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viernes, 14 de diciembre de 2012

I had a dream by Georgia Lorenti

I had a dream. A vision of distant cultures, exotic wildlife and enthralling adventure. I had always seen myself as a great explorer, boldly going where no one had gone before. Convinced I was destined to master the world of primatology, I packed my bag and boarded the plane to Paraguay. South America represented the ultimate getaway, an untouched paradise, an adventurer’s dream. I was a pioneer on the verge of discovery, a traveller of the open road. Fuelled by the promise of adventure and with my iPod set on shuffle, I donned my new fedora, and arrived in Asuncion. Armed only with the Spanish speaking capabilities of a German shepherd, it quickly dawned on me that I was out of my depth. I was in a foreign country and miles away from home. Up the creek without a paddle, had I bitten off more than I could chew? No, this was my first solo expedition and adversity was to be expected. I simply gritted my teeth, laced up my hiking boots, and became really really good at charades. After the initial shock, the rest of the journey was smooth sailing. The people were very friendly and extremely patient. I caught the earliest bus to Santa Rosa and was soon safely at Para La Tierra. Once at the reserve, I was immediately enamoured by the pristine beauty of the sanctuary. The lake glistened a beautiful cool blue and the hot sun bathed the dry landscape. The reserve was teeming with wildlife and the staff were extremely welcoming. I soon felt right at home, and what a place to live in! In my first couple of weeks we had three visitors to the house, a beautiful tropical screech owl, a brilliant black tegu, and a massive rococo toad. Living in close proximity to such like-minded people also provided the perfect opportunity to form some terrific friendships. I met several great people and often found myself laughing hysterically. I deeply enjoyed playing volleyball on the beach, despite having the hand-eye coordination of a dead badger. Swimming in the lake became a daily ritual which I will miss immensely. I had joined Para La Tierra as an intern for the primate initiative, which centred on a small population of capuchin monkeys. This project had been started 10 months earlier and was still in the initial stages of habituating the capuchins. Habituation is a long process which requires an enormous amount of time, dedication and perseverance. It involves many hours spent locating the capuchins, marking their GPS location and recording their behavioural activity. Most of the time, the capuchins were observed travelling as they were still largely unaccustomed to the presence of humans. My internship started almost immediately and I found my supervisor to be extremely knowledgeable. He quickly introduced me to the Atlantic Forest, which was to be my office for the next four months. Initially, my main responsibilities involved observing the capuchins and trail maintenance. It soon became apparent that I was hopeless in the forest! I spent a majority of my time stumbling over tree roots, tearing my clothes on branches, stinging my hands on nettles, and wrapping myself in spider webs. In general, my face spent more time in the mud than looking up for capuchins and I was starting to doubt my future in primatology. Jane Goodall had made it look so easy! What was I doing wrong? Then suddenly, everything changed. A heavy crash of branches caught my attention, and was followed quickly by a strange chirping noise. My heart starting pumping, the adrenaline started rushing. There they were! Up in the canopy! I completely forgot what I was doing. All the training I had received totally disappeared. I was looking at real capuchins, wild capuchins, and all the weeks of struggling through unforgiving forest seemed utterly worth it! It took my breath away, and has continued to do so every time since. One of the greatest aspects of completing an internship at Para La Tierra is the opportunity to plan and carry out your own piece of original research. The supervisors are all very willing to offer guidance and constructive input, but ultimately you get to design your own field study. My project featured an investigation into the forest structure and selection of sleeping areas selected by Cebus libidinosus paraguayanus. The aim of the study was to determine whether capuchin monkeys selected their sleeping areas at random or due to a particular preference in forest structure. As the capuchins were still unhabituated, following them to their respective sleeping sites was out of the question. This was a huge limiting factor! I had to rely on finding them during the night or just before dawn, when the capuchins were already asleep. It took a lot of effort and a lot of early mornings, not to be attempted by the faint hearted. At the conclusion of my project, I had located six sleeping areas and sampled the forest structure by completing four belt transects. A statistical analysis of my results revealed that the capuchins preferred sleeping areas with <75% canopy coverage, tree diameter of >65cm, and a first branch height of >18m. In addition to the capuchins, every day at Para La Tierra presented the opportunity to see more and exciting animals. I had the great fortune to see a large variety of creatures, such as rattle snakes, coatis, tarantulas, frogs, turkey vultures, opossums, and even an armadillo! Once in the forest, I happened to dump straight into a fox! He was very civil, I apologised for inconveniencing him, and we both parted as friends. He was off conducting whatever foxy business he had to attend, and I was in hot pursuit of the capuchins. Alas with any great quest, it became time for it to end. The adventure must finish and the explorer must embark on a new and exciting venture. In stories, such as the odyssey, the hero would have learned a valuable lesson and is better prepared for the future. Para La Tierra was, I hope, the first stop in my on-going saga. I have learned so much and have absolutely loved every moment. It was the perfect starting point and an amazing experience. The ultimate question is this? Are you ready to take up the mantle and be the hero of your own quest? Go ahead, I dare you… Georgia Lorenti Para La Tierra Intern

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