July 26, 2016

Video shows tree climbers' exploration of Madagascar

Over winter break, from Jan. 5 to 16, a group with the Cornell Tree Climbing Institute (CTCI) travelled for the first time to Madagascar to scout the feasibility of future trips there and explore tree canopies in two regions.

While there, Dave Katz, CTCI director of international programs, collected video – including footage of climbers hanging in the trees – which was edited into a short film about the expedition.

“We filmed 14 hours of footage, from six cameras ranging from a Canon DSLR all the way down to an iPhone,” said Katz, who at age 31 has traveled to 78 countries. Katz also attached a GoPro camera to his helmet and used a drone to capture aerial shots of the landscape.

The group included eight Cornell Outdoor Education (COE) instructors, four of whom were Cornell students, including three undergraduates and a doctoral student. Five Malagasy entomology master’s students from the University of Antananarivo also participated.

While the instructors learned the nuts and bolts of climbing the unique trees on the world’s fourth-largest island, the expedition also provided canopy research opportunities for the Malagasy entomologists, who plan to continue researching these understudied habitats with the help of a local tree climbing instruction program, Mad’arbes.

“With these new skills, we hope to begin collecting and cataloging new ant species from the forest canopy,” said Andry Rakotomalala, one of the Malagasy students.

Katz and colleagues used the trip to scout and test the feasibility of adding Madagascar as a regular destination through CTCI. Another trip to Madagascar is planned for next year.

The video shows treetop views and landscapes from the two areas the group visited. During the first week, they traveled to the lowland Baobab tree forest on the island’s western coast, and in the second week, they explored the highland rainforest of Ranomafana National Park. In the east coast rainforest, the group stayed at Stony Brook University’s Central ValBio Research Station, which they used as a base camp for exploring and climbing more than 25 yards up in trees, where they spotted two species of lemurs, and chameleons, tree frogs and birds.

“The call of the wild lemurs is one of the most horrible and impressive sounds I have ever heard from a wild animal,” said Corey Ng ’17, a student and COE instructor who is majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology.

CTCI is part of Cornell Outdoor Education and offers physical education credit courses for Cornell students, tree climbing programs for children in the community, and tree-climbing training for scientists and community members.

Along with Ng, student participants included Erin Cantrell ’17, environmental science and sustainability; Zoe Maisel ’18, biological and environmental engineering; and Jason Jones, a doctoral candidate in the field of biomedical engineering.

CTCI collaborated with the California Academy of Sciences and the Madagascar Center for Biodiversity to create the exploratory expedition.