In an effort to determine the efficacy of various techniques for monitoring wildlife in the tropics, Northland College senior Parker Matzinger walked over three-hundred miles through the jungles of Costa Rica last winter.

Matzinger, who is double majoring in biology and natural resources, with an emphasis in fisheries and wildlife management, collaboratively developed his research project—to assess various wildlife tracking and monitoring devices—with Erik Olson, assistant professor of natural resources.

Matzinger was unsure of where to conduct this research. Olson suggested the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, where he is working on a larger ongoing project in Costa Rica assessing the abundance of wildlife, mainly jaguar and puma.

Costa Rica was possible, Olson said, because in 2013, Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas teamed up with the US National Park Service to sign a sister park agreement between the Osa Conservation Area and the national parks of the Great Lakes region.

“The sister park arrangement is critical for allowing the work that we’re doing in Costa Rica,” Olson said. “It laid the formal groundwork for collaboration on this type of research.”

The Osa Peninsula is estimated to house two-and-a-half percent of the biodiversity of the entire world, while covering less than a thousandth of a percent of its total surface, earning it the title as the most biologically intense place on earth.

Matzinger’s question is a simple but critical one for wildlife managers under budgetary constraints—what are the best and most efficient ways to monitor wildlife? Audio? Track surveys? Cameras?

Over the course of nearly three months, Matzinger, Olson, park staff, and local volunteers conducted track surveys while managing trail cameras and acoustic devices that record sound. Matzinger will analyze the findings for his senior thesis.

Matzinger and Olson left a few cameras in the park for Costa Rican officials to monitor in their search for rare and endangered wildlife species. Park officials are currently deploying trail cameras to an area where a jaguar was seen feeding on nesting sea turtles and Olson will be returning in February to complete a follow-up wildlife survey using trail cameras.

Costa Rican officials have noted the importance of the survey in advancing their understanding of the wildlife in the park. The project has allowed them to verify through the use of camera traps the presence and abundance of critically important wildlife, like jaguar and white-lipped peccary.

Olson and Matzinger hope to submit their findings to the peer-reviewed scientific journal Oryx.

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