.
Most jaguars don’t make it past fourteen in the wild, Olson said. Macho Uno, now twelve-to-fourteen years old, is one of the oldest known jaguars in the wild. “This is a sign of hope because if this one jaguar is able to subsist in one place for that long of a period of time, it suggests that the habitat and prey base are adequate.”
Matzinger, who co-developed the original study, is listed as a co-author on the “Macho Uno” paper because of his major contributions to the study. He’s not a co-author on the “Age of the Jaguar” paper because he wouldn’t have wanted his name on something he didn’t legitimately contribute to, Olson said. However, both papers list the following acknowledgment, “This work is dedicated to the memory of Parker J. Matzinger; he was a burst of light.”
The Matzingers established a paid internship to provide more student research opportunities. “We are very grateful for the research opportunities Parker was given and also grateful for the continued Costa Rica research completed by other Northland students over the past three years.”
Olson agrees. “The Matzingers’ support has allowed three additional students to get field experiences associated with this project. Experiences that will last them a lifetime, while also contributing to our understanding of wildlife in the Osa Peninsula,” Olson said. “Honoring Parker in the best way I can think of.”