I recently returned from two weeks volunteering with WorkingAbroad in Amazon Basin Research & Conservation in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Their partner non-profit here is run by a group of like-minded scientists, students, interns and volunteers whose mission is to protect this eleven-thousand-acre tract of primary forest and to educate the public regarding biodiversity and the need for habitat protection. Working with local people they are also helping build sustainable economies, respectful of the surrounding forest. Their mission to protect this land extends to all of its residents, even the tiny ones (see below)
I was involved with their Tropical Fungi Program but they offer other opportunities including: Forest Ranger, Herpetofauna Conservation Research, Primate Conservation, Mammal Research, Permaculture and Forestry, Creative for Conservation – all providing authentic rainforest experiences.
I had stayed previously at a number of eco-lodges, but this time I wanted to dial my rainforest participation up a notch. WorkingAbroad delivered exactly the hands-on experience I had hoped for. Besides the experience of this beautiful natural setting and the satisfaction of helping a worthwhile cause, a bonus was the feeling of having joined an extended family. Truly diverse, our ‘family’ included folks from Israel, Canada, The U.K., South Africa, Peru and the U.S. including me (grandson of a Welsh coal miner). Meal times included sharing stories of our day and what we saw or accomplished.
Working with their on-site mycologist, we catalogued about 200 different fungi (rainforests host an estimated 2 – 6 million types so we have a way to go!). Other teams included herpetologists (reptiles) and primatologists (monkeys in the Neo-tropics) as well as adventurers and photographers but even as we focused on our specialities we all shared in sightings of unusual and interesting animals and plants.
I was just off the boat, and five minutes up the trail, when their herpetologist caught a beautiful bright yellow snake (a non-venomous, docile little fellow). Later on, a real treat was a close-up viewing of an elusive emerald tree boa (not really docile but expertly handled by their specialist!). The primatologists went off into the forest daily tracking monkeys but occasionally troops of capuchins, spider monkeys and night monkeys foraged right near the center. And always, early morning I could hear off in the distance, the eerie wind-sound of the howlers.
There is no shortage of activities if one desires them (and the opportunity to push boundaries). I faced my discomfort with heights and went up the rope-climb half way to the canopy (next time all the way!) Of course, Melanie (our leader and expert mushroom hunter), Clemencia (primatologist) and Tink (volunteer) went all the way up—Melanie actually swinging a machete three quarters the way up at an intruding branch (rainforest maintenance!).
Tropical spiders, not known for doing well in freezing weather, on discovering an apparently lifeless one in the freezer, most folks would unceremoniously dump her in the compost bucket. As I had previously related the story of resuscitating a Trap-Door Spider found at the bottom of a cold Jacuzzi, ‘freezer spider’ was gingerly carried to me (the spider-whisperer) with the urging, “work your magic.” I placed her on the mushroom examination table where I was working, administered a few warm breaths and after half an hour she was walking about. To the person running this center, even a spider which has blundered into the freezer is a valued rainforest resident! When administrators rescue unconscious spiders from the freezer you know you are among passionate conservationists.
– Written by: Previous Volunteer Brian Peters
If you are interested in joining one of our many research and conservation programmes in the Amazon as a volunteer or intern, have a look at the Amazon Basin Research & Conservation project page here.