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Wildlife expedition tonight at Mocha Maya’s

  • Global Classroom director Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls listens for the pulse of a dying cheetah in a Namibian wildlife preserve. The cheetah had a lethal virus, but its life was saved by antibiotics. Submitted photo.

    Global Classroom director Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls listens for the pulse of a dying cheetah in a Namibian wildlife preserve. The cheetah had a lethal virus, but its life was saved by antibiotics. Submitted photo. Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left: Kathy Leone and Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls with a 2-week-old  orphaned leopard cub in Namibia. Both will give a talk about their work Wednesday night at Mocha Maya's. Submitted photo.

    From left: Kathy Leone and Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls with a 2-week-old orphaned leopard cub in Namibia. Both will give a talk about their work Wednesday night at Mocha Maya's. Submitted photo. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Global Classroom director Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls listens for the pulse of a dying cheetah in a Namibia wildlife preserve. The cheetah had a lethal virus, but its life was saved by antibiotics. Submitted photo.

    Global Classroom director Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls listens for the pulse of a dying cheetah in a Namibia wildlife preserve. The cheetah had a lethal virus, but its life was saved by antibiotics. Submitted photo. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Global Classroom director Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls listens for the pulse of a dying cheetah in a Namibian wildlife preserve. The cheetah had a lethal virus, but its life was saved by antibiotics. Submitted photo.
  • From left: Kathy Leone and Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls with a 2-week-old  orphaned leopard cub in Namibia. Both will give a talk about their work Wednesday night at Mocha Maya's. Submitted photo.
  • Global Classroom director Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls listens for the pulse of a dying cheetah in a Namibia wildlife preserve. The cheetah had a lethal virus, but its life was saved by antibiotics. Submitted photo.

SHELBURNE FALLS — Dramatic photos of cheetahs, leopards, a newborn baboon, and breaching whales are now on display at Mocha Maya’s cafe. Today, Colin Garland of Shelburne Falls, who leads local and international students on these wildlife research expeditions, will give a free talk and multimedia presentation of his “Global Classroom” work, beginning at 7 p.m. in Mocha Maya’s.

In 1986, Garland began working with former Mohawk teacher Will Kendzior, taking local Mohawk students on wildlife outings and, eventually, to a Costa Rican rainforest, where they saw a jaguar in the wild. That experience inspired Garland and the students to begin a $40,000 fundraiser to buy and preserve that old-growth forest, which was slated to be cleared. Today, Garland and others have raised at least $1 million for purchase, preservation and maintenance of the 700-acre Aula Global Nature Reserve, which is a significant setting for Global Classroom activities.

Garland started Global Classroom in 1992 — an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that takes young adults to wild places, where they gain first-hand experience and perform ecology service projects. Students raise the money to pay for the cost of their trips, then lodge with local families as much as possible.

Garland attended Mohawk and the Franklin County Technical School while growing up; he now travels about 10 months of the year to lead the wildlife expeditions.

Global Classroom’s Big Cat Research Project is a multi-year effort to “catalog” large, endangered species through photography, GPS-based sightings, and, when possible through bio-collars, which are designed to self-release after a period of time. “But 90 percent of our work is completely hands-off through observation,” he said.

“Spotted cats are like fingerprints,” Garland says. “Every one of these (spotting) patterns is unique. We try to photograph the faces, with both profiles, the body, and catalog each cat sighting, then track them on GPS.”

A collection worksheet includes a “feeding scale,” which ranks the animal’s apparent ability to feed itself, anywhere from “1” (starvation level) to “14” (overweight). Gender, ear tears or scars are noted, and used for future tracking of the same animal.

“All this goes into a big database, says Garland. “I’m hoping a student will come along and want to do a thesis on our cheetah study or other work. My biggest goal is to get more young people involved in field work. My goal is to give them a lot of field work.”

Kathy Leone, a five-year assistant leader, for instance, has tagged great white sharks, leopards, lions, cheetahs and has put radio collars on sedated African wild dogs.

These endangered dogs, sometimes called “painted dogs,” because of their brilliant black, white and orange markings are “the most successful predators on the planet,” according to Garland. He said the dogs can run 50 miles per hour for up to 50 miles, and make successful “kills” about 75 percent of the time, by exhausting their prey before killing it. Garland said they are highly socialized, like wolves, and even hunt strategically, taking turns at chasing the prey and tiring it.

Garland says there has never been a recorded incident of the dogs attacking humans, but their wide ranging territory has been restricted by increasing human settlements. The same is true for big cats.

“Sadly, there are more cats and cheetahs living as house pets in North America than there are living in the wild,” said Garland. Mainly because of poaching and persecution, the lion population in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped from about 450,000 in the 1970s to about 30,000 at most.

When asked about northern Africa, Garland explained that lions in the north had been exterminated by the late 1800s.

Cheetah conservation is another Outdoor Classroom project. Despite the animal’s speed and agility, cheetahs are very genetically susceptible to disease.

Unlike lions or African wild dogs, cheetahs are very solitary hunters, which can be dangerous for mothers, who must leave their cubs behind while hunting and killing prey. Because of that, the cubs themselves may become prey for other animals. Garland said cubs have a 60 to 70 percent mortality rate within the first year of their lives.

“Cheetahs are so specialized, they cannot risk injury,” he said. “I’ve seen cheetahs run off by a single vulture.”

The photos on the walls of Mocha Maya’s are all for sale, to raise money to replace roughly $12,000 worth of Global Classroom photography equipment that was stolen from Garland’s pick-up in March, while coming back to Massachusetts from an expedition. So far, Global Classroom has raised about $4,000.

Donations are tax-deductible, because of the organization’s nonprofit status.

Garland is hoping to be able to replace the equipment this month, because it’s all needed for Big Cat research slated for June in Africa.

“We leave June first for South Africa and Namibia for five months. That’s all big cat research,” he said. “We need really big lenses because we’re shooting from long distances. That’s where the money goes.”

For more information about Global Classroom, go to: http://globalclassroom.net/

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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