Peru Amazon Rainforest Volunteer & Internships

Herpetofauna Team

Assist our lowland rainforest Herpetofauna Research Team and live the life of an amphibian and reptile biologist in the humid tropics. Learn field techniques for studying rainforest amphibian and reptile diversity, population dynamics, and community assemblage, such as line transects in forest habitats, quadrat or plot counts, pit fall traps with drift fences, river and lake-side counts from boats, mark-release-recapture methods based on Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) systems, and intensive searches of micro-habitats, including of course grimy swamps and log-jammed streams. Volunteers can join us for 1-3 weeks, and will learn the basic survey techniques from our team of herpetology specialists. Successful intern candidates can join us for 1-4 months, and will learn in much more detail all aspects of the field research we undertake, including intensive training in proper snake, caiman, and amphibian handling techniques (venomous snakes however are not handled by non-specialists), snake identification via scale counts and color patterns, amphibian identification via calls, using PIT systems to determine movement patterns of reptiles, and data processing, analysis and mapping. Interns also have the chance to lead their own mini research project on amphibians and reptiles, for dissertation, thesis or personal publication purposes. Successful volunteer and intern applicants must donate towards their in-country costs. Header image: Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus). Photo: Ian Markham.

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Objectives

Objectives
Hypsiboas punctatus. Photo: Ian Markham

Fauna Forever’s herpetofauna team is tasked with establishing detailed baselines of information on the diversity, abundance and community structure of more than 120 species of amphibians and reptiles at multiple field sites, using robust sampling methods; and then to periodically monitor the status of these taxa in conjunction with the environmental and human-related factors that can help explain the patterns in diversity and population patterns observed over time within and between sites. These factors include habitat characteristics, climate, human activities (with an emphasis on threats), and the status of predators, prey, and diseases.

Methods and Skills

Methods and Skills
Golden tegu (Tupinambis teguixin). Photo: Chris Kirkby

The sampling methods and skills you will learn or become more familiar with as a volunteer or intern, to a lesser or greater extent, include forest transects, quadrat or plot counts, drift-fenced pit-fall traps, waterway transects (along rivers, streams, lakes, and swamps - for caiman and turtles), intensive micro-habitat searches, passive integrated transponder (PIT) systems, calls and play-back systems, reptile and amphibian handling (including snakes), and identification techniques for the 180+ species observable at some sites. At each research site there are either two or four 1-hectare sample plots, half of which are used for transect surveys and the other half for quadrat or plot surveys. Within each transect plot are located eleven, 100-m-long transects, each separated by a distance of 10 m in a parallel fashion. You will sample between 2-4 transects per day and 3-5 transects per night, during transect sampling periods. To sample a transect you will walk very slowly along the centre-line of the transect searching up to a height of 2 m for amphibians and reptiles. On observing an animal, you will estimate the perpendicular distance to it and then catch it (especially if it can’t be identified at a distance), unless it is potentially venomous, before quickly processing it and then releasing it once again at the point of capture. Processing requires identification, sexing, measuring, and weighing. Each 100-m transect takes 45 minutes to complete. Within each quadrat plot are located 100 small quadrats, each 10 x 10 m. You will sample between 2-4 quadrats per day and 3-5 quadrats per night, during quadrat sampling periods. To sample a quadrat, you and your colleagues will walk very slowly in a spiral pattern from the outer edge of the quadrat towards the centre. Any individuals observed, up to a height of 2 m, are carefully captured, identified, sexed, measured and weighed, before being released once again at the point of capture. Pitfall traps consist of arrays of 4 traps placed in a line, spaced 10 m apart from each other, covering a linear length of 30 m. A drift fence is erected along the length of the line such that amphibians and reptiles that encounter the fence will move along it and fall into one of the traps. Each trap consists of a 70 litre plastic bucket, deep enough to prevent frogs from easily jumping out. Pitfall trap arrays are placed within 200 m of the afore-mentioned 1-ha plots, are visited twice daily, and all amphibian and reptile species are extracted, identified, sexed, measured, and weighed before being released a short distance away. Waterway transects consist of sections of river, stream, lakes or swamps along which it is possible to traverse using a small boat or by wading up to hip depth (no deeper). Surveys are undertaken both by day and night, and involve careful counting of caiman, turtles, and other herp species that frequent these habitats, such as large frogs and toads. This requires the use of powerful flashlights during nocturnal surveys, as well as GPS devices to confirm the distance travelled, which can exceed 10 kms if on a river boat. During designated nights and in designated areas of rivers, streams, and lakes, the team will focus their efforts on safely catching caiman, testing them for PIT tags, taking GPS information for identifiable (tag numbered) individuals, PIT-tagging those individuals that have yet to be tagged, and taking sex, length, weight, historical injury, and parasite load information before they are released back into the water. Intensive random searches of specific microhabitats are also undertaken in order to get a better idea of the diversity of species at a site. Microhabitats can include bamboo or cane thickets, seasonal ponds, large fallen trees, and so forth. And finally, you will be involved in collecting data on environmental variables such as climate and habitat characteristics (temperature, humidity, rainfall, cloud cover, leaf litter depth, tree density, etc.).

History and Map

History and Map
Siphonops annulatus. Photo: Ian Markham

Herpetofauna data has been collected in this way since 1997 at 34 locations, including 31 in the lowland rainforests of the Madre de Dios region and 3 in the cloud forest and high Puna grasslands of the Cusco region of Peru. See map below for a better represenetation of the geographic distribution of sample sites.

A Typical Day

A Typical Day
Peruvian intern, Kristen, handling a Spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus). Photo: Chris Kirkby

A typical day may include sampling transects and pit-fall traps in the morning, and quadrats or caiman counts at night, with other tasks at other times or replacing these, depending on the research schedule determined by the team coordinator. The herpetofauna team typically awake up at 8 am and have finished breakfast by 9:00 am, when you and the rest of the team head out to check the pit-fall traps, before commencing one of a series of line transects. Having finished these transects, and released all the captured herps, the team may undertake a 30-minute intensive search of a micro-habitat as the team returns to base. At base, data collected in the morning is inputted into the database on the laptop, before everyone gets together for lunch. In the afternoon, the pit-fall traps will be checked once again, and having processed any captured animals and returned them to their habitat, then preparations will begin for the upcoming night session. After dinner, the team will tool up, ensuring their headlamps and flashlights are fully charged and spares in working order, before heading off to the quadrat plot where 3-4 hours will be spent sampling randomly-picked quadrats for amphibians and reptiles in the dark, actually the best time find them. If caiman sampling had been scheduled then the team would have headed down to the main river, boarded the Fauna Forever boat, donned life-jackets, and assisted the boat driver in exiting the port and out into the main channel. Once there, the boat heads up or down river following a previously recorded GPS track, with all eyes peeled on the flashlight beam looking for eye-shine from caiman. On observing a caiman, the boat will move in as close as possible and the team will work together to safely capture the caiman. On board, the caiman will be quickly processed, and a PIT tag inserted under the skin in the tail (unless it had previously been tagged), before being released back into the water. Once the sampling period has ended for the night, which can sometimes be around midnight or 1 am, then the team heads back to base and bed. On weekends work is more relaxed, and includes catching up with data entry tasks and editing herp imagery on the laptop, and on Sunday the team joins up with the rest of the Fauna Forever crowd for a visit to a local destination or village for some R&R (rest and relaxation), including potentially a game or two of football/soccer, volleyball, frisbee, etc.

Costs

Costs
A happy-looking Plica umbra lizard. Photo: ian Markham

VOLUNTEER COSTS
1 Week (07 Days 06 Nights) - US$930
2 Weeks (14 Days 13 Nights) - US$1,450
3 Weeks (21 Days 20 Nights) - US$1,750

INTERN COSTS
1 Month (30 Days 29 Nights) - US$2,345
2 Months (60 Days 59 Nights) - US$3,955
3 Months (90 Days 89 Nights) - US$5,130
4 Months (120 Days 119 Nights) - US$6,120
5 Months (150 Days 149 Nights) - US$7,500
More than 5 months - US$50 per day


These costs (which we treat as a donation to the non-profit organisation) include airport transfers (on arrival and departure); accommodation (in shared rooms); main meals (including vegetarian options); clean drinking water (always); local road and river transport to/from field sites (scheduled dates only); sheets, pillow case, and mosquito nets; access to our office wifi (where available); access to our library and equipment pool (e.g. GPS); orientation, field training and supervision from our staff; participation certificate and future reference letters (as required).

They do not include any flights; travel/health insurance (which is compulsory for all participants); taxis in Puerto Maldonado or Cusco (other than those used for scheduled trips to restaurants for meals); between meal snacks (cookies, sweets, etc.); and bottled beverages (Coca cola, Sprite, Fanta, etc.).

Note: Discounts are possible for groups of 4 people or more, that have the same start and end dates. Please contact us if this is your case.

Dates

Dates
An intern measuring the carapace length of a Yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulata). Photo: Emily McParland

DATES
In 2017 and 2018, applicants for volunteer and intern positions will be free to choose the start and end dates that are most convenient for them, although we'd prefer start dates to coincide with a week day (Mon-Fri) if at all possible. On applying, please use the calendar to select these dates. 

Breakdown of Costs

Breakdown of Costs
A young Smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus) beside a forest stream. Photo: Ian Markham

The cost breakdown detailed below is based on an average stay of 6 weeks.

Local transport (cars, boats) - 19%

Accommodation in the city - 4%

Accommodation in the field - 24% 

Meals in the city - 3%

Meals in the field -  14%

Equipment and maintenance - 8%

Communication - 4%

Training, Supervision and Administration - 18%

Other (health, third party services, donations) - 6%

Profits - 0%

Books to Bring

Books to Bring

We recommend you bring a copy of this book with you, and download the herp photo guides to your laptop, cell phone, or tablet:

1. Reptiles and amphibians of the Amazon, by R.D. Bartlett and P.P. Bartlett

2. Photo guides (Reptiles; Amphibians)  

Photos
Herpetofauna team at the Monte Amazonico site Dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus trigonata) Frog A young Golden tegu lizard (Tupinambis teguixin) Happy lizard Rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) Amazonian tree boa (Corallus hortulanus) Surinam toad (Pipa pipa) Ringed caecilian (Siphonops annulatus) Yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulata) Olive whipsnake (Chironius fuscus) Slender-legged tree frog (Osteocephalus taurinus) Red snake Lizard Spotted anole lizard (Anolis punctatus)
Volunteers & Interships