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eMammal International Students Visit Raleigh

May 30, 2015

This post is brought to you by Erin Phillips! Erin is a Development Officer, one of the Museum’s amazing grant writers, and was involved in the citizen science project featured this month. Thanks Erin!

eMammal group

Our international guests along with Museum staff while visiting North Garner Middle School

Imagine seeing, for the first time, an ocelot from Mexico, or a dhole from India, all from the comfort of a middle school classroom. A select group of Wake County Public School students and teachers from Carroll, East Cary, East Wake, and North Garner Middle Schools have enjoyed just such an opportunity recently as they continue to participate in eMammal International. The project seeks to promote cultural understanding among children between the ages of 11 and 14 through the lens of applied scientific research among middle schools in the United States, India, and Mexico. The international project, led by NC State University post-doctoral researcher Dr. Stephanie Schuttler, expands upon the work of Dr. Roland Kays (the Museum’s Biodiversity Lab Director) and his ongoing research project, eMammal, a citizen science project that uses camera traps to document animal population sizes and habitat use.

eMammal ring-tailed ground squirrel

A camera trap image of a ring-tailed ground squirrel, an endemic species to Mexico

The Museum, the Bombay Natural History Society (Mumbai, India), and the Museo de Paleontología (Guadalajara, Mexico) have been working together to collaboratively engage children and their teachers while also generating data for scientists in each of their respective countries. eMammal International is one of nine new projects funded by the Museums ConnectSM program, which is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State that is administered by the American Alliance of Museums. The program links U.S. communities with communities around the world through innovative, museum-based exchanges that foster cultural understanding among community members, especially youth, while exploring topics of mutual interest, such as the environment, social inclusion, and women’s empowerment. In addition to raising cross-cultural awareness, eMammal International teaches students more about the scientific method and introduces them to intriguing careers in STEM fields as they actively contribute to making new discoveries about how wildlife adapts to humans around the world.

eMammal Dhole

A camera trap image of a dhole at Jaisewa Adarsh High School in Maharashtra state, close to Nagpur (Central India)

Throughout this past year, these countries, together with schools in North Carolina, have collected and shared their camera trap images. To celebrate their hard work, a few weeks ago they all united in Raleigh to explore American culture and present eMammal findings. Six teachers and students from each country traveled to the U.S. to participate in this weeklong capstone experience. The Capstone event was held at the Museum to celebrate this innovative project and brought more than 200 participants together to share their experiences and images.

eMammal ocelot

A camera trap image of an ocelot in El Mexicano, Ixtlahuacán del Río

To date, camera trap images collected from this project have found a total of 40 species across the three countries; 18 in Mexico (including humans), 11 in Raleigh (nine of these species were also seen in Mexico), and 24 in India. India had 20 unique species (i.e. other than humans and domestics) and two of the species found, a tiger and dhole, are endangered. One of the species found in Mexico, a ring-tailed ground squirrel, is endemic (found nowhere else) to Mexico.

Early data has already proved intriguing, according to Kays. “The cameras have revealed a surprising diversity of mammals, not only in suburban Raleigh, but also in forests surrounding the Indian and Mexican schools. Raleigh kids (and scientists) were surprised to photograph a coyote on school property at Carrol Middle School, near the North Hills Mall. Outside of Guadalajara, the Mexican students’ cameras recorded some species that were also found in North Carolina — such as white-tailed deer, coyote, and gray fox — but also two tropical cat species — ocelot and jaguarundi. The biggest wildlife came from the Indian cameras, which proved that tigers, leopards, and dholes were using the same forest paths that local communities walked daily.”

eMammal Grey foxes

A camera trap image of gray foxes playing at East Cary Middle School

This project has attracted a lot of national attention and as a result there were several high level officials in attendance, including Stacy White, Cultural Programs Division Chief at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; Austen Shearer from the office of Senator Thom Tillis; and Betty Jo Shepheard from the office of Senator Richard Burr. Stacy White spoke at the event: “You should all be very proud of yourselves because you are all citizen diplomats; you are ambassadors of your country. In participating in this project you’re sharing what you know and you’re learning about another place and another culture. This is about an opportunity for all of us to work together to make the planet a better place by understanding each other. We hope that this project has been planting some seeds that will continue to grow.”

eMammal group in field

Collecting images from a camera trap at Raven Rock State Park

The rest of the week was jam-packed with activities to immerse our international guests in American culture and to showcase some of North Carolina’s cultural attractions, from the Museum to the Zoo to Raven Rock State Park. Highlights included sampling invertebrates, collecting camera trap images and partaking in the American tradition of making s’mores at Raven Rock State Park, painting a tiger that replicates a camera trap image taken in India, and receiving a private tour at the Zoo that included meeting Stanley the Rhino. Overall the week was a huge success and we truly made some memorable experiences for our guests from India, Mexico, and North Carolina.

eMammal International runs through June 2015 but plans are underway to continue this international project as well as to branch out to partner with other countries. To learn more about getting involved with eMammal, check out their list of active citizen science projects available on their website at http://emammal.si.edu/content/about-emammal.

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