Using tech to bring students closer to nature

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Yahoo India, Cartagena, Colombia

Children in India, as in the United States, are learning about the wild along with their school curriculum thanks to a North Carolina-based biologist who is using technology to bring them closer to nature.

They are using "eMammal" to create natural and cultural connections.

For mammalogist Stephanie Schuttler, given the current decline of many species, "citizen science" is important for ecological monitoring to collect long-term and large-scale animal population data while engaging the public.

Reaching out to the youth is especially important as connections formed with nature during this time can last into adulthood, creating lifelong concerned citizens, Schuttler, who is associated with North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, told IANS.

She is here to participate in the Society for Conservation Biology's five-day 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB 2017) that will conclude on July 27.

With more than 2,000 conservation professionals and students coming together, the ICCB is a forum for addressing conservation challenges.

Elaborating on her school-centric project, she said: "Through the eMammal Academy, we demonstrate that kids as young as nine years old can collect valuable mammal monitoring data using camera traps."

Indian, Kenyan, Mexican and American students sampled areas around their schoolyards and detected 21, 37, 18, and 13 species, including 12 species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list in the categories of vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered.

According to Schuttler, cameras deployed by students captured high-profile, charismatic species of international recognition, including the black rhinoceros and Royal Bengal tiger.

"Similarly, in the US, we compared camera trap results collected by kids to similar dataset from a state park and found that students captured six more species and had higher detection rates for carnivores, including coyotes, and red and grey foxes despite lesser camera trap days," she said.

The eMammal Academy is incorporated into schools using lesson plans co-created by teachers and scientists.

Schuttler, who was studying animal behavior, specifically the social structure of African forest elephants, said many teachers reported that eMammal Academy provided an effective tool to engage students and provoke curiosity.

In some classrooms, students were so excited to check camera traps that they counted down the days until they could do so and "screamed with excitement when they viewed the images of animals".

In each country, the impact of student-collected research using camera trap photos spread beyond the classrooms and included presentations by children to local politicians, community conservation days and national news coverage.

Citing an example, she said that, in Mexico, students invited and presented camera trap results to the Mayor of Guadalajara and the American Ambassador to Mexico on a large "camera trap" they created using a television screen.

These community events led to discussions about the management and conservation of local mammals based on real information gathered by the children, allowing information to "trickle up" to the adults in the community.

Vishal Gulati is a special correspondent for Indo-Asian News Service currently in Cartagena for the Internews' Earth Journalism Network Biodiversity Fellowship Programme at the International Congress for Conservation Biology. He can be reached at gulatiians@gmail.com