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Kevin McLean

www.kevin-mclean.com

Kevin McLean is an ecologist studying wildlife in tropical forest canopies using motion-sensitive cameras (camera traps). As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow he will travel to Malaysian Borneo and the Ecuadorian Amazon to survey canopy wildlife in two of the most biodiverse areas of the world. As he collects his scientific data, he will use writing, photos, and videos to provide a view of some of the least-known species in the forest. His research and stories will be made available to the public through a museum exhibit that will highlight canopy wildlife and the conservation threats they face. Kevin studied Earth Systems at Stanford University and recently completed his PhD in Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Dodging a Heavy Bough, Fleeing Angry Wasps — Another day in Yasuni Rain Forest

I have now reached the final push in deploying cameras in the canopy. I’m sitting at in the library of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station near Yasuní National Park after placing cameras in six Ficus trees spread across the trails near the research facility. I’ve also got cameras running at the Yasuní Research Station, two hours up the river, where I’ll return to set up a few more cameras later this week.

The past few days have involved a lot of climbing, most of which has been in trees I had never climbed before. The canopy habitat is dynamic, changing frequently as storms weaken structures and animals move in and out of their homes. Because of this, even on familiar trees, every climb is new to some extent, but I tend to find the first ascent of a new tree holds the most surprises, delightful or otherwise.

Side Gig: Canopy Tour Guide

One of the many safety precautions I take in my work is to never climb alone. Sometimes that just means bringing someone else into the forest to hang out on the ground while I battle the ropes, branches, string, ants, and any number of other hazards above. Whenever possible, however, I like to bring people…

The Last Climb in Borneo

Sometimes things are hardest right before you reach the finish line. Then you remember that it’s not actually the finish line, it’s just the halfway point. This is an account of my last climb in Malaysian Borneo, but I’ve got many more to come in the Ecuadorean Amazon. There are times when it feels like…

Borneo’s Gliding Giants

Just as the sun sets a whiskered nose pokes out of a hole 15 stories above the forest floor. As the light dims a furry head, body, and massive tail follow. Crawling on a branch it isn’t unstable, just a bit awkward and perhaps overburdened, like when you have to delicately shuffle your way over…

Senses at Work in Danum Valley

I’ve been in Danum Valley, a protected forest in Malaysian Borneo, for just over two months. In addition to setting up camera traps in the canopy, I’ve also been setting a ground-level network of cameras, which have to be rotated every few weeks. Because of this, my field schedule involves a great deal of waiting,…

Work Hazards: Bornean Pygmy Elephants

On the drive into Danum Valley Field Center in Sabah, Malaysia, I caught a glimpse of one of the most iconic species in the Bornean rainforest – the Bornean Pygmy Elephant. They had been walking on the road, but just as our van came around the bend they retreated by the forest. As we passed…

Penang: An unexpected biodiversity destination

Mention that you are heading to Penang and you are inevitably met with the same question: “Penang? Like the curry?” You are forced to face the collective ignorance of your community when you realize that you, your friends, your family, and the guy who talked you into taking a middle seat on a transcontinental flight…

Tallest trees in the tropics discovered

From a freezing hotel ballroom in Kota Kinabalu, an exciting announcement was made about the sweltering tropical forests in the Heart of Borneo, in an area on the interior of Southeast Asia that straddles the borders of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Using laser-scanning technology known as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), Greg Asner of Stanford University and the…

Lessons learned in tropical tree climbing

Oh yeah, I forgot about that… The beginning of any field study includes at least a few remedial lessons. For weeks before I start climbing, I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic that I have forgotten all my knots. I look over old gear lists trying to figure out what…

I wonder what’s up there?

Five years ago I met an anteater that changed my life. As a first-year grad student, I was in the midst of my academic identity crisis trying to figure out what exactly I was going to study. I joined a team of researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama to survey wildlife in…

Surveying Canopy Wildlife: A Brief Look at Looking Up

There is more to come in the way of introductions, but here is a quick first look at my project, Looking Up: A Canopy Wildlife Expedition. Throughout the year, I’ll be conducting wildlife surveys in forest canopies of Malaysia and Ecuador. As a scientist, I’m excited to expand my work to new research sites. Camera trapping…