Schoolyards teem with children by day. But what comes around when class is not in session?
Thousands of kids around the world have been asking that question for four years - and using camera traps to get some wild answers. In central India, students learned, tigers and endangered wild dogs called dholes tour their school grounds. In central Kenya, the rarely-seen jaguarundi cat hunts on school property.
The images were captured in four countries by students ages 9 to 14 and their teachers, all participants in a study run out of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University. And the wildlife they documented stunned even the researchers who'd armed them with the cameras.
"I was initially worried we'd just get stray cats and dogs," said Stephanie Schuttler, a research associate at the museum and the lead author of a new paper on the study. "So we were really shocked by the diversity."
The collection of images - taken in Maharashtra, across Laikipia County in Kenya, outside the Mexican city of Guadalajara and across North Carolina - features 83 mammal species, 15 of which are endangered. The images are being stored in a Smithsonian repository.
For the scientists, it amounted to proof that child "citizen scientists" can produce data that is useful to researchers, Schuttler said, and that wild animals roam all sorts of developed habitat.
"A lot of scientists don't study animals outside parks, but we really need to," Schuttler said. "People live in between, and we're going to have to understand how these animals are using these spaces."
For the kids, the study has been engaging, not to mention suspenseful - but in a good way. The paper describes students at one North Carolina school who were "so excited to check the camera traps that they counted down the days and 'screamed' with excitement when they viewed the images of the animals they had captured."
"They became very proud of their data," Schuttler said. "Most of these animals, people would never see."
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