From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

I am at Lima airport waiting to board my flight back to Europe. Time to write this year’s final Amazonia diary entry. Team 2 left the ARC on Saturday morning. A big boat was sent up from the Tahuayo Lodge to ferry ten team members, four helpers, Alfredo & I, the equipment boxes and everyone’s luggage. See on the team picture (front, left to right) Ramon, Jayden, Shelley, Keiran, Alfredo (middle, left to right) David G, David H, Neil, Julian, Ashley, Andrew (back, left to right) Oscar, Segundo, Julio.

AM team 2

Overall the project has made a big step forward this year. We were able to expand the survey area significantly by exploring and recording hitherto unknown trails benefiting from the combined knowledge of Julio, Segundo, Oscar and Ramon. GPSs were used to record the tracks that will be included in our map and will help to expand and deepen research. It will take a few more years of data collection before the comparison of results will give a clearer picture of what is going on in the forest. As Alfredo said, it is a long-term project, but it is vital for the sustainable management of the whole reserve.

Thank you to everyone involved in the Amazonia expedition. Thanks for your contribution, your time, work and sweat. A special thank goes to David Hausmann for donating a brand-new pair of binoculars to the project. They will be put to good use in the future. Many thanks also to Brigitte and David Glossop for providing your personal camera traps to contribute to the research. I hope that you’ve all enjoyed your time at the ARC and the forest work as much as Alfredo & I did.

The camera trap pictures are now available:

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I hope to see some of you again some time!

Malika

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

Another day of many, many sightings on Thursday. Titi, saki, squirrel and brown capuchin monkeys were spotted and recorded all over the place. David H. and Julian made their way to the Yarina lake together with Ramon and were rewarded by spotting owl monkeys in a tree hole and a black caiman at the lake. A giant river otter was also spotted today from the Ramon/David G/Anh canoe survey team only to mention the new sightings on our list.

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The ‘list’ is the summary sheet of target species being recorded. Divided into three groups (cats, primates and other terrestrial mammals) we so far count 10 out of 14 different monkey species that have ever been recorded in the Amazonian rainforest, evidence of 5 different species of cats (jaguar, puma, margay, jaguarundi, ocelot) and 15 other interesting terrestrial mammal species such as tapir, different species of deer and peccary, paca, agouti, tamandua, coati, tayra, the amazon red squirrel (that is about three times bigger than the well-known European species), sloth, etc.. Birds, reptiles and insects are not being taken into account.

On Friday, our last survey day, the teams retrieved eight camera traps set up from team 1 eleven days ago. Neil and I teamed up to go for the long walk to terra firme. Plenty of water in our rucksacks, bananas and a sandwich, we followed Alfredo first walking the trail grid to its end and then making our way through a massive palm swamp over to the other side, the non-flooded forest. The palm swamp stretches out for about 2 km, then all of a sudden the trail leads up a steep slope and the vegetation changes. Massive high trees stand close to each other, palm trees fill most of the open space underneath. We retrieved two cameras, had lunch at the campsite, explored another trail from there and arrived back at base in the afternoon.

David and Anh brought back two cameras from Yarina lake, David H collected two cameras from the trail grid and one more from the trail grid was brought back by Shelley, Andrew & the boys. Are you keen to hear what we found? NOT a jaguar – although a jaguar sighting was reported from one of the Tahuayo Lodge guides near Yarina lake and one of our teams heard the cat calling during a day survey over there. BUT one of the terra firme cameras captured a tayra, maybe the best series of pictures of this animal that has been taken so far as Alfredo commented. Other species captured in the camera traps are opossum, collared peccaries in different locations and another quite small mammal that couldn’t be identified yet. Pictures will be posted soon.

On our last evening at the ARC we received a delicious cake dessert from the kitchen to say goodbye to the Biosphere Expeditions team and most of us went out for this year’s very last night boat drive. More soon, including pictures, in my final diary entry in a few days.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

Exciting animal encounters! The expedition is in full swing with five teams heading out in different directions for the morning surveys. While three teams leave base by boat to be dropped off at different trail starting points further up the Tahuayo river, two more teams walk the trail grid trails behind base. Our newcomers David and Julian teamed up for a trail grid survey with Alfredo and ran into a group of 20 coatis. Hidden in the undergrowth our surveyors were able to observe the animals for a while.

coatis

Andrew, Shelley and the boys were led by Segundo and found fresh jaguar scat that must have been from the night before. They also encountered titi and squirrel monkeys, learned how to drink water from leaves and had a taste of some exotic forest fruit.

squirrel-monkey titi

Anh & David surveyed a trail leading to cocha (=lake) Yarina. Accompaigned by Julio, another local helper from El Chino village, who joined our team this week, they had a very rare encounter with two howler monkeys. While one of them disappeared very quickly into the thick green foliage, the other one took a second look…

Red_howler_monkey

I followed Ramon, our fourth local guide for this week, on a new trail leading from the Tahuayo to the Tangarana river. We encountered a group of five titi monkeys walking together with a larger group of saddleback tamarins. We were able to observe them for about 15 minutes, standing still as they crossed our trail just over our heads making funny faces and noises to chase us away.

Saddleback Tamarin

Writing this, everyone else is on their afternoon surveys canoeing up and down the river and checking the track traps we have set on various trails. It has become a bit of a habit to be silent about the sightings tally until we all meet at 18.00 for the daily review. I’ll let you know when the teams share their secrets 🙂

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

We waved goodbye to Brigitte, Tom and Frankie on Friday when our first slot here in the Amazon came to its end. We all went downriver to the Tahuayo Lodge for a final lunch together before the boat to Iquitos departed. Thank you all three of you for putting your money, time and sweat into this project. I wish you a few more enjoyable days at the Lodge and in Iquitos and safe travels back home.

While David, Neil, Alfredo and myself stayed one night at the Tahuayo Lodge to wait for the next team to arrive on Sunday, Anh continued with the research at the ARC having Segundo as her ‘personal’ assistant. 😉 We’re now all back at the ARC indluding Julian, David, Andrew, Shelly and their three boys Jayden, Keiran and Ashley. Today will be a training day for the newcomers, everyone else is already out in the field continuing survey walks.

AM team 2 boat 27-7-14

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

At 05:30, shortly before sunrise the Amazonia Research Center wakes up.The chattering sound of people wandering up and down the wooden gangway and in and out their rooms mixes with the sounds of the jungle. At 06:0 it’s breakfast time. Half an hour later, when we leave for another day in the office, the sun has risen.

DCIM100GOPRO

After a training day on Monday we set up all camera traps, each now surveying a spot within differents cells of 2×2 km in our study area. Thanks to Brigitte and David providing their personal camera traps, nine cameras in total are out in the field to do their job. Furthest away from base are three cameras set up in the terra firme forest. This is “solid earth” forest that never gets flooded. Frankie and David joined Alfredo for a full day hike about six kilometres away from base. That gives you an idea how slow progress in the jungle can be.

camera

Our study area includes different vegetation zones from flooded to seasonally flooded to never flooded areas, palm swamps and islands, so-called ‘restingas’ that stay dry even during the high water season. Different types of animal frequent the various habitats and we are trying, trying, trying to camera trap some of them. Brigitte, Tom and David set up four cameras within the trail grid behind the ARC while Neil went to a trail we’ve recorded last year further up the river. Anh and I set up two cameras on a new trail leading to a lake nearby.

DCIM100GOPRO

On that first day all teams found jaguar tracks and even a puma track not far behind base! The weather conditions have been pleasant since we’ve started our work. I has not rained for almost three days and the waters in the river have already dropped by a couple of metres.

jaguar-track-thankfully-1-day-old-coca

Survey ‘transect’ walks and canoe surveys up and down the Tahuayo river were our daily routine from Tuesday onwards. Apart from our scientst Alfredo we have Alain, Segundo and Oskar with us. While Alain has been working as an English-speaking jungle guide for nine years at the Tahuayo Lodge, Segundo and Oskar live in El Chino, one of five villages within the Tamshiacu Tahuayo Community Regional Conservation Area (TTCRCA). With their help we were able to spot and identify many, many species and tracks while walking the dense rainforest trails. Their amazing skills include hearing, seeing and smelling animals – there is a lot we can learn from each other.

Sightings of study species so far are saddleback and moustached tamarins, saki monkey, titi monkey, squirrel monkey, brown capuchin monkey. Tracks of jaguar, puma, margay, tayra, porcupine, paca, red brocket deer and white-lipped peccaries have been recorded only to mention a few.

white-mustached-tamarin

As regards our trailblazing project, we’ve recorded quite a few new trails. Thanks to Segundo who knows the area inside out, we were able to include another cell in our surveys. Starting from the other side of the Tahuayo river just opposite from the trail leading to the lake we’ve explored the forest by having Segundo cutting a way through the forest followed by us carrying all the research equipment for recording the trail and, of course, animal encounters. Although we offered him a GPS to navigate back to the boat, he preferred to rely on his very own sense of direction, which works just as well.

Rotating through the afternoon activities two teams are surveying the river edges from canoes (one going up and one going down the river) while two more teams have been setting up track traps for the last couple of days. By now we have a total of eight track traps set up within the trail grid behind base to be monitored on a daily basis from today onwards.

DCIM100GOPRO

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

We’re all set. Writing this, I am sitting in the Tahuayo Lodge’s lab room waiting for the team members to arrive. Alfredo has taken a canoe to go to the village of El Chino just around the corner from here. We’re after another local worker to guide and help us finding forest trails but it’s quite a task to find a person that knows the area around the ARC AND is willing to work at this time. Soccer championships are running in Esperanza village further up the Blanco river and that’s where a lot of the local people now prefer to spend their time. Anyway, we’ll have three helpers, getting a fourth guide would increase the efficiency of our work.

Brigitte & Tom from Belgium are already here and are as keen as Alfredo and I to get started. Today and tomorrow are going to be training days on the equipment, the research, study species, data sheets, etc., which will also include a training forest walk to practice the skills learned. I’ll be in touch again when everyone has gained their first research experience.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

Iquitos. It’s busy, noisy and hot. I’ve been running around doing what’s always top on the expedition leader’s in-country to do list: shopping 😉

AM diary IQT

Apart from office stuff, batteries and insect repellent, three machetes have been added to our expedition equipment. Due to a jetlag of -7 hours I’ve spent some time in the early hours of this morning with setting up a few brand new GPSs I brought over. They are now ready for being taken out in the jungle: waypoints, tracks and the research grid have been uploaded. I was rewarded with seeing a wonderful sunrise from my hotel room (see picture: Mainai river that connects to the Amazon).

AM diary sunrise IQT

A note on insect repellent: Strong repellent (30% DEET or more) is not sold in Iquitos, but is a good thing to have when working in the forest. I’ve used 40% DEET before and it works well.

Alfredo, our scientist, and I just met at the A&E Office and we’re about to leave the city. The boat will take us to the main lodge today, tomorrow morning we’ll proceed to the Amazonian Research Centre, our base in the jungle. You will hear from me once we’ve arrived there. From now there won’t be any mobile phone coverage. If you need to contact me (for emergency reasons only, i.e. being late for assembly), please send an e-mail AND contact the A&E office in Iquitos.

Safe travels

Malika

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, South America (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

Welcome to the first entry of our 2014 Amazonia expedition. My name is Malika Fettak and I am your expedition leader this year. Alfredo Dosantos, our Peruvian field scientist, and I have been busy getting this expedition ready for you. I will make my way to Iquitos on Monday to set things up for you together with Alfredo.

We’ve done this expedition for a few years now, but please still expect the unexpected and be prepared for things to go wrong and all of us helping each other out whilst having a laugh. In return you get the bragging rights of having been on a real jungle expedition, not some cushy wildlife tour in an air-conditioned hotel. Talking about the jungle, yes, it’s full of life, but it’s all very hard to spot and identify. Those of you who have been to the jungle before will know this. Those of you who have not, please don’t come with expectations of animals jumping around all over the place for you to see and photograph. Life is there, everywhere, like a green blanket covering everything and playing havoc with your senses, but it is also a veil that can only be drawn back by those with patience and the right attitude. Science is not safari!

Onto the research. We’ve put some resources of maps, datasheets, field guides, a methodology manual, etc. on https://app.box.com/s/zv38to9cffca5ybqwzjz for you. A map of our study site including the cells we’ll be working in/through is in the folder too.

map

“Cells” I hear you ask? By way of explanation we’ve put a video of our methodology below for you as well.

It would be great if you could watch the video and use the resources provided to do some studying before you arrive. We’ll hit you with lots of information in the first couple of days and the more you’ve swotted up on things beforehand, the more you will remember, and the more useful you will be in the field. The datasheets and methodology may be confusing to start with, but if you read up now, we can explain things in the field more easily if you come with some background knowledge already.

Once you’ve seen all the materials, including the 2013 work plan that we will use as a guideline again this year, all your last hopes of a relaxing holiday in the jungle with monkeys and jaguars posing for bragging shots should evaporate like the downpoars that will hit the roof of our base, turning into steamy tufts of white, making the forest the humid, green paradise it is…. only to be replaced by the knowledge that soon you will be part of something important and useful in biodiversity conservation in the Amazon jungle. And what, I ask, has more value? You could have opted for a beach holiday. Instead you are going to spend your time and money helping Alfredo out in the field. Thank you – I take my hat off to you for that.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back in touch once I have arrived in Peru.

Best wishes

Malika

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