“Falling” for Field Research

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Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest Journals. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

J.P. Montagne, a Senior Research Technician at the Zoo, told us all about biodiversity and why it’s so important to protect. Something I was surprised to learn was that the Wild Animal Park (WAP) is situated on 1800 acres, only 900 of which can ever be developed, the other 900 are preserved for conservation. 600 of the undeveloped acres are part of the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP). The MSCP works to conserve biodiversity by preserving a network of interconnected habitats. It just so happens that San Diego County has the highest number of endemic plant and animal species (“endemic” means found nowhere else on the planet), higher than any other county in the continental United States the bulk of which are located on WAP lands.

So what were we going to do for the day? I wasn’t too sure on what “Applied Animal Ecology” meant but when Mr. Montagne hurried through our lecture on account of wanting us to have as much time out on the field as possible, I knew that we were going to do some field research. We checked several arrays of pitfall traps where reptiles, amphibians, and even bugs had fallen in over night. These traps consisted of fencing and buckets buried into the ground. The hope was that something would crash into the fencing and either veer right or left and eventually fall into the buckets where we would uncover it and log our findings.

I love all animals but lizards have never have been high on my list of favorites. So when Mr. Montagne opened that first bucket and uncovered a tiny juvenile orange-throated whiptail I didn’t expect to think it was the cutest things I’d ever seen. When Mr. Montagne offered to let us hold the lizard, I jumped at the opportunity. Although I did have a pet iguana a couple years back, I had never held such a tiny animal in my hands, so needless to say I was more than a bit scared of crushing it in my fingers. But the second I felt that tiny creature’s heartbeat between my fingers I was immediately astounded. It was such a small animal that I was surprised at the strength of its heartbeat. After that I went from bucket to bucket, fervently hoping to find another little heartbeat.

Regina, Photography Team