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Duttenhaver Conservation Field Study Program – 2012

Amazon Riverboat Expedition in Peru 2012


For the fifth year in a row the Duttenhaver Conservation and Field Study Program, generously sponsored by the Duttenhaver Fund, sent a team of students and mentors to actively participate in wildlife conservation and habitat preservation alongside scientists and indigenous people.

For approximately two weeks in July, seven students and three mentors were involved with field work in the remote Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Loreto, Peru. The goal of the expedition was to take population surveys of indicator species such as pink and gray river dolphins, caiman, macaws, and fish in the Samiria River, to gauge the health of the ecoystem in the incredibly biodiverse, undeveloped region. Team members went on terrestrial treks through the jungle, visited a local Cocama Indian village, and participated in various conservation activities to assist biologists studying the region.

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.

  • Ana Kirk
  • Anna Suskin
  • Ariana Marangakis
  • Brandon Honjio
  • Cian Hettrick
  • Elena Piña
  • Flor Duran
  • Coral Barreiro (mentor)
  • Greg Robbins (mentor)
  • Stacey Hagreen (mentor)

Ana Kirk, Zoo Magnet School Student

AnaJungleTraveling to Peru and experiencing this Earthwatch expedition has been the most valuable and culturally enlightening experience of my life. I first heard about this opportunity as a freshmen and I knew that this was something I had to experience. When I received my letter notifying me that I had been selected for the program, I cried I was so happy.

After over three months of stress over the application, travel preparation, and multiple vaccinations, we finally boarded our international flight to Lima. Our six-hour flight was followed by an extremely long layover, during which we had many adventures in the Lima airport. The small domestic flight from Lima to Iquitos was breathtakingly beautiful, as the sun rose over the Andes far bellow.

The city of Iquitos was definitely a bit of a culture shock for me. I have lived in Los Angeles my entire life and am used to being surrounded by cars. In Iquitos there are very few cars, instead the streets are filled with converted motorcycles, called moto-cars, which are essentially a motorcycle with a passengers cart attached to the back. When we went out to explore the city in the mid-afternoon, most shops were closed and there were very few people on the boiling hot streets. This all changed as the sun went down, suddenly the entire city was alive with people and various street vendors.

After our day in Iquitos we boarded a shuttle-bus and went to visit the manatee rescue center. This center was established to take in and rehabilitate abandoned manatee calves. This was my favorite part of the entire trip, because we got to bottle feed baby manatee.

After the rescue center, we again boarded the shuttle and began the hour-long drive to Nauta, the only city you can reach by road from Iquitos. At this point most of us were exhausted and fell asleep until we arrived at the boat we would be taking up the river. The Ayapua is a restored ship from the rubber boom era, which served as our home for the next week. We bunked two to a room, and my favorite part was the bathroom. It was essentially a shower with a sink and toilet inside, which made showering a bit of an adventure in and of itself. After settling into our cabins we all met in the dinning room, where we spent the majority of our free time during the expedition, and were given a small lecture from the head researcher, Dr Richard Bodmer.

We spent the rest of that day, and much of the next traveling up river to the spot where we would be surveying species. About halfway through the first day we spotted our first pink river dolphin. Though the expedition was centered around these pre-historic looking creatures, most of us were under the impression that we would be lucky to see one or two. As it would turn out, we would see anywhere from ten to thirty during the daily three hour dolphin surveys!

There were many different types of surveys we participated in during the expedition. There were dolphin, macaw, caiman, terrestrial (where we walked strait into the forest and recorded any mammals we saw), and frogs. But by far my favorite survey was fish. Essentially what we did was tie a piece of fishing line to a stick, and bait the hook with meat of fish. It would never take long to get one to bite, and once we felt a tug, we would pull up and up would come a fish, often a piranha. I have been fishing before, and have had to wait hours and even then I would be lucky to get a small guppy. Here the river was so filled with various fish that it seemed like there was always a fish needing to be recorded. On the first day alone I caught fourteen fish in all. After we reeled them in, we would keep them in a bucket and measure, weigh, and identify the species, before releaseing most of them. A few were not so lucky and were brought back to the ships cook to prepare for dinner. Now I can say I ate a piranha I caught myself!

The entire trip was amazing, but the aspect that has most affected me was the cultural prospective I gained while there. Before visiting the rural village in the middle of the jungle, I had never stopped to consider that there were other alternatives to modern day social structure. Like everyone else, I had heard about starving rural villages in Africa and anticipated something comparable. I could not have been more wrong. The small community we visited was completely able to support themselves off of the surrounding forests and rivers. It also amazed me that they were so eager to help in the conservation projects Dr Bodmer was implementing, including this program involving river turtle eggs. Before locals would take and sell turtle eggs on the black market. Now the conservationists will give the locals money to save the eggs and move them to these sandboxes to incubate. This has significantly raised population numbers of the native river turtle species. It was later explained AnaFishingSurveythat the locals are so cooperative, because the forest is like their “grocery store”, so of course they would want to help save it.

Through all these adventure, I would have to say my absolute favorite part of the trip was the food. I tried so many new dishes featuring unfamiliar ingredients I had never heard of. Now that I am home, I find myself continuously searching for Peruvian food comparable to what I ate on the trip, and nothing has ever come close.

Despite going to school with most the other students, I did not personally know any of them. This trip was a great opportunity for me to branch out and meet people who I usually would not have ever talked to. We all had so much fun together, and I can happily say that I consider every one of the other students a close friend.

I feel truly blessed to have been given this opportunity. It has been the single greatest experience in my entire life, and I still cannot believe that it was not all just a dream. For the rest of my life I know that I will always want to go back and do it all over again.

Anna Suskin, Zoo Magnet School Student

AnnaFrogWhen people think of traveling, they usually picture large cities with a lot of historical architecture and culture. Rarely do they think of beautiful, remote locations in the midst of wildlife as a typical vacationing spot, and rarely do these people actually get the opportunity to visit those types of places, but my teammates and I did. Before the Earthwatch expedition, being able to travel to South America was only a dream. I never thought I would be lucky enough to explore one of the world’s largest tropical rainforests and observe species of animals we only ever see in books.

When my teammates and I stepped off the plane in the small city of Iquitos, Peru, it was like walking into a new world. The air was humid, and dense areas of green trees seemed to encompass every space around us. As we headed to our hotel, Iquitos became even more unusual and interesting – the streets were filled with buses, motorcycles, and little taxi-type motokars, the buildings were bright and colorful, and tons of people were out on the streets selling food and hand-crafted artifacts. After we had settled in, we got to experience the city life and taste the amazing Peruvian cuisine. Their food was like nothing I had ever tasted before – the ceviche, the spices, everything – was absolutely mouth-watering. Being exposed to this new culture was one of the first new experiences my teammates and I would encounter through our journey in the Amazon.

Once our time in Iquitos was up, we made our way to the Ayapua, a historic vessel from the Rubber Boom era, and began our voyage down the Marañon and Samiria Rivers. On board the boat was both a scientific and cultural experience. The lead scientist, Dr. Bodmer, lectured us about the Amazon area and the importance of the research in which we were about to partake. The scientists explained how the rate of deforestation was causing strain on many animals in the forest which not only affected their own numbers, but also affected the native villagers who rely on the health of the rainforest to survive. As a result, we paid close attention to how each survey would be conducted and what animals we would focus on. During the research, we worked with three biologists and two native guides. All three biologists were from Iquitos, and the guides were from native Cocama villages in the Amazon area. It was so interesting working with them and learning about their lives in Peru and the research they had done. By the end of our first lecture, none of us could wait to go out in the field.

We all had an incredible time going on the surveys because there was such an abundance of wildlife everywhere we turned. We saw everything from macaws, to howler monkeys, caiman, pink dolphins, and even piranha, and being completely immersed in the jungle atmosphere made us feel like true researchers. Even though the surveys ranged from four to six hours at a time, none of us could complain. We all wanted to get hands-on with as much as we could, as often as we could, and I’m pretty sure all of us wished we could have spent an extra week or two in Peru. Every day in the field was both fun and rewarding, since we knew how important our studies were to the health of the rainforest, and the well-being of the animals and native people.

Out of all the research we conducted, I would have to say that the rainforest transects and the fishing surveys were definitely the two activities that I enjoyed doing the most. Walking through the rainforest was much different than I had imagined. I thought the forest would be so thick and dark that I would be sure to get lost or separated from my teammates. Instead, the rainforest and the weather could not have made the transects more beautiful. Sunlight flooded through open patches amongst the trees, giving more than enough light to see everything around, and the trees bent and grew in twisted ways, forming little tunnels over our walkways. It was so peaceful in the jungle, for the only thing we could hear were the howls of howler monkeys, the caws of macaws, and the sounds of other wildlife camouflaged in the forest.

When a group of our teammates got to go fishing, I encountered yet another new experience. Since I had no prior knowledge of how to fish, I didn’t know what to expect. Roberto, one of the native guides, gave each of us a long, wooden stick with fishing line and a hook, and some meat for bait. All we had to do was place our hooks in the water and wait for the fish to nibble. I assumed we would go several minutes without catching any fish, but I could not have been more wrong. Fish, mainly piranha, were being caught by the second, one after the other. One of the days I ended up catching seventeen fish, some of which were served to us for dinner that same night. It was great because Roberto showed us all the best places to find fish, and even took some of us on an extra fishing survey during our free time.

AnnaCocamaChildrenOn one of our final days in Peru, we visited a tiny, native village, consisting of only twenty-five families. It was so interesting and eye-opening to see their simple lifestyles. The families lived in small huts with roofs of palm fronds. Their elementary and middle school was held in one classroom, and their high school was in construction. Little children ran around and were so interested in our team. They really enjoyed holding our hands, taking pictures with us, and seeing themselves on our camera’s viewfinders. It was incredible seeing how differently we lived. Visiting that village really made us appreciate our lives at home, and getting a taste of their culture and lifestyle was definitely a learning experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

As I reflect on those ten days spent with my teammates in Peru, I feel very nostalgic because those were some of the best memories I have ever experienced. Everything about Peru was purely astonishing and beautiful – the magenta sunsets on the river’s horizon, the myriads of stars in the night sky, and the sounds of nature that were heard every second of every day. The friends I made are people that I miss dearly, but who taught me a lot about life and about conducting research and being a scientist. Whenever I look at the souvenirs I brought back home, I can not help but be grateful for everything I learned from this once in a lifetime experience. This trip not only allowed me to grow both scientifically and culturally as an individual, but also gave me a bonding experience with my teammates and mentors. I had the time of my life in Peru, and taking part in this adventure gave me a new outlook on life that I will be forever thankful for.

Ariana Marangakis, Zoo Magnet School Student

AriCaimanIt is not often enough that people are able to say that one of their lifelong dreams came true. Luckily, thanks to the Los Angeles Zoo and Linda Duttenhaver, I was granted the opportunity to visit the Amazon Rain Forest; and one of my life-long dreams came true.

I can remember the night just before we left for Peru. I was sitting in my bedroom unable to sleep, trying to imagine just how amazing the trip would be. The day before I had spent hours looking up pictures of Iquitos and the Amazon Rainforest in preparation for my trip and was astounded by the limitless beauty. Even as I had all of things packed and ready I still couldn’t believe that I was about to embark on a life changing trip.

When we finally touched down in Iqutios after what seemed like an entire day of travel I was astounded by the differences in culture. As we drove through Iquitos, we could see children running in the streets and we could hear the roaring sounds of the moto-cars. Once we reached the Hotel Casa Morrey we received a warm welcome and a tour of the premises. After a quick nap, set out to view the city and try out the local cuisine which was like nothing else I had ever experienced. That night we ate with Dr. Bodmer’s wife,Tula Fang, who graciously answered our questions and prepared us our upcoming excursions.

The next morning as we boarded another bus which would take us to our next destination, we met the local biologists: Angela, Gian Carlo, and Giovana who would accompany us for the remainder of the trip. Before boarding the boat, we were fortunate enough to visit a manatee reserve.While there we given the opportunity to bottle feed young manatees. Visiting the reserve was not an anticipated stop during our trip, which made the experience all the more special, because it was suggest by Tula. During my entire experience in Peru I always felt welcomed by Dr. Bodmer’s family and it was the little actions such as this that made me realize what wonderful people they were.

Leaving the reserve behind, we arrived at the historic boat Ayapua. Though we were given pictures of the ship, it certainly did not do it justice. As if it wasn’t enough that we were spending a week in the Amazon Rain Forest; we were doing it on a piece of living history. As the boat set sail down the river, we all waved civilization good-bye.

Due to the location of the reserve, our journey their took many days. During our days of travel, Dr. Bodmer met with us and taught us about the local flora and fauna. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip, because it is not every day that you are lectured by a expert in his field.  Being able to hear about the impacts of the water levels is one thing, but to be able to look outside your window and see the effects is another.
By the fourth day of our trip we arrived at the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Unable to contain our excitement, we set out that night in search of caimans. We all climbed into a small motor-powered boat and used our flash lights to detect the “eye shines” of the reptiles. The caiman’s tapetum lucidum refracted our lights which made them easier to spot in the darkness, and by the end of the night most of us were able to tell apart the caiman’s eyeshines from the frogs. By the end of the night five students had assisted in the weighing and measuring of all three different species of caimans. Due to sheer luck, an English frog biologist studying with Dr. Bodmer joined us on our trip. Under Katy’s guidance, we managed to view and handle native amphibians during our nightly searches for caimans.

PinkDolphinOnce we had reached the site, the next three days were a whirlwind of activities which took part at all hours of the day. Our research consisted of six different possible activities: bird watching, fishing , hiking transects, dolphin watching, capturing caimans, and capturing frogs. Research for macaws happened twice daily, once in the morning around sunrise and during the cooler hours of the afternoon. The surveys took place during these times because the birds are typically the most active during these hours, which provided a wider variety of data. The main goal was to record the abundance of each species of macaw in a certain area. Each group would have 15 minutes per location to count and identity as many macaws as possible. Luckily Roberto, a staff member was quite adept at identifying the birds and taught each student how to properly identify a bird based on both its appearance in the air and its vocalizations.

Transects also occurred twice a day. The role of a transect held two purposes; identification of species and trail marking. Since we were the first people to visit our location, it was our job to mark the trail which would be used for later excursions. Every 50 meters we would have to stop and set up blue markers. In addition during this, we also kept a look out for any animals which if found were recorded for population surveys. The locals who worked with Dr. Bodmer truly understood how excited we were to be surrounded by nature and always pointed out the history of each new plant as we passed, much like the tours given at our Zoo. Once we had completed our trail we each signed a marker with our names, so somewhere in the rainforest my name proudly stands as proof that I visited.

Another task we preformed was dolphin watching. Not only did we have to record the amount of dolphins and the behaviors that they exhibited, but we also had to differentiate between species. The Amazon is home to the river dolphin which has a pink hue, and the gray dolphin, yet it was their morphological differences that made it easiest to tell them apart.

While fishing we were taught to use both the used both line and net methods of capturing. As someone whose only experience from fish came from owning a goldfish the process was fascinating. Few can say that their first fish ever caught was a red-bellied piraña, but thanks to this I can. After identifying, weighing and measuring the fish they were released back into the water.

Before we knew what had happened, our time was up and we had to begin our voyage home. On our way back to Iquitos, we stopped at a village inhabited by the Cocama people. It was such an enlightening experience for me because I hadn’t realized how much I took everything for granted. We are lucky enough to live in a country that has modern technology, a complex schooling system, and a stable government. While the villagers may not of had everything that we are used to, they were still very happy with their lives. We were not able to stay as long as I would have liked, however we still managed to hand out school supplies and toys to the young children while we were there.

My experiences during this trip has inspired me to study wildlife/conservation biology as well as veterinary medicine. I will never forget what I learned and what I saw while at the rainforest, and continue to use these memories as the driving force when planning my future.

Brandon Honjio, Zoo Magnet School Student

BrandonFishingI open my eyes. It’s the perfect temperature with a hint of humidity. I can hear macaws and other native birds giving their daily morning call. I take a deep breath, inhaling the most pure and fresh air to reassure myself. I am most certainly in Peru.

Myself along with six other students were so fortunate to receive the Duttenhaver field study scholarship to help preserve and learn conservation efforts in the national Pacaya Samiria river in Peru. We were accompanied by three fantastic mentors, Coral Barreiro, Stacey Hagreen and Greg Robbins. They were very caring and made sure every student had an opportunity for every excursion. Not only were they warm hearted and high spirited, but they were also as energetic as us student volunteers. It was definitely a learning experience for all of us.

We first traveled on LAN Chile to Lima, Peru. Then after a five hour lay over we took one more flight to Iquitos. Filled with the most popular transport, the motokar, this city was a spectacle for all of us to see. With all the people, sites, and the environment around us it was “too much” for us to taken in. We stayed at a beautiful hotel called the Casa Morey, which was built in the rubber boom era and restored over the years. After our night, we would travel to Nauta to get on our boat, the Ayapua where we would stay for the remainder of our trip. However we made a quick surprising pit stop in which we stopped at a manatee conservation facility to rehabilitate river manatees in the wild. We learned about all the progress they accomplished and we even got to bottle feed the manatees.

We arrived in Nauta and I looked upon my home for the next week. It was beautiful, three stories, a dining hall, bathrooms in every room, air conditioning. It seemed like luxury in paradise and it most certainly was. After settling into our rooms we were greeted by Dr. Richard Bodmer who lead the research in the national reserve. He gave us daily talks on the conservation efforts in the Pacaya Samiria. He told us the activities we would be participating in which consisted of terrestrial transects, fishing, frog, caiman and macaw surveys. My favorite out of all of them was the hikes and fishing surveys. On our visit to Peru, it was currently the dry season which meant the water level was very low. Because of this there was an extra abundance of fish, but unfortunately it also mean a lesser chance to see terrestrial mammals. We learned that because of sediment erosion from the river, land marks known as levees form which are  large areas of land that are more highly elevated than normal. During the wet season, terrestrial mammals are forced to locate to these levees for food and shelter, which increases the likelihood for us to observe them. But since it being the dry season, our chances dropped and we didn’t observe as much terrestrial life as we would have liked. Never the less, the hikes were still amazing. The dense canopy of the rainforest didn’t allow much light to travel to the base, but the rays that did lit this environment into a world I could have never imagined. Exotic trees and plants could be seen with every turn of your head. Our guides were of the local Cocama people and were very knowledgable about most plants and creatures we found along the way.

I was able to partake in the fishing survey twice. In this survey we took a fifteen foot long boat called the Anaconda out up or down river. We set up one net along the river bed and waited. In the meantime we did manual fishing with a stick, line and hook. We were able to catch a high variety of fish from piraña to freshwater barracuda to armored catfish known as the Carachama. We took notes and recorded the length of each fish and weighed them as well. Unfortunately some fish didn’t make it after being caught from the river. But fortunately for all of the student volunteers, we were able to have a once in a lifetime opportunity to eat piraña.

Did I mention the meals we had every day were gourmet? We were fed in the dining hall with a buffet style meal of something that was different everyday. From chicken to salchipapas we had everything you could find on a Peruvian menu. The chefs were amazing to us and in the mornings I would always try the different fruits they had provided for us along with fruit drinks that came with it.

One of the most memorable moments for me was when our guide, Roberto, pointed out a termite nest that was located in the trees. He poked some holes in the outer shell of the nest and hundreds of termites started to rush onto his hand. He quickly rubbed them in against his skin while telling us that it was a natural bug repellent. I had to try it, so I put my hand up to the nest and watched all the termites run onto my handas well. By the time I pulled my hand away I was beginning to wonder if I had made a mistake BrandonMentorslooking at all the insects scurrying about. I proceeded to rub in the termites and thankfully, I didn’t get bit.

Another wonderful part of our trip was our visit to one of the local villages in which we visited the school and gave them supplies for all of the kids. It really touched me to see all of their faces light up and it gave me a satisfaction I can’t describe. The children were so friendly to us and welcomed us as if we were family. I want to believe that I bonded with some of the children there. I showed a few of them my digital camera and took pictures of them and with them and they seemed so excited. Even though my Spanish isn’t very good, I know there was an unspoken connection between kids and us.

This trip was truly a once in a life time experience. I know I will carry this trip in my heart for the rest of my life. From the people i met, to the animals and plants that I learned about this experience has opened a new window for me in my future career in environmental science. I couldn’t be more grateful for Mrs. Linda Duttenhaver for this scholarship opportunity that changed my life. Thank you.

Cian Hettrick, Zoo Magnet School Student

CianRiverOf all the places that I have traveled to over the years the Peruvian Amazon was hands down the most interesting and exciting trip. My first step of the plane I was greeted by eighty percent humidity, the smell of smoke and the jungle. We had just landed in Iquitos after a full twenty-four hours of travelling. During the ride to the hotel, I got to see first hand how well off the US is compared to rest of the world. I have never seen so many stray dogs or garbage on the streets before. After a one night in the hotel Casa Morey, which used to be an old rubber boom era mansion, we headed out to meet the boat.

The amount of wildlife that we saw while in Peru was simply astounding. Whether it was the gray river dolphins flipping in the distance or the giant frogs we got to hold on the night transects.  The experience that stuck with me the most, would have to be when we got to visit the manatee rescue center. On our way to meet the boat we made a stop at the center to learn a little about the Peruvian sea cow. Luckily we came at the right time because they were just about to feed the two juveniles in the big holding tank. I was happy just be there, but when they offered us the option to feed them, everyone in the group lit up with excitement. Some of the other animals we saw included: macaws, parrots, gray and pink river dolphins, howler monkeys, capuchins, and toads and frogs.

The boat that we all called home for the trip was also relic from rubber boom era in Peru. Dr. Richard Bodmer converted the boat especially for his research in on the Amazon. The boat housed the crew and us for the duration of the trip. Once we had all boarded the boat we headed off. To reach our research area in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, we traveled through the night the night to get there. Most of us were up early enough to see the sun rise off the back of the boat; it was definitely one to remember.

One of the best things on the trip was the food, we never had a single meal that was not worth going back for seconds. Since Dr. Bodmer is originally from England we also got to enjoy teatime each day. Which usually consisted of a tasty dessert and of course some tea.

The data that we aided in collecting consisted mostly of population density studies. The expedition focused not just on one species, we had 6 jobs to do to collect data on the animals. We collected data on the river dolphins, the fish population, the mammal population in the forest, the caiman, the amphibians, and lastly the macaws. Our group would split up during the day to collect data on a specific group of animals. I found the transects through the forest along with the fish collection to be the most interesting and exciting, because there was always an element of surprise involved with the two. Not to say that the other expeditions were not, but they didn’t have the adrenalin rush that walking through a jungle or waiting to see what could be on the other end of the line your pulling in. The most intriguing animals that we were able to see quite a lot of were the gray and pink river dolphins.

I am currently a marine biology major with a focus in marine mammals at University of California Santa Cruz, so for me getting see a mammal that has adapted from life at sea to life in the flooded forest is simply astonishing. The differences that I found interesting about the two species river dolphin was that the gray river dolphin looked almost exactly similar to the dolphins of the sea yet smaller only at a length of three to four feet. Where as the pink river dolphin had almost completely evolved specifically for life in the flooded forest. With adaptations like the ability to move its head from side to side to make travel through the narrow gaps between trees easier, or the ability to stun fish with a blast of sonar from its large head. Getting the opportunity not only to collect data on the dolphins was amazing, but having the opportunity to be able to enjoy lunch while watching them play 20 yards from the boat, there is absolutely no other place in the world other then the Amazon where you can get an experience like that.

CianRobertoThe trip would not have been the same if it weren’t for Roberto, one of our amazing guides. Roberto had been working for Dr. Bodmer since a young age. He used to be a hunter but then decide instead of killing the animals of the forest he would you use his knowledge to help conserve and study the animals that call it home. Roberto was able tell the type of macaw that was flying past from distances that I could only hope of reaching. The man was a bird spotting, caiman catching, and fishing machine.

The one story I have about Roberto that truly enumerates his amazing skills is from the last night we headed out to conduct our frog survey. It had just started to pour as we were searching the beaches for the tell tale blinking eye shine of a frog or toad. As we continued to search we kept hearing the call of a frog that sounded almost like the beginning of a police siren. We all turned to Roberto to give us all the information we needed on the extremely loud frog. He told us that it was called the Wallow frog, that is was a very big frog. Then he proceeded to ask us if we would like to see one. We all said yes, so we parked the small boat on the beach and with a flashlight in one hand and machete in the other Roberto headed in to the forest. After fifteen minutes of sitting in the boat listening to the sound of the machete hacking away and glimpses of the flashlight beam through the forest, Roberto returned. What he returned with was a frog that caused everyone in the boat to gasp a bit at the size of the amphibian before our eyes. This frog was the size of a softball and had two powerful six inch hind legs.

When we reached the end of our journey we all had grown closer with the experiences that we shared. Whether it was the first step off the plane in Iquitos or the first caiman sighting. The trip was short but the time that we all got to spend working to gather data will be something that I will never forget.

Elena Piña, L.A. Zoo Student Volunteer

ElenaCaimanI couldn’t believe it! I was chosen to be one of the seven students to join the group to travel to Peru. It all seemed like it was all a dream. Was this really happening? I kept asking myself. It was one of the happiest and most exciting days of my life, when I found out I was chosen to be part of this amazing adventure. I can’t find the words to express my gratitude for this unforgettable journey!  Mrs. Duttenhaver, thank you so much for making it possible for me to go on this expedition. The trip was a spectacular and eye opening experience. I can actually say that I worked with a team of biologists in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, along the Samira River in the Amazon of Peru. This trip has given me the drive to pursue a college degree and to focus more on school. It was the push that I needed to see that anything is possible in life; you just have to really want it bad enough to work hard for it. Life is not a walk in the park and in order to get what you want you need to work for it. During the trip I had time to reflect on the person that I want to become, I was able to find myself. I came back a new person, one ready to experience the world ahead of me.

The trip at times still feels like a dream; it feels like I’m watching a documentary from National Geographic. I’m on the canoe, conducting surveys of dolphins and fishes. Counting macaws and taking surveys on monkeys and other birds. At night, we searched for caimans and frogs with a spotlight. I don’t think I have ever seen so many different frogs; big, small, yellow and green. I felt that I was in a National Geographic issue because I was able to check the weight, measurement, and sex of a caiman. I felt as if I was on an expedition with Steve Erwine. This was something I dreamt about and saw on television, but now I can say I was in the Amazon Rain forest.

I met some wonderful people and made lots of new friends, from the crew in the Ayapua to all the participants in the trip. One of the most memorable experiences for me was when we visited the Cocama village. I was able to talk to the kids with my broken Spanish; it was a heartwarming experience. The children were so kind and so excited to spend some time with us. There was this one special little girl I will never forget . She was so cute and reminded me of my little cousin. Her name was Lorita. She had a smile the whole time we were there. We got to talk a little and she was fascinated by my sun glasses. So when we were about to leave, a turned around and gave them to her.  She had the biggest smile I had ever seen. I will always remember that moment; I was so taken by her expression. She was so grateful and content with the glasses.

ElenaCocamaChildrenThe crew was incredible; they did everything possible to make sure that we felt welcomed. The crew was so sweet and helpful. When we first stayed on the boat, I woke up and had mosquito bites all over my legs. I was in itching agony. I needed some kind of medicine for the itching and that was when I asked the crew if they had any. The nurses came and helped me put the medicine on, and instantaneously the itching stopped. Additionally, I felt right at home when I found out they had my favorite soda Inka Cola, but not just that, they also had the best mayonnaise in the whole world. The biologist were just as warmhearted as the crew members. When they found out that I was able to understand Spanish and communicate with them, we became closer. By them being so welcoming and becoming closer to them I felt like I was at home with my own family.

The entire trip was mind-blowing; it was a dream like experience that I will never forget. I was able to observe howler monkeys and white capuchins in their natural habitat running and jumping from tree to tree. I also held a wild caiman, which was the most amazing thing that I have ever done!! An extraordinary experience that helped me find my true passion while giving me an amazing adventure, one that I will be able to share with my family throughout the years. It help me realize what was most important in life, which is the people that care about you and what you care for and that we should cherish what we have before it disappears forever. Also to save the rain forest so that future generations can have the opportunity that I was able to have.

Flor Duran, Zoo Magnet School Student

FlorCaimanGoing to Peru to do a research study was something I never thought I would have a chance to do. Landing in Iquitos was only the beginning of the adventure for all of us. We were all excited even though we were tire from the flight. The first day we stayed in Iquitos we explored walked around saw a few shops there were so many motorcycles so the streets were lively with motor taxis and motorcycles. When we were there we went to a restaurant and I ordered lomo saltado, a well-known dish in Peru, it was delicious.

The next day we rode a bus to a manatee rescue center, they were the sweetest things ever, these manatees were orphaned because of poaching and boating accident, and we had the opportunity to bottle feed them. This moment is very meaningful to me the people working in the rescue center are amazing for doing what they do. After that we headed towards a small town by the river and then we saw the boat so big, beautiful, I was excited to live the boat. This was to be our home for many days. The sunsets were memorable and so were the sunrises. The head researcher Dr. Bodmer showed a movie called Fritzcarraldo which was an interesting movie and the boat we were in was involved in the making. The staff members are very kind and sweet, I spoke with many of them and if one of our team members needed to speak with them I would translate for them.

Our first exhibition was the caimans. It was outstanding, we saw them capture caimans, jot down data, such as, measurements, weight, sex, and specie. All of us had the opportunity to help gather the data. They were bounded for our safety and the caimans’. It was pitch black and the “Anaconda”, name of the small boat we were on, would rock back and forth, so I was pretty scared, but I had so much fun working with these wondrous creatures. We worked with a variety of animals, macaws, dolphins, native fish, such as the piranha, frogs, and terrestrial mammals such as capuchins and howler monkeys.

Our days began at five in the morning and ended at midnight, long but, eventful days. We even received lecture from Dr. Bodmer, all informative and engaging. Every time I woke up for a new day to begin I wondered if it was just a dream, but when I look around the room I am reminded that it is reality. All these animals are mazing creatures being able to work them, research them is a great experience. Riding on the boats to observing, collecting data, speaking with the scientists and Cocama village men, this was what our days were full of. The Cocama had told us stories, one used to be a shaman the other a hunter, both had amazing skills, and are extremely informative. The three scientists were kind, helped us with data collection, and taught us about many things about the animals.

The terrestrial transect was my favorite, I enjoyed walking through the rainforest slowly and quietly. I was much excited for this transect because it dealt with primates, I look forward to working with primates in the future, just walking through the forest hearing the forest, and I loved it all. I was able to see capuchins, howler monkeys, and a caiman skull. Seeing the greenery, everything felt so right, I can’t get the images out of my head it was beautiful, amazing, and enchanting.

The people only made this experience better by teaching us and befriending us. I kept thinking how lucky they are to have this as their career. How many times before this had I wished for something like this and that wish came true, I couldn’t be any more grateful for this opportunity. During the night the stars and moon shined brightly it was the prettiest sight ever. Bedtime was also marvelous, when the boat is off and everything is quiet and all you can is the forest, it was remarkable and tranquil, rested easily because of calm and serene it was. Waking up was not an issue though the engine would roar at five in the morning, in a way it was my alarm.

FlorSnailFor our last days we headed out to a village to visit the people. This was yet another memorable moment, seeing the children of the village, their families, farms, and school. Most of the children were shy but, others were outspoken. We entered the school building and were introduced to them. Dr. Bodmer had the children sing, they sang the song of the forest, it was lovely, and it sounded exactly like the forest. These sweet children are wonderful, we brought school supplies for them and I brought a few toys for them to play with. I am very happy we had the chance to visit them.

Getting to know everyone was great, not only the villagers but, the scientists, staff, and Dr. Bodmer. This trip is something that will not only be forever in my mind, but will forever be in my heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and mentors, they were the greatest and I am very happy to have shared this wondrous experience with such extraordinary people. I am not only thankful to them but, I am also thankful to Mrs. Duttenhaver who gave this chance to make our lives mean something and the Zoo for having an extraordinary program like this for students like us, those who have passion for animals and conservation. This was life changing to me and it helped me establish a bigger goal, which is to continue doing on field research in the future. Sometimes I look back and think, “Did this really happen?” Then I see the pictures and yes it did, it really happened. When it was over I felt as if I did not want to leave, I wanted to stay longer do more research and continue, this was when I knew for sure I want to work with animals on the field observing them, collecting data. This is my dream.


CoralManatee GregCaiman YuccaMasher_Stacey

Coral Barreiro, Mentor

Greg Robbins, Mentor

Stacey Hagreen, Mentor

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