Colin Garland, a wildlife photographer and founder of the Big Cats Research Project, presented a snapshot of the project’s research and photographs at Binghamton University on Thursday.
The Big Cats Research Project exposes students and volunteers to the environment and ecology of South Africa in the 70,000 square mile Kruger Park.
Throughout the duration of their stay, participants live in tents in compounds in the park and, due to the close proximity, fall asleep each night to the laughter of hyenas and the roar of lions.
The goal of the project is to take photographs of big cats, and to compile the best photographs into a catalog. Along with taking photographs, the project also aims to collect data on the cats to track them, see how far they migrate and observe mating patterns.
Every day, the participants start their work at 6 a.m. From the moment the volunteers leave their tents, they are surrounded by giraffes, elephants, zebras, impalas and rhinos.
According to Garland, they have to wake up early so they can photograph lions sleeping in the middle of the roads throughout the park in the early morning.
Constance Woodman, a graduate student studying biology, said being in the field is an important aspect to learning.
“I think that field experience is most valuable for students to have because when we transcend the abstract learning process for the BU student into an ecologically and socially valuable experience, then education is really doing its job,” Woodman said.
According to Garland, traveling to a different country for the project is beneficial to students because of the deep and profound changes that living in a different country has on people.
Garland has always had a passion for cats because he learned a lot about cats from his Native American grandparents when he was a child. He said he decided to focus on cats because they are becoming increasingly endangered.
Emily Runninger, a freshman majoring in engineering, said it is impressive that volunteers can directly work with the big cats.
“What I find the most interesting is that they’re able to have such close contact with wild animals,” Runninger said.