Tuesday we spent the morning setting up a new box trap. The whole team participated in the event – even Martina (pictured) our strict vegetarian who jumped right in and brought the bait meat. Vera was quite happy to get this box trap installed and activated because before the Biosphere team arrived it was too far for one person to drive each day to check the trap. A group split off with Vera in the afternoon and activated two more traps that were already set up.
Wednesday the teams spent learning telemetry to track the elephant herd, re-activating the fourth box trap, building a hide at one of the water holes, and walking in the bush looking for tracks and scats. As all three activity groups left base camp in convoy in the afternoon, we happened upon a rhino group who were polite enough to yield the roadway to us. They could not quite make out what three vehicles were doing on their turf, and resorted to a defensive posture, back-end together. We left them to carry on doing their rhino thing.
14:30 – it’s quiet at base. All teams have gone out to check the track traps we set yesterday. The muffled sound of a radio and laughter drifts in from the kitchen, but the forest seems to sleep. Datasheets on the table beside me are spread to dry. Another pile of completed datasheets sits beside the data entry desk on the other side. Intensive data collection is going on…
Six local ‘field assistants’ are supporting our research work here. Aladino, Julio, Luis, Rafael and Roger all live in villages within the reserve and have grown up in the jungle. They do not speak English but their knowledge about the forest, its trails and animals, communicated by pointing and flicking through phrasebooks, is invaluable. And there is Donaldo who comes from Iquitos, speaks English and worked with us during last year’s expedition too.
All team members have gone through two training days including introductions, safety procedures, equipment training and a forest training walk before we headed out yesterday to set up the camera and track traps.
Valerie, Veronique Rafael & Alfredo went downriver in a canoe. They explored the area around a lake connected to the Tahuayo river and set up a camera there. Tani, Garry & Aladino did a 3.5 km river survey from the canoe and then had to paddle back against the current. Leanne, Patrick & Donaldo went on an exhausting and long hike to the highe ground ‘terra firme’ forest – the area behind the trail grid that never gets flooded. They had to cross palm swamps to get there and set up two cameras in this area for the first time. Grace, Gary & Roger as well as Conny, Thomas & Luis covered the trail grid area by setting up four camera traps in total. Johannes, Sven, Julio & myself took the boat upriver aiming to explore and record a far away trail. But unfortunately we were stopped by a big tree blocking the river only one hour from base. Julio took us to another trail, which we walked and recorded for about 3 km before it petered out and we had to cut our way through the jungle – Julio thinks nobody has ever been to that part of the jungle and it certainly felt that way. Track traps were set in the afternoon on four trails within the trail grid. So now we wait what goes in them…
The transect surveys started this morning with quite a few sightings of primates and mammals and will continue over the next few expedition days while the track and camera traps do their job. I’ll keep you updated.
Picture an office in the middle of the jungle: meshing instead of windows, solar panels quietly providing electricity to run the inevitable computers. Green is the colour you see all around, sounds from the rainforest is all you hear. All of a sudden the quiet solitude is broken by the roar of at thunderstorm.
A brief lesson on rainforest seasons: As per Alfredo, our local scientist born in the Amazon, there is no dry season in the rainforest. More appropriately, seasons should be described as heavy rain season and light rain season. When preparing for the boat ride, please bear this in mind and make sure you have your rain gear or poncho handy. It’ll be a good idea to pack your mobiles, cameras and other such items into a waterproof (plastic) bag. There will be no shelter on the small boats taking us from the Tahuayo Lodge to the Research Centre (about one and a half hours).
Yesterday Alfredo and I created a detailed work plan for the first week, especially the first expedition day when we are aiming to bring out and set up all the camera and track traps, some of them a day’s walk away from base.
Alfredo and I will spend the time before you arrive with preparing base, setting up the computer for you entering data and uploading the finished maps the GPSs.
It is partly cloudy & warm in Iquitos – the dry season is just about to start. The water levels in the Amazon are still pretty high, so the boat ride up to our research centre should be interesting. Writing this I am sitting in the lobby of A&E Tours waiting for my boat to depart. I have just been told that my boat will wait for two more people whose flights from Lima were cancelled, so I have another three hour to wait.
After having been delayed myself by lovely Iberia Airlines, over the last one and a half days I’ve retrieved our research equipment from storage, checked it all through and made it ready for use. The printer and laminator (!) – one of the most important pieces of equipment – are working well again. I’ve put more hours into THE MAP, which you will help me to add more detail to by exploring the jungle around the research centre. THE FINAL MAP will be uploaded to the brand new GPSs I have brought with me.
Just a quick update on the expedition preparations while I am still in Europe. Have a look below for the map we’ve created for us trailblazers and be prepared for intensive GPS & mapping training.
The map is still quite blank for us to fill with lots of waypoints and tracks of trails on land and on water. We will be talking a lot about quadrants and how to access remote parts of the study area to place camera and track traps and to conduct our visual encounter surveys. I am looking forward to entering the jaguar’s realm, encounting & recording primates and other wildlife species together with you.
I am off later today and will be in touch again from Iquitos with the latest on-the-ground information.
Two weeks to go until the start of our Amazon biodiversity expedition to Peru. Next week, Malika Fettak, your expedition leader will be off a few days ahead of you to set things up.
The weather in Iquitos at the moment is damp and hovering around the twenties (Centigrade). High twenties during the day, low twenties at night. Your scientist Alfredo Dosantos is at base already, preparing the research and maps for you.
Where we will work is shown below.
Group 1’s task will be opening and exploring more trails so that we can increase our sampling area and cover as many of the big squares (quadrats) around base as possible with camera and track traps, and visual encounter surveys on foot in the jungle and in wobbly canoes along the waterways, recording species as we come across them and hoping to catch the very illusive ones in our low-tech track traps and our high-tech camera versions. All in an effort to show with hard data how biodiverse this place is, and therefore worth protecting.
But beware! Monkeys and jaguars will not be falling into your lap, despite what TV may want you to believe (and what took months to film). The forest is full of life, true, but it is also full of leaves that swallow almost everything a few paces away and reduce encounters to fleeting glimpses of monkeys in the canopy and black shadows streaking across dark green canvas. You’ll hear things before you see them – if you see them – and there will be a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds, and smells and sights, dulled by the constant assault of green on your eyes.
If you come with the expectation of entering into a zoo full of animals on silver plates, you will be disappointed. If you come to soak up the wonders you will hear yet not see and to just be amongst life in one of the most biodiverse spots in this green sea of our blue planet, you won’t be. Come with all your senses open (and perhaps even leave your cameras at base unless you are a lens hunter of the small wonders the jungle has to offer). And come in the spirit of David Henry Thoreau who said “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Malika and Alfredo will be in touch from base a few days before the off. The forest of hidden wonders awaits!
Sorry for the late final entry, but I was travelling for a long time immediately after the expedition. So here it goes:
We are back in Iquitos. Early this morning Herbert, Peter Eva, Katherine and I left the ARC after a great & productive time at the Amazon Research Centre. On the way we had lunch at the Tahuayo River lodge and visited El Chino, a small village of 160 residents. We switched to a speed boat in Esperanza village to take us down the Amazon river, on the way we spotted five grey dolphins and watched them for a while.
Over the last two weeks we have surveyed about 48 km on transect routes within the trailgrid.and paddled more than 15 km up and down the Tahuayo river. A couple of hundered different species were spotted including birds, frogs, reptiles, spiders, snakes and bugs. Mammals recorded were squirrel monkeys, saki, titi, brown & white fronted capuchin, saddleback & mustached tamarin monkeys, coati and an anteater. On our camera traps we captured margay, agouti and opossum. On the trails we found tracks of puma, tapir and deer.
I would to thank everyone involved in this year’s Peru Amazon expedition. You’ve been a great help and good mates. With your help we have created the basis for long-term wildlife monitoring to help conserve one of the most precious on our planet. I hope you enjoyed the time out in the forest as much as I did and hope to see some of you again someday.
Team 2 arrived on Sunday and after the training phase went out on Tuesday to set up eight camera traps. As usual we went through introductions, the equipment and the research background & goals before the whole team did their first forest orientation walk. The projector worked all the way through until the end of Alfredo’s indicator species presentation. Thanks to Tine (1st slot) the printer cartridges arrived at camp together with team 2, so that we were able to produce fancy identification sheets of monkeys, felids & terrestrial mammals for the field work.
Steering a canoe from the front was a new skill to learn for most of team 2. Peter complained that fallen trees, trunks and river banks decided to hit his canoe loaded with two passengers. Sitting in the middle Eva silently held on to her camera bag while Linda sitting in the back was commenting every crash with a shout. Laughs could be heard a long way up and down the river – no capsizing, though. Katherine and Herbert got the hang of it quickly – lucky me, as I was sharing their boat.
Over the last two days the team did survey walks on seven trailgrid transects and went out by canoe in the afternoon to do surveys along the Tahuayo river recording saki monkey, saddleback and mustached tamarin, titi monkey and some more non-mammal species. The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo conservation reserve is a biodiversity hotspot, but that doesen’t mean that indicator species to be monitored are seen easily! Again, Donaldo and Alfredo did a very good job by spotting monkeys yesterday while their teams did the measurements and filled in the datasheets. Full trained up, the girl power group of Eva, Linda & Katherine went ‘alone’ today while Peter and I teamed up with Donaldo.
On our night boat ride on Wednesday we spotted a couple of caiman just in front of our base, as well as various frogs.
This morning Linda left early to catch a flight. We said goodbye to her after another early breakfast at 5:30, but not before a team picture was taken shortly after sunrise (see websites below). Everyone else is now doing their final transect routes and collecting the camera traps that have been out for four nights. Watch this space for updates on what we have caught on the camera traps…
Team 1’s expedition ended with a great last afternoon & evening. As the river’s water level has dropped about one meter over the last few days, some of the local ARC staff went diving in the river trying to find Felix’ digital camera drowned on Wednesday during the canoe lesson. Surprisingly it was found near the gangplank and being put in the sun to dry out by overjoyed Felix. Klaus, Raphael, Sarah & Libby joined the refreshing bathing session. They only came out when caimans were spotted around the corner at the far river’s edge.
The kitchen staff surprised the team at dinner by serenading typical Peruvian carnival music playing drums and flute while Libby and Donaldo were dancing to the rhythm. There was a cake for dessert and most of us went out for either a forest nightwalk or a boat drive to explore the nocturnal rainforest wildlife one last time.
I have now waved goodbye to team 1 – thank you again for being great expeditioners, explorers & data collectors on our Peru project in the Amazon. Good luck & those of you who will travel on through South America, have fun, and safe travels back home everyone else. Hope to see some of you again some day.
We’ve had a very busy week with team 1 in the jungle. It’s gone so quickly and later today team 1 will leave. Here’s what happened over the last week.
After our Sunday/Monday training phase, on Tuesday (21 August) all teams went out to set up 8 camera traps at randomly choosen locations within the trail grid. The trail grid is our research area just behind the Amazon Research Centre (ARC), a 2 x 2 km representative area of the Tamshyacu Tahuayo Reserve including open and dense forest, palm swamps and higher ground that is usually not flooded during the rainy season. The area is surveyed from twenty trails cut every 100 metres through the forest. It’s a unique and amazing research tool in the Amazon.
On our survey walks we concentrated on spotting mammals such as monkeys, peccaries, coatis to name but a few. Known as a biodiversity hotspot, eleven different species of monkeys are known to be present in the area. It turned out to be a difficult task to find and identify them, though. Klaus and Felix were lucky enough to spot a coati twice. Teresa, Libby and Steve spotted an anteater sleeping high up in a tree with the help of Donaldo, one of the local guides. Tine spotted a single monkey taking a nap on a branch. Alarming her team mate, Penny must have suddenly interrupted his dreams so that he fell off his branch and ran away as fast as he could.
Larger groups of titi, capuchin and squirrel monkeys were seen by all of the groups, sometimes further away from the trails. We have all learned to walk very, very quietly during the transect surveys very, very early in the morning. After the first survey day on Tuesday, we shifted breakfast time to 5:30 and are leaving base at 6:00. The sun has been shining intensively, so that not only we, but also the forest animals become quiet and lazy during midday.
We have also done our canoe surveys up and down the Tahuayo river in the afternoon, coming across amazing bird life, but unfortunately no monkeys or other mammals. After dinner Alfredo also takes out a group of maximum three for a night walk in the forest. Bats have been seen as well a a tarantula, nocturnal frogs, leafcutter ants and many other smaller animals one would never spot during the day. Hopefully we will find more nocturnal felids on our camera traps.
Yesterday (Friday, 24 August) we did the last transect surveys and collected all camera traps on the way. It is a tiring job to walk the transects keeping ears and eyes open for 5 hours. Again, we left base at 6:00 in the morning to avoid walking in the midday heat. Temperatures slightly dropped after some light rainfalls, but were in the 30s again on Friday.
It was exciting to flick through the pictures of 8 SD cards. Funny faces, a jaguar named Libby and…. and a margay, a small felid. Other pictures showed fragments of other mammals identified by Alfredo as agouti. All this is a good result and Alfredo is pleased. Thank you team 1 – we couldn’t have done this without you.
Team 2, here’s an admin reminder. Assembly time is 9:00 on Sunday morning at the A&E office in Iquitos. A&E office staff will meet & greet you there and I will await everyone at the Tahuayo Lodge where we will have lunch before swapping to smaller boats and heading off for our research centre base. Please make sure you are on time; an A&E guide will be with you from Iquitos to the lodge.