For the final fieldwork of the TAMIU Study Abroad Program in the Philippines, the UPLB Museum of Natural History guided the delegates in exploring Mt. Makiling and discovering some of the fauna that inhabit the mountain last 30 June and 01 July 2017.

The TAMIU delegates were composed of ten students together with their professors Drs. Marcus and Ruby Ynalvez. The MNH team was composed of Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez, extension specialist Florante Cruz, entomologists David Emmanuel General and Jeremy Naredo, as well as field biologists James Alvarez and Camila Meneses. Museum technicians Edison Cosico and Orlando Eusebio along with two interns completed the team.

After an hour of hiking and upon reaching the Makiling Rainforest Park, the delegates pitched their tents and strung their hammocks at the MCME Nursery and prepared for the activities to be led by the MNH team after lunch.

James Alvarez started the activities, with the assistance of other MNH staff, by teaching the delegates how to set up a mist net in a forest. A mist net, usually made of nylon, resembles a fine volleyball net and is used for catching birds and bats. Along the trail to the Mudsprings, James Alvarez and Edison Cosico taught the delegates how to assemble and set up a harp trap. As its name suggests, a harp trap resembles a harp with aluminum frames that holds hundreds of tight, vertically-stretched fishing lines. The strings stop the bats which try to pass through and send them downward to a cloth receptacle which keeps the bats from escaping

Upon reaching the Mudspring, the students took a short break while observing the boiling mud in Mt. Makiling’s vent and the sulfuric steam rising to the trees nearby. At the location, Jeremy Naredo and David General facilitated the delegates’ practice in collecting insects using sweep nets, beating nets and pitfall traps. With the assistance of other MNH staff, the delegates had a fun time capturing the different variety of insects found along the trails as they headed back to the base camp.

After sunset, the delegates went back to check the nets for any captured bats. The harp traps had captured more than a dozen insect bats and the delegates had the chance to take them out and put them inside bags. Some bats were harder to catch as they kept on flapping their wings and opening their mouths but everyone was ready to take the challenge.

The delegates also did herping for the first time after retrieving the bats. They were tasked to catch at least one frog and a lizard or snake. Nobody from the group thought that someone would be able to catch a snake but Selena Infante did, and it was the rare snake Hologerrhum philippinum.

After patiently waiting among the plants and sneaking quietly along the trail, students caught frogs of different sizes and species. TAMIU students Alexa and Richard even caught a total of eight frogs and a gecko. Back at the camp, James Alvarez wrapped up the activity by giving a brief assessment of the reptiles and bats they caught. Then, everyone headed back to the tents to get some well-deserved rest after a tiring but productive day.

Very early the next day, the delegates again checked the mist net and also found more than a dozen fruit and insect bats struggling to escape. Taking the bats off the mist net proved to be more difficult as these were all entangled in the lines, But with careful hands and the assistance of the MNH team, the delegates managed to take the bats safely off the nets. Camila Meneses also discussed how to determine the age and sex of the bats through the membrane of their wings, the nipples found at their sides and the shape of their sex organs. Delegates were able to identify young, sub-adult and adult bats during the exercise.

After an energizing breakfast, everyone geared up to hike up to Mt. Makiling’s Camp Malaboo which is six stations away from where the delegates are camped. On most parts, the road is cemented but after passing the Agila Base, the terrain became was rocky and slippery. Fighting the urge of giving up because of aching legs, intense heat and sweat, the delegates reached Camp Malaboo one after the other with grins in their faces.

While everyone was resting, James Alvarez discussed the importance of tropical forests in the global aspect. While contemplating on the need to address the impact of human activity to forests, he gave the students a question to ponder, “Which is more important: protecting the people or protecting the environment?” David General also shared the history behind the existence of the Mt. Makiling stations and the mountain’s significance as a training ground for many of the best scientists and researchers in the country.

The students had lunch back at the camp and rested for a while before dismantling their tents. Despite the exhausting descent from Mt. Makiling, everyone kept a cheery mood and got back to the Museum around 2:00 in the afternoon.

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