Funded by the Duttenhaver Fund
Learning Adventure in Brazil
Six students and four adult mentors were the lucky participants in an expedition to the grasslands of Brazil in July 2008. For its inaugural journey, the Duttenhaver Conservation and Field Study Program team took part in an Earthwatch Institute research project studying the carnivore population in Emas National Park. The sixteen day adventure was sponsored by a generous grant from the Duttenhaver Fund, a new donor to GLAZA. The gift was inspired by the donor’s belief in the positive impact of international travel and study and matched the Zoo’s interest in developing field opportunities for students evaluating a future in biological science.
Bob Owsley, Zoo Magnet School Teacher
Motoring quickly down a two-lane highway, headed for the most biologically diverse savanna in the entire
world, the excitement could be felt throughout our van. The ten of us, four mentors and six students had just
flown halfway around the world on a mission to assist a group of dedicated Brazilian biologists and veterinarians in
their efforts to ensure the sustainability of the Brazilian cerrado and the continued survival of its indigenous carnivores. The cerrado is currently being converted into farm and ranch land at a rate of approximately one percent of its original area every year. This is actually twice the rate of loss experiences in the Amazon region of Brazil.
Click here to read more of Bob Owsley’s story!
Laurel Robinson, Curator of Education
A Day in the Life of a Conservation Field Researcher
The alarm clock went off at 6:00am this morning. The team slowly made its’ way down to breakfast with field clothes on and day packs full of the day’s essentials, (water bottle, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, pocketknife, bug repellent, first aid kit, and camera!). By 7:30 the trucks were loaded up and headed to the office where we picked up additional supplies needed while out in the field, as well as the bait for the traps- pigeons.
The minute we got into Emas National Park, our observation skills were awakened as we took a fauna census of the park. The researchers were mainly interested in any mammals we could find, although the park’s namesake, the Rhea, an ostrich-like bird (Emas in Portuguese), was also documented. As we approached each trap we looked to see if it was either opened, disarmed, or closed with a capture. Setting a trap could take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to complete. By the end of our day we had set and checked 28 traps!
So what happened when we came across a trap and there was a Maned wolf captured inside? That was the best part of the day! As part of the team, I was able to assist the veterinarian in “processing” the wolf. After the animal was anesthetized, it was weighed, measured, and given an overall physical exam. We collected blood, urine, hair, parasite, and fecal samples that will later be sent out to a laboratory for data collection and analysis. Throughout the process, the wolf’s heart rate, respiration rate, temperate, and capillary refill rate were monitored. Once the entire work-up was complete, we moved the wolf back into the field under the shade of a tree or large termite mound, where it woke up peacefully. As for us, we continued onto the next trap.
By 5:30pm we were all exhausted and ready for a nice shower and a delicious meal. After dinner we listened to a very interesting presentation of a related conservation project and then a fun card game of “Uno”. The day is now done and each of us is eager to start another day.
Katelyn Adam, Eco-Corps Student
A group of six students and four mentors were assembled in Los Angeles, California to help study the Carnivores of Brazil’s Grasslands. My name is Katelyn Adam and I was fortunate enough to join this group in a life changing journey to Brazil in July of 2008! Throughout my 15 day experience, I encountered a different lifestyle that I will never forget. In order to try to explain this experience, I decided to write a poem. I wanted this poem to represent the importance of conservation as well as working towards it. The experience all in all can hardly be put into words, but of course I did my best to put you in my shoes. I hope you enjoy it!
Walking up the reddest of the ruby path,
Memories surfaced an understanding of why we had come,
To conserve what we didn’t know was becoming lost in truth,
The truth that many of us deny is reality or is lost upon our own,
Emas National Park is a cerrado surrounded by agriculture in every gaze beyond its limits,
Outside its boundaries,
Another species in which is taken into consideration,
We can’t stop life from living,
We can try to stop ignorance from growing,
We worked together as a team,
Beyond whom we were,
To better understand how a life lives beyond its own.
Affecting the growth of solitary hunters,
Survival of the fittest,
Or the opportunistic hunter,
Thriving off of precision, agility and adaptations,
Maintaining a superiority of height.
A team confined in its energy,
The soil fixed into color,
The rheas lunged along side its stealth,
Coy and bashful pampas deer veered upon site,
Tapirs were never mistaken,
Snakes were far from false,
Numerous birds became models of relations,
Tracks among many were respected and abided to,
Foxes of assortment and bugs of plenty.
Remembrance was effortless.
Five 0’clock am. My alarm clock rings. The day is finally here! I’m off to the airport to start my journey. Four mentors and six high school students head to Emas National Park, Brazil. We travel for approximately two days before reaching our destination. When we arrive, the co-founders, veterinarian and staff of the Jaguar Conservation Fund happily greet us. This is where the group will donate their hard effort and time for the next ten days.
Day one begins with brief introductions and an insight into the mission and goals of the project. We are prepared for hard work and long days. We are given a tour of the Park and told what to expect. Everyone is eager to begin.
Each day begins with a traditional breakfast of a variety of breads, pastries, cakes, fruit, coffee and freshly squeezed juice. There is a lot of daily work to be done so we split up into three groups before heading out to the park. Work consists of baiting and setting traps, processing captured animals with the veterinarian, maintaining the property, and the office, training the dogs and cleaning the kennels, taking a fauna census while traveling through Emas National Park, preparing and fixing radio collars, laboratory work, and helping with the daily meals. We wake by six o’clock am, work twelve hour days, eat a delicious traditional dinner and usually get to bed by eleven or twelve o’clock at night. Occasionally, various groups did radio telemetry to find a Giant Armadillo until two o’clock in the morning! If we do have a few hours of free time before dinner, we usually go on small, local hikes, clean the thick layer of red clay dirt from our bodies, and go over pictures people took during the day. We worked like dogs…and enjoyed every minute!
What I haven’t mentioned yet was the beauty we witnessed during the project. On our walks to breakfast, we saw Toucans and Blue and Gold Macaws flying. While we were setting traps, we saw four feet high termite mounds, Pampas Deer, Rhea, Pampas Cats, Tapir, Six Banded Armadillos, Seriema, Caracara, Aplomato Falcons and Vultures. We caught and had hands on with Maned Wolves, Crab Eating Fox, and Hoary Fox. A few people in the group saw Capybara, Capuchins, Coati and a Howler Monkey. Many other species of parrots and Birds of Prey flew over us each day.
The grasslands in Brazil are remarkable. It is unlike the traditionally more popular Amazon and reminds you more of Africa. It however, does not fall short of beauty and wonder. I was proud to help The Jaguar Conservation fund with the Carnivores of Brazil’s Grasslands project. We met wonderful people, ate like Kings and Queens, worked hard and had a wonderful time. Helping the project was a heart-warming experience. One I will never forget.
Kirin Daugharty, Manager of Volunteer Programs
With a BFA degree in Animation, I never thought touching a living, wild, maned wolf would be on my list of accomplishments. After leaving the industry eight years ago and choosing to join the zoo world, my life became more focused on conservation and ecology, so knowing this trip was having an impact on conservation efforts was significant. This opportunity was unforgettable, and handling a maned wolf was perhaps one of the initial highlights of this trip.
It took three days of travel from Los Angeles, via New York, Sao Paulo, and Campo Grande, before reaching Emas National Park. The anticipation was excruciating and the countdown since March was comical. “Hey Laurel, five more months!” “Hey Laurel, four more weeks!” “Hey Laurel, one more week!” Hey Laurel, one more flight!” “Hey Laurel, we’re in Brazil!” Our friends, family, and co-workers just wanted us to leave already so they didn’t have to hear our giddy encounters anymore. “What kind of shoes are you bringing?” I was such a girl.
I never got used to the fact that we were in Brazil. Granted, I had two weeks of fresh air, a rigorous schedule, and foreign bird calls to get used to the idea; but each day we’d all look at each other, in wonderment: “We’re in Brazil!”
I’m usually the one with the camera busily snapping away every facet of a trip, from landscapes to sidewalk tiles. I forget to take in the experience, and live the occasion through my camera lens. With ten of us, I figured this trip would be well documented, and eventually put my little Canon Power-Shot back in my pocket… after 900+ pictures. I could not capture the smells, the sounds, the conversations, the excitement, or the awe of these events in six mega pixels. Each night I’d pore over my day’s photos and wonder “Why’d I take that shot?” Therefore, my sketchbook was finally cracked open after an eight-year hiatus. What my camera could not capture, I tried to create in my sketchbook. After eight years, I was a little rusty and would look over my quick sketches and wonder, “Did I have a stroke?”
On our last day we kayaked down the Araguai River, a long winding waterway surrounded by lush vegetation. Every once and a while we’d rest our aching arms. “Just listen,” I’d say to Allison, my kayak partner. “When’s the next time you’ll experience this?” Blue-and-gold macaws squawking as they flew over head, while tapirs and jaguars secretly crept beside us. “Just take it in.” And we did.
There is a library of memories, photos, sketches, and a couple minor scars from this trip I can reference the next time I need to mentally escape to a “happy place.” When I’m stuck in traffic, a long line at the grocery store, or drifting off to sleep my mind wanders to the Emas National Park and I smile.
“See this scar? Yeah, I got it in Brazil!”
My experience on this research trip to Brazil was unbelievable. I still haven’t overcome the fact that I was rewarded with such a privilege! My whole life I have wanted to be a field zoologist, and after being allowed to assist real scientists, in a real scenario, just completely captivated my passion! Once I snapped my gloves on, and put my hands on a wild maned wolf, I instantly knew there was no other career that would even venture into my mind from that moment forward. It was a blessing! Being in the field, aside from the animals themselves, is just as amazing as the work itself.
One of my first memories of the trip was waking up the very first morning at the field station. The sun had just begun to rise, and Bob and I walked over to the fence to snap some photos of the beautiful sun glazed grassland that stretched for miles from the side of the house. As we started walking back, Bob and I instantaneously froze in our tracks. Not even ten feet from where Bob and I stood, sat a gorgeous and plump little burrowing owl! It was standing directly above its burrow and sat so that one entire side of the animal was lit up, absorbing the early morning sun rays. This owl was hardly twenty feet from the house! Talk about a good breakfast to start off the day! Bob and I slowly crawled, army style, closer and closer to it snapping as many photos as we could. It allowed us to approach with in a couple feet of it, until it jumped up a foot and glided over about ten more feet away from us and let out a little peep. Perhaps it had some owlets in that burrow! Even after an encounter with such a common animal in the area like that, the only thought lingering in my head was “yes, this is what I want my job to be like, every day!”
Every aspect about the field work and side jobs we did during the trip was outstanding and I was overwhelmed with satisfaction to partake in all of it. I loved canoeing down the river. I loved the fact that we were physically going into pristine habitat to search for possible Jaguar corridor sights and game trails to set up camera traps. That was fantastic! The effort put into that rigorous five hour canoe paddle really shows how determined and persistent one has to be to make such an effort related to conservation measures. I only wish we could have started even further up the river and gone even further than we did in the first place. Maybe something like thirty miles of river going would have produced more and better locations for camera traps. I mean, you never know what’s just around the river bend, right?
After this research trip in Emas National Park, I am sure that there is no better or more rewarding career in the world for me then being in the field, working with, and saving wild animals. This trip has sky-rocketed my passion for working in the field as a zoologist!
Dusty Johnson, Eco-Corps Student
This past summer, with the combined efforts of GLAZA and an extremely generous benefactor, I was able to travel to Brazil on the excursion of a lifetime. I was among six students and 4 adult mentors to study the Carnivores of the Grasslands under the Earthwatch Institute’s scientific umbrella.
Now that the formalities are out of the way, to put it simply, this was my life changing experience. Imagine throwing 6 teenagers together from all walks of life, and have only met a couple of times prior and all of us having to work together. The journey started when we met at the LAX and took over a day to travel to Brazil. Crammed together, we eventually all got to know a bit about each other. Everyone did their own bit of review on the animals and area we would be studying in. The wisest of us was Allison who studied the language during our flight instead of the animals. Upon landing, she quickly became a local favorite as she was able to bridge the communication gap; an absolute necessity in our tour group.
Early the next morning, the real adventure began. I can only describe it as an extended game of playing chicken with semi trucks. The driver of the shuttle who picked us up was a wonderfully spirited local who spoke almost no English, but nonetheless conversed with us for the entire trip. We traveled 8 hours in a comfortable shuttle with, thank goodness, great shocks on the pot-holed dirt roads.
Three hours before arrival at the camp, the roads turned to dirt and we got our first taste of the next two weeks – without even knowing that this was our first glimpse of Los Emas National Park. What we call off-roading, they call everyday driving. Arriving at the compound, we were immediately greeted by Dr. Leandro Silveira, Big Cat Specialist and the project leader, and the rest of his amazing team. That first day, everyone eagerly made declarations of our readiness to work. The researchers knowingly smiled and let us have our vision of overachieving. After unloading our bags in the guest compound we returned down to the main lodge for dinner. And of course my love of great-tasting food, was justly met with Dr. Leandro Silveira’s wife’s absolutely wonderful cooking, which always revived me with the energy I’d spent during the long work days. We even had white-lipped peccary at one meal!
Our typical day consisted of waking up to 40*F temperatures at 7am for a quick, on the go breakfast. We immediately loaded into a truck and set out for the Park. During the day we set and baited maned wolf traps. We made rounds checking the traps and feeding the bait (pigeons). While there, we caught and examined a total of 13 maned wolves, a dozen or so hoary and crab-eating foxes, and counted over 800 pompas deer. Many of the wolves were recaptures so we got to examine earlier dental evaluations in comparison of wear over time. We also had the fun task of tick removal, checking their sex, parental status, and measurements.
All and all, everyone on the trip came to understand field research in a different light than we had previously thought. Nothing came easy. Research is a combination or work and much patience in applying facts to fill in the unknowns of a project’s goal.
Casey Rackham, Magnet School Student
As I grab my jacket from my closet, I press my face against its sleeve and breathe in its distinct aroma. It smells of Brazil – Emas National Park, Brazil to be more exact. Memories of my expedition to Brazil’s grasslands flash before me as I hold one of the last pieces of clothing that still carries the scent of my trip. I close my eyes tight and try not to move so that I can pretend that I am once again in the country that changed me so drastically and that gave me the opportunity to experience life in a new culture.
Through that one sniff of my jacket I am able to relive over two weeks of memories that I hold dear to my heart. I remember the looks of anxiousness and pure excitement that was etched on to all of our faces before we took off to South America.
I remember the first day that we all loaded up onto the backs of trucks and made our way into the national park to set animal traps with our pigeon bait and our gloves at hand. I remember the very first animal that we caught and the exhilaration and fear that I felt as I put my hands into the cage to give water to the fox. I remember the first time that I got to touch one of the sedated animals and take hair samples. I remember the jaw-dropping sunset that I gazed at every evening and the birds that endlessly talked to each other.
I remember stopping for lunch under a shady tree and taking pictures of anything and everything. I remember cleaning the fragrant dog kennels and taking them on walks through bristly pathways. I remember stopping to examine paw prints on the ground and collecting scat. I remember the researchers and volunteers who I spent time with and who everyday kept me smiling from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. I remember spending hours learning how to say words in Portuguese like “stop, stop! two deer!” and “let’s go.”
I remember eating delicious meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner that were different than I had ever had before in my life. I remember canoeing for seven hours straight and then having the arm muscles and bug bites to show for it. I remember singing, telling jokes, and playing cards with everyone during our downtime each day. I remember helping build a fence and putting out fires that scorched my eyes with smoke. I remember learning a Brazilian dance on a sandbar in the middle of a serene river. But most importantly I remember thinking: “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life”.
As I put my jacket on, tears swell up in my eyes as I think about the day that it will lose its wonderful smell, but I know that no matter what, I will always have my memories of my days in perfect Brazil.