By: Amanda L’Hussier
It is one thing to study a foreign rainforest on your own, but imagine teaching the people who live there how to share it with jaguars.
That’s what happened to Matt Hallett, the 2015 scholarship winner of the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment University of Florida scholarship.
Hallett was in his first of year collecting data in Guyana when he received the grant.
“I was very stressed and nervous about funding… it could make or break my project,” Hallett said. “That is when I received the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment scholarship. This was a critical time in my research.”
The men he’d been working with were farmers, hunters and fisherman who depended on the food they gathered themselves to survive. Working with Hallett collecting research didn’t give them the time they needed to be collecting food for their families. But with the grant, Hallett was able to hire them for their work.
He trained and employed about 100 indigenous Guyanese; many of them still work with him but others have taken their skills into new jobs.
In Guyana, Hallett was researching large mammals; especially jaguars. He focused his research on understanding what drove the abundance and distribution of jaguars. He asked questions like “How are they spread out in space? Why are they where they are? How many can live in one area?
Guyana is full of natural savannah and forest areas. Jaguars are usually associated with tropical rain forests but they can also live in desserts, swamps and open grass.
Hallett, who earned his bachelor’s at the College of Charleston, his master’s at Miami University (Ohio) and his doctorate at the University of Florida, was researching how jaguars use the savannah habitats versus tropical forests.
His project worked across a very large area, about 20,000 square kilometers, making for camouflage traps at over 400 sites across about 15 different indigenous communities, five ranches and two protected areas.
Hallett and his Guyanese team called themselves the Rupununi Wildlife Research Unit.”
“Now I am getting ready to start a position with the Jacksonville Zoo, specifically working on a program in Guyana,” said Hallett. “The funds from the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment made a tremendous impact on my own research, as well as the people of the Rupununi Region of Guyana.”
To learn more about RWRU, go to Facebook (‘Rupununi Wildlife Research Unit’ – https://www.facebook.com/rwru2015/), Instagram (rupununiwildlife), Twitter (@RupWildlife), and YouTube (Rupununi Wildlife).