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camera trapping

Environment & Wildlife, From the Field

“Vicente, you’re going to kill me.” Peru Week 8

December 26th 2023

I’m halfway through my 10 weeks in Amazonian Peru and I’m yet to see a jaguar or Paddington bear. But we did catch something rather unusual on the camera traps recently.

Volunteering with Camera Traps and Making the Most of it!

We’d set up the camera traps for 24 hours on a trail close to the research station, just to check if they were working, not to collect any particular data. When triggered by motion, the camera traps take a 10-second video. As Maria and I passed the camera traps on our way to check the butterfly traps, a plan started formulating in my mind. You see, I was in the mood for a little mischief. “I think we should do something funny in front of the camera traps”, I suggested to Maria.

The next day, when Clara (one of the research coordinators) mentioned that she was about to check the camera trap footage, I managed to keep a straight face. Minutes later, Clara turned around and looked at us. “Did you do this on all of the cameras?” We had.

“Don’t look at the camera and try not to laugh”, I remember saying over my shoulder to Maria, as we crawled on all fours along the trail. Then afterwards, “Oh wait, do these cameras have sound?” We were laughing hysterically after we passed the last camera trap.

Meeting the Project Founders

Having gotten to know people better and settling into a nice routine over the past month, of course, things changed this week. Sam and Dylan, the founders of the Amazon Ecology and Wildlife Rehabilitation Programme, arrived back from their holiday this week. A new intern also arrived.

Sam and Dylan have a small house built near the research station, where they plan to live together in the rainforest for the rest of their lives. I’m enjoying living here just now but I don’t think I could spend my whole life in the rainforest. One reason would be because of the insects.

morpho in PeruButterfly Amazon Rainforest | WorkingAbroadHard Work but Rewarding Volunteering

The sweat beads descended upon us once again throughout this week’s main task – moving the butterfly traps from floodplain terrain to terra firma. As I described in a previous post, to set up the traps we needed to get a string over a very high branch. This time, we tried to make things easier for ourselves by creating a giant slingshot out of a Y-shaped branch.

Maria and I took turns using the machete to cut out the branch, which was more like cutting down the tree from its trunk. “Do you want to talk about it?” Maria joked, watching me hack away at the tree angrily as if it were my arch-nemesis. Vicente (one of the research coordinators, whom I think I introduced before) said it sounded like we were chopping down an entire forest.

I’m quite proud of the dent I made. I got a huge blister on one of my hands, so switched to using the machete one-handed. I hadn’t gripped it properly and as I swung, the machete flew out of my hand, narrowly avoiding slicing Maria. I was much more careful after that.

Butterfly trap research project volunteering in PeruVolunteer in Peru | WorkingAbroadProblem Solving and Finding Creative Solutions for Conservation

Although we managed to create the slingshot, unfortunately, it wasn’t able to propel the string high enough. So we began brainstorming all of the ways that we could get the string to where we needed to. This included using a water pistol to shoot the string up into the tree, using a tranquiliser dart gun similarly, tying the string to a drone and flying it up, or befriending an opossum and having it climb up the tree for us.

To our great disappointment, we were unable to test these ingenious methods. We had to settle for the method we used originally – attaching a weight to the string and throwing it over as high a branch as we could.

It took us so many more attempts than last time. Unhelpfully, the string kept getting stuck in surrounding trees, which set us back even further. It took so long that we ended up three days behind schedule. With three of us trying for three days, I would guess that altogether we had several hundred failed attempts at throwing the string over the branch we were aiming for. So you can imagine how happy we were when we finally succeeded!

The next stage was Vicente climbing up the tree and throwing the string over an even higher branch. Once that was done, I was to attach the butterfly traps to the string. This time, it was actually two strings tied together because the tree was so tall that one string wasn’t long enough.

Sometimes it Doesn’t all go to plan – But That’s OK!

After hours of hard work, which was mostly completed by Vicente if I’m being honest, it all came crashing down. Literally. When I went to attach the traps to the string, the knot holding the two lengths of string together came undone and the string fell to the ground. I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong.

In the five weeks I’ve been here, there have obviously been moments where I’m not at my happiest. Like when the sweat bees try to crawl under your eyelids. Or when it’s so hot that you lie awake for hours, struggling to fall asleep. Or when dinner is a ‘soup’ made out of various leftovers, which don’t exactly complement each other. But this was the first time here that I felt like I wanted to cry. (I didn’t though, for the record).

“Vicente, you’re going to kill me”, I said to him directly and told him what had happened. “It’s fine”, he said, in that typical fashion where we really mean the opposite. It felt awful. I had ruined hours of someone else’s hard work, someone who was doing all of this just to help me with my project. I hadn’t managed to set up the traps by myself and now I had managed to destroy the progress that someone else had made. It felt like a failure. It was all my fault.

Later, after feeling pretty terrible, I found out that it actually maybe wasn’t all my wrong-doing. Vicente told me that he hadn’t tied the right kind of knot to hold the strings together, instead he had tied a temporary knot which would come undone when the string was moved. So I felt a little better after finding that out. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to finish setting up the traps the next day.

accommodation kitchenVolunteer in Peru | WorkingAbroadBecoming a Jungle Cook

Aside from that incident, one of the more stressful things here is seeing your name written on the cooking rota. We all take turns cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. With limited and sometimes unfamiliar ingredients, making something tasty isn’t always easy.

For breakfast one day, I made plantain pancakes for the first time. They actually weren’t bad! Dinner, however, is often more difficult to succeed with. I think I smashed it this week though! As it was one of the good days for ingredients, I managed to make a pasta sauce from onion, garlic, tomato, broccoli and carrot, blending it all together.

Everyone went back for a second helpings. Maria said that it was the best pasta dish she’d had here. That’s a big compliment if you’ve tried Vicente’s hard-to-beat squash sauce. “It’s got all of your 5 a day in one sauce”, I quipped, listing the ingredients. “No way!” Clara gasped. “Matteo’s eating broccoli?!” She exclaimed incredulously. Matteo doesn’t seem to get along with vegetables, especially not broccoli. We often see him turning his nose up at our cooking, heading to the kitchen to make his own (vegetable-free) food instead. So I took it as a big win to see him wolfing down a second portion of pasta.

Hope you’ve been enjoying reading about my travels – remember you can join this project too!

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Written by Holly Fortune

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