Community, Alumni Have Chance to Join Professors at Tropical Biosphere Reserve

February 18, 2015

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Highlands University biology professors Jesús Rivas and Sarah Corey-Rivas are pictured in Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve in June 2014.

Las Vegas, N.M. – Community members and alumni will have the chance to join two Highlands University biology professors on an expedition this summer to the tropical Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve near Veracruz, Mexico.

The expedition will be Aug. 9 – 20th.

Tropical ecologists Jesús Rivas and Sarah Corey-Rivas will interpret the extreme biodiversity in the lush rainforest reserve that includes some of the most abundant tropical wildlife in the world, from howler monkeys to brilliant red and yellow toucan birds and an endless variety of colorful frogs.

Looking up, the dense canopy of the rainforest includes towering tropical trees like Mayan breadnut. Orchids and other tropical flowers add bright splashes of color to the vivid green palate of the jungle.

“I think this is an incredible and rare opportunity for ecotourists to be plunged into a breathtakingly beautiful tropical ecosystem with two charismatic scientists who have the rare ability to easily break the science down for laypeople,” said cinematographer Ed George, who has worked with the two on a number of wildlife documentaries for National Geographic.

“Jesús and Sarah are a terrific team and work well together as equals in the field. Jesús is a highly informed and meticulous scientist and an Indiana Jones-type adventurer in fieldwork. Sarah is a very self-assured, thoughtful scientist with a quiet confidence and passion for the natural world. Both are exceptional tropical ecologists,” George said.

He worked with the married couple most recently in the 2010 National Geographic film, Anacondas – Queen of the Serpents, saying the two have an engaging style and fearless approach to fieldwork.

The Venezuelan-born Rivas is the world’s foremost expert on giant anacondas. Both professors earned their Ph.Ds. in evolution and ecology – Rivas from the University of Tennessee and Corey-Rivas from Ohio State University. Both are widely published.

“In our daily excursions into the jungle we will be seeing mammals like tropical raccoons and sloths,” Rivas said. “Parrot snakes are a vivid bright green and are one of the many non-venomous snakes, while basilisk lizards literally run on the water. At night we’ll be trapping bats to study.”

The majority of the expedition will be centered around Los Tuxtlas Research Station, where scientists from around the globe conduct research.

“Los Tuxtlas reserve is designated as one of the top places in the world where we should focus our conservation efforts,” Corey-Rivas said. “One of the things that is most heartening for someone concerned about conservation is to see first hand how scientists on the ground are examining and deciphering ecosystem function.”

Three days will be spent on the nearby Gulf Coast of Mexico in the Rancho de las Amigas agricultural refuge, a sustainable farm-to table-operation. There will be chances to swim and kayak in the Sontecomapan estuary and with luck, sea turtles will be laying their eggs on the beach at night.

The expedition can accommodate six ecotourists and the cost is $2,000 per person, plus air faire. Lodging is included in private rooms with private bathrooms.

Because the proceeds will help pay for students in Rivas’ tropical ecology class at Highlands to participate in the expedition, $1,500 of the cost is considered a tax-deductible donation.

The professors said that in past excursions, ecotourists said they enjoyed learning alongside the students.

For more information, contact Rivas at rivas@nmhu.edu