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martes, 17 de diciembre de 2013

Our flagship species the enigmatic White-winged Nightjar

The area around Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca is home to some very special animals. One of these is the critically endangered White-winged Nightjar. This nocturnal bird is restricted to the Cerrado belt of the Neotropical region and it only occurs at three breeding sites in the world. One of these populations can be found in Brazil and the other two are within Paraguay. There have been two additional sightings at a location in Bolivia in 1987 and 2003, however, a breeding population is yet to be found. The habitat that the Nightjar prefers is a type of Cerrado (Savannah) called wet campo. It is dominated by grasses and small shrubs with scattered trees and anthills. The Nightjars have a preference for sites near wetlands as they use them for hunting insects. Males set up territories around the anthills and can be found perched on them or on a nearby small shrub. In the bright evenings of the breeding season they take to the skies and display to attract females. They show off the white on the wings that gives them their common name. Females and juvenile’s wings and tails lack this white coloration. Unfortunately, the transformation of the White-winged Nightjar’s natural habitat has it battling for survival. Some of the threats they face are; habitat conversion to plantations, uncontrolled fires, over grazing, habitat disturbance by cattle and invasive grasses. The Cerrado is the second largest biome in South America and it is rapidly disappearing. More than two thirds has been altered in the last 50 years, and the situation has been described as ‘one of the greatest ecological disasters in South America’. In Paraguay, this biome is restricted to small patches of the north east corner of the country. Most of the Cerrado habitat is found on private farmland, and there are only several Cerrado sites that are protected. Our population is found on a property just north of the reserve. There are approximately 30 individuals on site. Unfortunately the land is being converted into Eucalyptus plantations, and it is a race against time to prevent the population from being wiped out. On a brighter note, the recent discovery by the PLT team of a second population on a nearby property gives us hope for the future. In the last two weeks we have made two trips to go and see the Nightjars. On both occasions we were fortunate to see a number of both sexes. They are very approachable with a spotlight and this is another reason why they are vulnerable to extinction. They share their home with other threatened species and we were fortunate enough to see some of them on these trips. Three species of threatened birds, the Lesser Nothura, Black-masked Finch and Cock-tailed Tyrant also rely on this habitat for their survival, and face the same fate as the White-winged Nightjar if the habitat destruction continues. We were very fortunate to come across a Maned Wolf on the first trip, which was a first for everyone who was present. These elusive and rare mammals are threatened throughout their range, so it was a privilege to chance upon one. The one thing all these animals have in common is that they are habitat specialists and do not cope well with unnatural changes to their environment. We recently got some very good news that one of our team members Joseph Sarvary has received funding from the Rufford Foundation to conduct a study on the Nightjars in the area. He will be looking to answer four questions. The exact population size, home range and foraging behaviour, mating and fledgling behaviour and a complete census of the bird species in the area. This work is vital for our understanding of the bird and its habitat. The data will build a case for the future protection of the area. If you would like to take part in helping Joe with his project to save this endangered species, you can contact us on www.paralatierra.org. Until next time. JP

lunes, 25 de noviembre de 2013

UPDATE: Primate News

The 20th November 2013 turned out to be a very exciting day for the Primate Team at PLT. We are very happy to confirm for the first time that there are two separate groups of Azara’s capuchins (Sapajus cay) living in the reserve’s Atlantic Forest fragment and there are still Black and Gold howler monkeys inside the reserve. The Primate Team right now consists of two volunteers (Anna, Ireland and Johanna, Sweden), one intern (Christina, Denmark) and myself. We had been searching without luck for just over a week but this is the nature of working with such small, fast, arboreal animals so we didn’t loose faith and we persevered. And it was worth it! As we walked through the forest I looked up. There they were: three adult capuchins in the trees about 250m to our left. As we ran to the next fork in the trails a small juvenile scuttled up the tree right in front of us. Christina and I took one trail and Anna and Johanna circled round on another. After following the monkeys for about half an hour we walked back to find the others, heard a rustle and saw the silhouette of a monkey off to our left. As we watched, the monkey began to move from behind the branches and my suspicions were raised – it was enormous. Then as it walked out onto an exposed branch I realized why: we were looking at a female howler monkey! Then just when I thought the morning couldn’t get any better I received a phone call from Griselda. She asked me if I had found the monkeys because she was watching loads of them (6) cross the road. I said yes we had found them to which she replied “ok so you are in the south forest”. We weren’t. We were in the north, roughly a kilometer from where she was watching more capuchins. Confirmation for the first time that there is more than one family group living in Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca!! Come and join us in Paraguay and learn about primatology through field work with these amazing creatures – www.paralatierra.org/volunteer

miércoles, 20 de noviembre de 2013

Party Time for Chickens!

One of the main aims of Para la Tierra is to support the communities closest to Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca. The biggest community outreach project that we run is the Female Empowerment Project. Funded by the Rolex Award for Enterprise, this project provided three communities surrounding the reserve with chicken houses (gallineros) and incubators. The purpose of this project is to give the women of the communities a chance to financially contribute to their families through raising and selling chickens. To raise money to push the project forward PLT and the communities of San Jorge and San Fransisco threw a party in San Jorge. After two weeks of careful planning Saturday the 16th of November finally arrived – and it was pouring with rain. We patiently waited out the morning, fingers and toes crossed that the rain would stop. By 1pm the rain seemed to be beginning to fizzle out and Karina, JP, Jorge and myself headed out to San Jorge to begin to set up for the football tournament. After dropping off Karina and JP, Jorge and I began the first of several runs to collect everything necessary for the party. The first stop was San Fransisco to collect the women and lots of ice! Then it was back to the reserve for the cool boxes for the beer. While waiting for the guards to load the boxes I received a phone call for Karina. Due to the rain no one had turned up for the football and it was time to call up the troops! Mike, Greg and Nathan were loaded into the back of the car with the cool boxes and we raced back to San Jorge. Teaming up with JP the boys began the football tournament. Slowly but surely people began to show up. Karina and myself headed back to the reserve to bring the girls and by the time we returned there was a small game going on. Karina and I set up the bar while Jorge and Antonio began the beer sales at the side of the football game. After an hour of playing in the heat and humidity the boys had attracted a crowd of 20-30 people and when the game was over they returned to the bar extremely red-faced, dirty and sweaty but having had a great time! The boys left to shower and we were hit by hurdle number 2 – the man we had hired to bring a giant speaker system and run the music for the party refused to come because of the rain. With the party teetering on the edge of cancellation Karina came to the rescue and negotiated that a man from the neighboring house bring his small speaker system and we use that. When this wasn’t loud enough Griselda and I raced back to her house to bring her sound system. Everything was set. The rain had stopped. We held our breath and waited for people to arrive. As we waited we noticed motorbikes pulling up, and then leaving again. Now the volunteers really stepped up and saved the day. With no-one else on the dance floor the group got up and started the party! Anna, Kath and Vicki stood at the door selling beer to attract people inside, Johanna, Nathan, Greg, Christina and Mike danced with the local children and by 10pm the party was bouncing. The volunteers and JP danced the night away while Karina, Jorge and myself ran the bar and Conce DJ’ed. Bingo and a raffle broke up the party and gave everyone a much-needed chance to sit down and cool off. Just when we thought the party was starting to wind down around 2am Mike made the night of the Paraguayans by doing “the worm”. Not to be outdone this quickly escalated into a dance off. Girls vs boys. Karina and me against Mike and one of the Paraguayan guys. The boys went first and as we watched we knew we had no chance but we went for it anyway! As we hit the floor, the music stopped! A rather embarrassing but hilarious end to what had been an amazing night. Though the final figures aren’t in yet it is looking like the party was not only a great success in that everyone had a fantastic time but each community has also raised enough money to push the project forward. Thanks again to all our amazing volunteers who made the night. If you want to come out and join in the fun and make a difference while doing it check out www.paralatierra.org. Becca

miércoles, 13 de noviembre de 2013

Encarnacion and Tirol

This past week Greg and I spent a few days in southern Paraguay in the city of Encarnaciόn. The reason for our trip was to visit Paul Smith, PLT’s scientific co-ordinator and founder of Fauna Paraguay. We had collected a few interesting species of frogs at Laguna Blanca that needed DNA analysis to determine their species status. While we were in the area we also wanted to explore the city and visit a nearby large tract of near pristine Atlantic Forest at Hotel Tirol. Greg is our new butterfly intern at RNLB. He is full of enthusiasm and has an outstanding gift to draw illustrations of wildlife from photographs. He decided that it would be great to join me on the trip to firstly meet Paul, and secondly to try find some interesting wildlife at Hotel Tirol. Encarnaciόn is a growing city that is on the north shore of the mighty Rio Parana. This is a beautiful river that unfortunately was dammed in the past, destroying a lot of biodiversity. Never the less the city is moving forward and has a lot going for it. The recent development of a promenade and beach is a major attraction, as well as some fine dining and amazing architecture. Once a year in February the city holds a major carnival that attracts people from all over the world. The first two days were spent with Paul. After analysing our frogs with a local Argentinian professor, we decided on a whim to explore a religious sanctuary on the east of the city. The sanctuary has some great views over the river to the Argentinian side. It was a very warm afternoon so wildlife was not plentiful. We did manage however to see lots of Eastern Collared Spiny Lizard (Tropidurus torquatus) on the walls, and a few birds including Hook-billed Kite, Dark-billed Cuckoo and Rufous Gnateater. That evening we were taken to a local marsh to try and find some frogs. The marsh was unfortunately polluted, but even so two species of adaptable frogs called from the reed beds. We watched males of the Dwarf Tree Frog (Dendropsophus nanus) and Purple-barred Tree Frog (Hypsiboas raniceps) trying to attract nearby females. It’s a sad story though knowing what the eventual outcome for this population will be. After getting our fill of the city, it was time to visit Hotel Tirol. Paul accompanied us for a few hours on our first evening. Our main target was to find and photograph the Schmidt’s Stream Frog (Crossodactylus schmidti). This species is only known from a small, fast flowing stream at this one site in Paraguay. We wasted no time, signed into our room, put our bags down and headed for the valley. We were very determined to find this species, and our efforts paid off when three were found within the first hour. These frogs are very sensitive to change. Without the fast flowing, clear water they would have disappeared a long time ago. The next day we spent time searching the grounds around the hotel. There were plenty of butterflies out that kept both of us occupied for hours. We lifted a log along one of the many well defined paths to find a very rare worm lizard (Amphisbaena darwinii) lying beneath it. These worm lizards spend most of their lives beneath the ground surface only getting pushed up after heavy rains. We spent time on the stream trying to find more Schmidt’s Stream Frog’s with no success but we did happen to come across a Sepia Snake (Thamnodynastes strigatus) probably also hunting for the frog that was eluding us. The following morning it was time to pack our bags and prepare for the long journey back home to Laguna Blanca. While waiting for the bus outside the hotel entrance, I saw a teenager across the road throwing a stone into the grass. I instantly ran towards him to see what the boy had found. To my surprise he picked up a huge Black Tegu lizard (Tupinambis merianae) and threw it onto the road. The lizard was badly wounded from the rock, but still tried to get away. I watched as one of my beloved reptiles got kicked continuously and then put under the boy’s bike to finish him off. The whole time the boy had a smile on his face, he seemed proud of his achievement. He tied the Tegu onto the back of his bike and went to show some nearby people that congratulated him. Unfortunately this ioccurs here in Paraguay and in a lot of other places around the world. Many wildlife populations have dropped significantly because of habitat destruction, pollution, overhunting and needless killing. I am not sure what the teenager did with his prize, but it is a scary thought knowing that the dwindling populations of wildlife within the country lie in the hands of youngsters like this. Para La Tierra’s mission is to protect threatened habitats and its inhabitants. We are working hard to try to educate the future generation about the plight of nature and how we can try conserve it in the interest of the local people. Come join us to help us understand this beautiful country that much more so we can make Paraguay a better place for the future. Until next time. JP

lunes, 28 de octubre de 2013

The Big Brained Primates of Laguna Blanca

In terms of intelligence, capuchin monkeys (Sapajus and Cebus spp) pretty much trump every other primate species (apart from humans!) on the continent of South America. The resident monkeys found in Laguna Blanca’s 414ha Atlantic Forest fragment are no exception!! There are thought to be between 12 and 14 individuals living within the reserve. There is one family group who are currently being habituated by the primate team volunteers and myself. Until recently when the monkeys were located within the humid, winding trails of the forest observers were treated to elaborate displays of alarm calls, fear grimacing (when the teeth are exposed like a smile and the eyebrows raised) and branch shaking. Encounters with the monkeys are brief but still breath taking and leave your heart racing with excitement. Last week the PLT Primate Team, right now consisting of Anna (a long term volunteer from Ireland who completed the same Primatology MRes as me) and myself, experienced the most exciting two hours of my 9 months chasing monkeys in Paraguay. The day began at 5 45am with the 30-minute walk to the South Atlantic Forest. Normally we take the motoloco (the bright red, incredibly fun, temperamental trike) it had died the day before so we began with a walk. We entered trail 1 and began to walk extremely slowly, taking extra care not to make too much noise on the carpet of dead, crunchy leaves. Usual procedure when we find the monkeys is to immediately make our presence known, if the monkeys don’t see you it is impossible for them to become habituated to researcher presence. On this day (and I couldn’t tell you why) I decided I wanted to sneak up on them and try and watch them for a while before announcing our presence. We reached the junctions of trails 1 and E – and heard a loud crash to our right. Monkeys. Painfully slowly – when every part of me wanted to run after the sound in case we missed them – we crept towards the crash. We didn’t hear another one. As we arrived at trail G and turned down a loud, hollow knocking sound greeted us. My heart sank thinking the monkeys had gone and all we could hear was a woodpecker. As we stole down trail G we looked up. Monos. The family group was in the tree in front of us. I quite literally stopped breathing as I realized what we were seeing. The hollow knocking sound was the monkeys. They were holding hard fruit in their hands and smashing it off the tree trunk in order to open it. Anna and I nearly fell over each other in desperation to get the camera out of the bag and start filming. This remarkable behavior not only perfectly displays the capuchins remarkable dexterity but also their incredible problem solving ability. For two hours we crawled around the ground trying to find the best view of the group, at one point I sat on a nest of biting ants but refused to move as I had a particularly good spot to film from!!! The next day we went out again the next day, this time with Emma as well. As we walked quietly along trail 3 towards the tree we had seen them feeding in before we heard the knocking. This time not only did we manage to film and photograph the fruit cracking behavior but also begging behavior from the younger monkeys!!! After about 45 minutes we were rumbled. The alarm calling began and the group vanished. We went to the bottom of the tree to collect some of the fruit that had been dropped. As we stood under the tree discussing what we had seen we heard a chirp and a crash behind us. Ka’i. Turning around we were faced with the sub-adult male of the group. Sitting about 3 feet above our head he was calling and displaying, generally making a grand show of himself. This is decoy behavior. I’m ashamed to say I fall for it a lot. As one member of the group comes close and displays loudly to draw observer attention, the others make a stealthy get away. Sometimes I think these monkeys are too smart for their own good!! Until next time, Becca

miércoles, 23 de octubre de 2013

We're all going on a summer holiday! By Anna O'Riordan

Clothes, food, water, bedding, money, passports and every piece of scientific equipment in the house….these are just a few things we had to think of in preparation for our first ever Chaco Lodge expedition! Organisation of all things essential was in full swing the day before our departure which was going very smoothly until we came to the point when we actually had to pack the car. It took a couple of goes but we got there in the end, hooray! Fitting all six of us (Karina, Joe, JP, Mike, Becca and I) in to the car was our next hurdle. As this weren’t actually possible, Becca and JP arranged that they would take the more scenic route and journeyed by bus (or should I say buses) while the rest of us would go in the car. So, nearly 11 hours, a number of toilet breaks and food stops later we finally made it to Filadelfia where we picked up our fellow PLT members from the bus stop. From Filadelfia, our final destination (the Chaco Lodge itself) was only an hour and a half to 2 hours away. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors which weren’t in our favour we ended up being a little lost, extending our journey by just 4 hours! Horrible…yes, but once we arrived, we all unpacked the sheets for the beds in the house where the girls slept and the tent for the boys and then we all just collapsed and slept soundly. With a new dawn (and a good night sleep) came a renewed excitement for all the activities that lay ahead of us. After breakfast we all hopped in the car and went on a drive around the reserve to get a good feel of the place. Passing all the different habitats (Salt lakes, shrub land, forest, tajamars – man made watering holes), you could almost hear everyone’s brains whirring with ideas for projects to do throughout our stay…areas for camera traps, Sherman traps (mammal traps), butterfly traps, surveying sites, the possibilities seemed almost endless! Once we reached the salt lake area we all scaled the intimidatingly high Mirador (viewing platform) but when we made it to the top we were all absolutely speechless by the AMAZING 360o view in front of us. This place was stunning. So, the next few days consisted of early morning starts, data collection, trail cutting, digging pitfall lines, bird watching, identification of as many animals as we could find, cooking over an open fire and having so much fun. What more could you ask for?! Just as we were all getting ourselves mentally prepared to leave there was a little bit of a twist…we got to stay for an extra 4 days, woohoo!! What else does a group of scientists do when they have an extended holiday? They collect MORE data – nerdy, but we love it. The only downside to all this extra time was that we ran out of water to shower with so we all smelt a little bit (don’t worry, we still had drinking water!) but more to the point, we ran out of coffee…disaster! Finally it was actually time to leave, so after repacking the car we were off on our delightfully long journey home. Although we were all a little tired by the end of it we had achieved so much. The list of animals we saw was immense: roughly 130 species of birds, 3 species of armadillos, peccary, tamandua, vampire bats, a few different species of medium sized cats, crab eating foxes, caiman, capybara, tapir and so many more. No monkey sightings unfortunately, although, that’s not to say they weren’t there. I guess we will just have to go back again to find them. Bring on round two of the Chaco!! By Anna O'Riordan Para La Tierra Primate Volunteer 2013

domingo, 13 de octubre de 2013

Chaco Expedition Part 2: by JP Brouard

20/09/13 This was supposed to be our last full day at the reserve so we gathered in the camera and sherman traps (a device to catch small mammals), and went for our last ride around the salt lakes. There were many birds around. A little Collared Plover ran through the sand, as two Tropical Kingbirds chased flies. When we returned Mike and I decided to put up some butterfly traps close to the lodge, while the others went for a walk to the waterhole. This turned out to be a very good decision. A Jaguarandi walked towards the water. As it got close a Crab-eating Fox chased it away. Joe and Anna got some amazing footage of this elusive cat. In the late afternoon a decision was made to stay for a few more days as an affiliate of PLT had some car issues and needed our 4x4. Karina had to leave and was going to be back to get us in a few days. 21-24/09/13 The next four days were spent in the vicinity of the lodge. We undertook a short project comparing the diversity of birds at two waterholes, put in new pitfall and sherman traps, and repositioned the camera traps. Mike, Joe and Anna made a new trail to search for the possible presence of Owl Monkeys. They spent large portions of the morning using machetes to clear the thorn bushes away from the path. Two of the days were very cold and the amount of animals being found decreased significantly. Joe and I spent a lot of time bird watching. The area around the lodge produced loads of cool species. We saw numerous Golden-billed Saltators, Lark-like Brushrunners, White-banded Mockingbirds, Many-coloured Chaco-Finches, and many more. On one of our walks we came across a Southern Three-banded Armadillo. They are a non-burrowing species that runs around going about their daily activities. We managed to see four individuals on this trip. At night we would go on walks down our new trail, or search the abandoned house for bats. We were able to get very close and personal with Vampire bats which was a cool experience. Spending time at the waterhole was a lot of fun. I counted 22 Caiman staring at me through the green algae on one particular day. Birds were abundant with beautiful species such as Hepatic Tanager, Blue-and-Yellow Tanager and White-tipped Plantcutter, all coming down for a drink. On the last day we collected all the equipment and that evening we all anxiously waited for the results from the camera traps to download onto the computer. The cameras had caught loads of cool species but the highlights would have to be the Tapir drinking at the waterhole, an Ocelot and another black form of the Jaguarandi. 25/09/2013 A bright and early start saw us pack the car and say goodbye to Chaco Lodge. In the short time spent sampling we saw over 130 bird species, 16 reptiles and amphibians and 15 mammal species. We were fortunate to see a Southern Tamandua (a species of ant-eater) crossing the road not long after our exit from the lodge. Unfortunately the Chaco is disappearing at an alarming rate. The month of August alone has seen 60,000 hectares of pristine bush disappear through the use of deliberate forest fires to clear land for cattle ranching. PLT is aiming to discover the hidden treasures of the Chaco before it is too late. If you would be keen to join us on one of our expeditions to this amazing place, visit our website at www.paralatierra.org. Until next time JP

martes, 8 de octubre de 2013

Chaco Expedition Part 1: by JP Brouard

The Chaco spans from eastern Bolivia, through the northern half of Paraguay, to the northern parts of Argentina. It is a harsh environment, but in this land there are many unique species that call it home. Paraguay has some of the best tracts of this habitat left in the world, but it is disappearing at an alarming rate. PLT’s mission is to save threatened environments, we have been very successful at Laguna Blanca, but this expedition was the start of our journey towards this goal in the Chaco. 15/09/13 The preparations for our expedition to Chaco Lodge began in the afternoon. The lodge is based next to a great salt lake in the Dry Chaco of northern Paraguay. Joe gave the team an introductory presentation about the area and the activities that we as a team needed to achieve. Then the packing began. Buckets, check. Moth light, check. Bedding, check. Food, check. The list went on and on. Eventually our silver 4x4 ‘Wingle’ was packed to perfection, and we were set to go. 16/09/13 We were up at dawn, and left for the nearby town of Santa Rosa. We had arranged that Becca and I would catch the bus to make it more comfortable for the journey ahead. The car team (Karina, Joe, Mike and Anna) had to collect a few items in Conception, so it all worked out well, and we all met up in the Chaco town of Filadelphia. A quick meal at the excellent local Chinese restaurant and we were on our way to the lodge. Well that’s what we thought. A few small navigational errors saw us driving around in circles and we only arrived at the Lodge in the early hours of the morning. We did manage to see a Crab-eating Fox and South American Racoon, but we were exhausted and needed to sleep. We unpacked the car quickly into the small bungalow where the girls had their room. Joe, Mike and I were camping so we put up our tent near the house. An abandoned second house was not far away, which in some respects seemed scary, but I was sure it would be full of animal life and worth searching. Before we went to bed we found our first Chaco special, a small frog, Rhinella major. What a great start to the trip! 17/09/13 Joe and I were up early to check out the surroundings. We lifted a large metal sheet next to the house to find a pregnant Chaco Straight-toed Gecko, Homonota fasciata. Another Chaco special. Birds were plentiful with the resident Chaco Chacalacas and Monk Parakeets making a constant racket. We walked to a nearby waterhole where there were plenty of vultures hanging around. The carcass of a cow laid dead in the grass which brought much delight and enthusiasm as we knew this could potentially be a good place to put a few camera traps later in the day. We headed back to the lodge to find everyone wide awake. Mike and Anna were collecting firewood, while Becca and Karina made lunch. We decided it was time to install Chaco Lodge’s first pitfall bucket traps. This is a great way to catch small reptiles, amphibians and rodents. After some hard labour and a great lunch we decided to go for a drive to the salt lakes to see if there was any water in them. Unfortunately the first lake was empty. A tall wooden lookout point stood towering above the treeline. We headed towards it and decided to all venture to the top. An incredible view laid in front of us. The dry salt flats stretched into the distance and pristine Chaco bush surrounded it. An Aplomado Falcon flew by swiftly, while a Six-banded Armadillo was digging a burrow in the ground. What a special place! 18/10/13 The highlight of the second day was our late afternoon trip to the nearby reserve of Campo Maria. We had heard that Chilean Flamingos covered their lakes and this was something everyone was keen to see. The reserve didn’t disappoint. Silver teals, Giant Wood-Rails, South American Stilts and groups of Flamingos were just some of the birds found on the lake. Dusk arrived, so we decided to get the big spotlight out and tried to find some mammals. It was chilly sitting at the back of the 4x4 but it paid off with the sighting of a Grey Brocket Deer and a group of White-lipped Peccary (a species of bush-pig). The drive back to Chaco Lodge also proved to be fruitful. Mike and I stood on the tray of the Wingle and battled the cold. Our perseverance was rewarded we sighted Crab-eating Foxes, an Azara’s Fox and two White-collared Peccary. 19/09/13 We were all in a routine by the third morning. The pitfall traps that we had set out around the lodge were producing some special Chaco endemic lizards. Our usual morning searches had revealed some awesome birds such as Cream-backed Woodpecker and Crested Gallito. The Caiman that lived in the waterholes seemed to be getting use to our presence. At lunch Joe told me that he had heard frogs calling from the large underground water tanks that collected rain water from the gutters. We lifted the lid of the first one to find many tree frogs clinging onto the pipes and walls. There were two species present, Scinax nasicus and Scinax acuminatus, both commonly found in houses and known to the locals as ‘bathroom frogs’. With this success we rushed to check the second container. I peered down to the bottom. BINGO! A rare Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira annulata) was resting near a very large scorpion and two species of large frogs, Leptodactylus laticeps and Leptodactylus chaquensis. Now we had to figure out how we could get them out. I connected my butterfly net with its extension poles to a large broom. It worked a charm. In half an hour all the animals were safely out of their watery death trap, photographed and released. In the late afternoon we went for a drive around the salt lakes. We passed the first dry lake, turned the corner and were very surprised to see water. Two Coscoroba Swans sat in the middle, while Maguari Storks patrolled the margins. We went for a walk on the muddy banks and found recent tracks of Puma crossing the flats. Jaguar and Puma are elusive in the area, so this was a great sign. Dusk fell upon us and soon after we set off again. Once again it only seemed fitting to take out the spotlight. A group of 14 Greater Rhea ran off into the distance, while a Great Horned owl sat in a tree on the edge of the lake. The best sighting of the night was the small Geoffroys cat, a species restricted to the Chaco. To be continued..... JP

domingo, 1 de septiembre de 2013

Chaco Lodge

This past weekend, Karina and I had the amazing good fortune to return to the Chaco. Our goal was to find a matrix of giant salt lakes hidden by the dense Chaco forest. Two massive properties surround the lakes, to the north lay our destination – “Chaco Lodge” and to the south a larger property – “Campo Maria” which consists mostly of cattle ranching. Our journey took us over 9 hours of travelling over the worst road in the country; the asphalt broke open into huge potholes 3 feet deep and 5 feet wide. In other places, the asphalt disappeared entirely and we were forced to weave our way along equally treacherous dirt roads. But no fear, our new Wingle 5 (think the mystery of the Wind meets the elegance of an Eagle) brought us safely to our destination, even if we did get lost a number of times along the way. Our biggest mistake actually led to an amazing discovery. While searching for the entrance to the “Chaco Lodge,” I took the wrong turning and we entered the neighboring property of “Campo Maria.” Campo Maria truly was a massive cattle ranch; a huge labyrinth of different fields, each looking just the same as the last. But during our futile search for the exit, I made another wrong turn and we started heading for the center of the property. We passed through a dense part of forest and came out into an open expanse. We’d found the southern tip of the salt lakes! The winter in Paraguay is the dry season so this part of the salt pan was as dry as the desert. We crossed the pan following in the tracks of other explorers that had come before us, kicking the salty white dust behind the truck as we sped northward. We were half trying to find our way off the property, and half hoping to find any bit of water that might still remain. Our search was not in vain. As we rounded one corner, the water spread out in front of us. The hot Chaco sun reflecting off the water as the strong North Wind was whipping waves along the surface. And more than that, the lake was full of thousands of birds. Hundreds of flamingos took flight as they heard the Wingle approach. The sky was full of the beautiful pink birds. Two huge Jabiru (link to Fauna Paraguay) paced along the shore occasionally sticking their long beaks into the soft soil in search of food. Karina and I spent several hours bird watching and exploring this amazing gem hidden in the Chaco before deciding to move on. Eventually we pealed ourselves away from all the birds and the wonderful landscape to attempt once again to find our way to the Chaco Lodge. We retraced our footsteps until we made our way back to the road. I was telling Karina the number of places where I could have made a mistake when we arrived at junction. I told her “This is where I turned right. I’m sure that was the right decision.” Only to have her point out that a street sign had been knocked over was lying face up in the dirt. We approached slowly and sure enough the sign read “Chaco Lodge 20km to the left.” So I admitted I was wrong and we were finally on our way again. We arrived without any other problems and placed all our stuff down at the campsite. We ate a quick lunch and hoped right back into the Wingle. After such an amazing morning at Campo Maria, we wanted to see what the Chaco Lodge had in store for us. We were not disappointed. The massive lake at Campo Maria looked like a swimming pool in comparison to what we found at Chaco Lodge. The water spanned so far that in places you couldn’t see the other shoreline. The birds were just as abundant and we were actually lucky enough to see two beautiful Coscoroba Swans swimming loyally side by side. We found tracks of several dozen wild peccary moving from the shoreline back into the forest, along with sporadic huge footprints of Tapirs. But my favorite part of this trip was definitely our night drive around the lake’s edge. In a single evening, we caught sight of five foxes, two different species of armadillo, a pair of White-collared Peccaries, a Greater Horned Owl (the largest owl in Paraguay) and a troop of nine Greater Rhea. The amazing nature we found at the Chaco Lodge really goes to show what a difference large protected areas can have on biodiversity. Begrudgingly, we left early the next morning to make our trip all the way back to Asuncion but we spoke the whole way down about how we could plan our next trip back to the Chaco Lodge. PLT is working very hard to establish ourselves in the Chaco and the Chaco Lodge may have just jumped its way to the top of our dream list. If I got to choose, I’d go back to the Chaco Lodge tomorrow. Joseph

lunes, 26 de agosto de 2013

Not-So-Dangerous Snakes of Laguna Blanca

Paraguay has a very diverse range of snake species. The reason for this is because there is a wide variety of habitat types within its boundaries. Only a few of these snakes can be considered dangerous to man. Most of the time these fascinating creatures will avoid humans, but as our population increases and habitat destruction continues, more dangerous encounters occur. Fortunately protected havens can be found for these threatened reptiles. One of these havens is Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca. We have approximately 35 species recorded to date, and only 4 of these are considered dangerous to man. These are the Neotropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus), Urutu Lancehead Viper (Rhinocerophis alternatus), Painted Lancehead Viper (Bothrops diporus) and Southern Coral Snake (Micrurus frontalis). There are a few mildly venomous species such as the “Racers” in the genus Philodryas that can give a nasty bite, but in general the symptoms are mild and medical attention is not required. The Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) has no venom, but can reach a very large size. Even though this could be considered a threat, these snakes are elusive and critically endangered within Paraguay. In the last few weeks we have encountered some of these fascinating creatures and I would like to share our experiences with you. Annie was on her way back to the station after an evening searching for bats in the transitional forest, when she came across a big snake on the path. She ran back to the station and woke me up. Ryan and I jumped out of our beds and were on our way to see if the snake was still in the area. Fortunately for us it was a chilly morning, and the snake was sluggish. We got to the site to see a massive female Rattlesnake slowly moving down the path. What an adrenaline rush. These beautiful Vipers are widespread in South America and can be found in a variety of habitat types. They have a lethal venom that effects the nervous system and the brain. They use this strong venom to immobilize their prey. Rattlesnakes and Lancehead Vipers from the Americas and certain species of Vipers from Asia, have pit sensors near the front of the head, and are commonly referred to as “Pit Vipers”. They are excellent ambush predators that use these sensors to distinguish their prey from other objects. A single rapid bite with their large fangs is all it takes to kill its victim. They don’t hold on to it because of potential injury that can be inflicted by the prey, so they release it and let the venom take effect. It doesn’t get far. The snake uses its strong sensory organ tongue to track down the dead rodent. Unfortunately human encounters with this snake are common, and because of their sluggish behaviour, they are often stood on. It was great to see such a large female in the reserve. Large snakes like this are rarely encountered because of human encroachment. After a few photographs we let her be on her way. A few days later I went for an evening walk to look for frogs near the seasonal pond. I decided to check a new trapline that we had recently installed. Success. An adult male Painted Lancehead Viper sat in one of the buckets. He could easily get out, but he sat there, probably waiting for an unlucky rodent to fall in. These snakes are common throughout the reserve and can be encountered crossing a pathway or just basking in the early morning. There has been a lot of discussion on what species of Bothrops occur in the area because of all the taxonomical changes of late. For now we have two species, the other being the Urutu Lancehead Viper which is restricted to wetland areas. Bothrops have a potent venom that is similar to the Rattlesnake, with the addition of a tissue destroying venom. These snakes are the cause of a lot of snake bites in South America. They are often found near human habitation because we provide the perfect components for their existence, food and shelter. Last week we were called to a local fishermen’s house as he had captured a large snake in his fishing net. We arrived in the hour to see a 2.1metre male Green Anaconda sitting at the bottom of a hole. My heart was racing. A life-long dream fulfilled. He was a gem, very calm and didn’t once attempt to bite. Anaconda’s are widely distributed in South America, and live in fresh water systems. They reach their southern most limits in the North-East of Paraguay, and are nationally threatened due to human degradation, pollution and over-fishing. These snakes have no venom and use their large size to constrict their prey. Females are much bigger than males, and have been recorded at over 6 metres in length. Their eyes are positioned towards the top of their head, instead of the side like most other snakes. This allows the Anaconda to be great ambush predator. They peer just above the surface of the water, waiting patiently for an unlucky victim to stray to close. On the reserve there is an abundance of prey items for our Anacondas, including fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. We were delighted to release this magnificent male into the lagoon to join our resident population, and hopefully we will see some juveniles in the near future. Check out the video on this little beaut. https://vimeo.com/71165802 Fear is the main reason why snakes are seen in such a bad light. At the reserve we are teaching the local community to respect them and to try see them in a different way. I am confident that our hard work will pay off, so we can co-exist with these fascinating creatures long into the future. Visit our website below if you would like to help us track down rare and endangered creatures in this amazing part of the country. www.paralatierra.org Until next time, JP

viernes, 16 de agosto de 2013

Fighting fires, freezing and friends – That’s life at PLT

July was a busy month of coming and going at PLT. We said a sad farewell to Annie, Charlotte and Kasper. Hello and goodbye to Brooke and Rebecca, two devils from New Orleans and hello to Emma, a general volunteer from the UK and Anna, another monkey person from Ireland. I left for three weeks to go back to Edinburgh and Karina finally returned from two months away in Geneva, Glasgow and Mexico. When in Scotland (where the weather was hotter than I have ever known it to be!!) I spoke to the people who were still at Laguna Blanca and was told over and over again how cold it was. So as I prepared for the long journey back to Laguna Blanca I dressed for the cold – boots, jacket, the works. And I stuffed my suitcase full of warm clothes including a thermal monkey onesie making Anna, our new primate volunteer very jealous!! When I finally arrived back in Paraguay I got off the plane to blazing sunshine, and definitely feeling a bit silly with all my winter gear on! Then on the hottest day, with temperatures soaring to more than 35 degree Celsius we were faced with an emergency. Over the tops of the trees Jorge spotted a column of black smoke rising upwards. The guards went to investigate and about half an hour later we received the call – a fire was burning inside the reserves Atlantic Forest fragment. Time to round the troops, load the truck with spades, thermo’s full of ice and water, rakes, machetes and go fight the fire!!! It didn’t start well with some misunderstanding on my part we ended up hauling a lot of very heavy stuff down a long trail at the wrong end of the forest…woops. Then when we got to the right end of the forest we had to machete our way to the fire. When Joe, JP, Ryan and myself got to the flames we realized our mistake - the fire was HUGE. The forest was also very dry and the wind was to strong so it was time to beat a hasty retreat and enter the forest through the other side where we finally found the Paraguayans. By this point they had got the fire in the area under control and were moving further down the forest, so we all headed back to the truck. However, when we got there and were deciding whom to send home for food we heard shouts from the forest. Grabbing shovels and machetes the boys and I ran back into the forest to help. The heat was intense and it was an awful sight to watch the tiny fragment of burning. We fought it as best we could, throwing sand onto the small flames and beating the larger ones with green leafy branches. Too often we were forced back as large trees lit up like torches and the heat became too intense. After more than 5 hours of fighting the flames we got the fire under control and covered in ash and scratches and exhausted we headed back to the station for much needed showers and well deserved cold beers!
Autumn is winter down here in Paraguay and the rain and the cold weather struck back with a vengeance two days after the fire. The cold weather does have an upside. When it isn’t raining one fun way to escape the cold and warm up is playing volleyball. The games begin and tend to continue until we can’t see the ball anymore as it gets dark. Things can get pretty serious – especially as the testosterone kicks in and the boys get competitive but it always hilarious to watch Ryan’s flying dives for the ball or me and Janine hit the deck whenever it comes near us!!! As the nights close in around 6pm we eat dinner and light a fire out the front of the house. There is nothing quite like sitting round a fire with good friends while the incredible Paraguayan stars sparkle overhead. On nights when we don’t light a fire the whole group snuggles down under piles of blankets and hot water bottles in the boys’ dorm to watch movies. One of the best things about spending time at a remote field site like PLT is the chance to meet people from all over the world, and even though you aren’t spending a very long time with them they become your best friends. And even after you leave chances are you have met people that will be your friends forever! Come join us and see for yourself!! Until next time Becca

martes, 16 de julio de 2013

Where are the bats?

When Joe arrived back from his whistle-stop European trip he brought back an exciting present for Annie with him – telemetry equipment, 10 micro GPS units and 10 micro VHF transmitters. The master plan – to attach them to bats that she was trapping to gain information about their movements. As my love of field work was spawned in Namibia using VHF telemetry, I was more excited than a child on Christmas day by the brand new receiver and TINY transmitters!! After practicing a little to get used to the equipment everyone was given a run down on how to use the receiver and listen for that hideously illusive BEEP! Everyone took turns in using the equipment to track down a transmitter that I had hidden around the station. Unfortunately, the weather decided that it was not going to be our friend and assist us in this project. The rain and the cold started. And it didn’t stop for around 13 days. This left Annie with a race against time to trap bats weighing more than 90g. Guidelines state that you cannot attach tracking equipment to an animal that weighs more than 5% of its body weight. Even though the transmitters were TINY, Annie still had to make sure that she only put them on the largest bats she was catching. In the few days following the rain the bats started to come back to the nets, but none big enough. Then finally as panic started to set in Annie and Joe finally managed to catch a large female bat and attach a transmitter!! Then the hunt began. With Annie desperately needing sleep, Charlotte (a primate volunteer from the UK) and I took the telemetry equipment and set out on the first hunt. As VHF tracking operates using radio waves one technique to avoid interference is to get up high. To do this, I spent a lot time scrambling onto the roof of the car while all ears strained to hear the tiny bleep through the loud, grating interference. On the road we picked up Janine and Celine and then finally we were joined by Annie. Team Chica was complete and ready for action!!! We drove around the reserve searching for somewhere that we could find a signal from. As we drove out of the gate and down the road to San Jorge, we were rewarded with a spike on the receiver’s digital display! The next day we went out again to hunt for the receiver and hopefully, retrieve it if it had become detached from the bat. Charlotte, Annie, Jorge and I headed out armed with the telemetry equipment and machetes. The signal seemed to be pointing us into the forest so I suggested we head around to the field and see what sort of signal we could get with nothing blocking the transmission. Jorge announced we should just take the path that was there. Before we could ask where the path was he had vanished into the bushes with the machete and created one. Who needs roads when you have a forest guard with a machete!! I spent the afternoon clambering up and down trees (in some cases being lifted very ungracefully down by Conce and Kasper!!). Though we didn’t find the transmitters we did find the grapefruit grove and had a well-deserved break with some delicious fresh grapefruits!! As we sat on the back of the car contemplating what to do next the receiver suddenly exploded into loud, clear beeping!! At the same time, we heard bats chirruping overhead. The unit must have still been on the bat and it had just emerged. Over the following days the hunt continued and eventually we realised a horrible fact. The electricity pylons were interfering with the signal and we never managed to locate the units before the batteries in the transmitters died. VHF signals can be disrupted by dense vegetation and in the end we were defeated by the Atlantic Forest. Thankfully, Annie collected fantastic data for community analysis of the bat population across Laguna Blanca’s different habitats and everybody had a great time learning how to use the telemetry equipment – a valuable tool in any field biologist arsenal!! Everyone at PLT would like to say a huge THANK YOU to Annie for leaving the receiver and antennae at RNLB in order to train future interns and volunteers in VHF tracking!!! If you want to gain experience living and working in the field while having the time of your life check out http://www.paralatierra.org/getinvolved.html

domingo, 23 de junio de 2013

Batty Research

If you didn’t know already, bats are awesome. A few quick facts on bats: Bats are the only flying mammal. The order they belong to, Chiroptera, is the second most diverse order of Mammals in the world. The order contains 20% of all Mammal species, totaling 1240 distinct species. Bats can be split into different feeding guilds based on what they like to eat: insectivores, frugivores, sanguinivores, nectivores, some even eat fish and frogs! Bats vary hugely in size, the smallest (Kitti’s Hog-nosed Bat) being about the same size as a human thumb; the largest (Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox) is 800x the size, weighing 1.6 kilograms with a wingspan of 1.7 meters. Besides the fact that bats are extremely cool, and occasionally extremely cute, the main reason why PLT has decided to focus heavily on them is their importance as habitat engineers. Due to the huge level of diversity, bats contribute to the stability of an ecosystem in many ways. The fruit eating bats help trees disperse their seeds. The insectivorous bats help control insect populations that if left unchecked could wipe out certain species of undergrowth. The ones that drink nectar help pollinate certain flowers. And finally, conservationists rely on bats all around the world as indicator species. Because a healthy bat community relies on insects, fruits, nectar and occasionally frogs to survive, the only place you will find them are in healthy forests with an equal amount of biodiversity to the bat community. Here at Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca we trapped 14 different species and we are confident that there remain more to still be documented. There are 37 bats recorded in Paraguay and very little research has been done on them. UNTIL NOW! Annie Talbot has come to right that egregious wrong. Annie is Masters student working with University of Aberdeen to help PLT (and the rest of the scientific community) find out more about the wonderful creatures we have on site. She will be conducting general sampling across many different habitat types using mist nets. She will also use a bat recorder to document the ecolocation calls of the bats that fly around our heads but escape the nets. If you’ve ever heard that high pitch squeaking echo out from the dark night sky then you have heard a bat use sound to hunt for food. But the majority of the calls are too high frequency for the human ear to pick up. That’s the advantage of the bat recorder, it records on all frequencies and allows us to analyze and identify bats using their calls alone. The other aspect of her project is truly amazing. She has received funding for 10 GPS trackers that we will attach to the backs of a species of bat. With these trackers she will get a huge amount of data. She’ll find out about how they fly, how they navigate, how far they go in a single night, where they roost, what time they wake up and where they go to forage. This methodology has not been used in the past and so she is pioneering a brand new method for studying bat behavior. It is an honor that she chose PLT as her study location and we have high hopes for her project. Joe

martes, 18 de junio de 2013

On the move Para La Tierra

Since the beginning of the New Year, Para La Tierra has been moving and shaking. It all began thanks to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, who have supported us in turning Para La Tierra into a model conservation organisation in Paraguay. In addition to setting up sustainable community projects and employing local Forest Guards among other things, their belief that we could do it has acquired us a new car – a Wingle 5 – and with it new opportunities. Large parts of Paraguay are still inaccessible, and even by bus travel is very difficult. The Chaco is just one of these places, where holes in the treacherous “road” are only the start of the problem. With our own transport we have been able to make several trips into the “green hell”, snaking our way to the far north of the country, discovering the Chaco’s spectacular views. As you may remember form Joe’s blog at the time, the Chaco is a wild and exciting place, boasting a vast biodiversity of strange and wonderful plants and animals. Within the year, we hope to have a second ecological station located at a beautiful Chaco reserve, and repeat some of the successes we’ve had at Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca in these past three years. More recently we found ourselves in Switzerland, at Rolex Headquarters. We spent four busy days meeting some very impressive people including James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic) who recently piloted the first one-man mission to the deepest part of the ocean! We also had the chance to hang out with the equally impressive older laureates including Mark Kendall who has invented a new method of administering vaccine which doesn’t require the use of needles, and Sergei Bereznuk who is working to save Amur tigers in Russia. We also made a new connection with Erika Cuellar, who has dedicated her life to protecting mammals in the Bolivian, Paraguayan and Argentinean Chaco. We then had the privilege of spending our final day at the IUCN headquarters in Geneva, where we met some of the people behind the biggest conservation network in the world. We left Switzerland with hundreds of new ideas and a renewed passion for our work. Back in Paraguay, we are now entirely focused on the growth of Para La Tierra, but to do that we need your help. We are now just over half-way through our Indiegogo Crowdfunding Campaign to fund a new research station in the Chaco, and thanks to all of you who’ve donated so generously, we’ve already reached our baseline target of £5000. With this amount of money we’ll be able to renovate an existing house, making it ready for volunteers to come, explore and learn about this endangered but little-known world. But we want to do more. With extra funding we’ll be able to build an education program including a public museum helping people to fully appreciate what we are in danger of losing forever. If there’s enough left over, we’ll also be able to develop resources enabling children to get involved in science, training the next generation of conservationists, or just giving them a better chance in life. Please give what you can and we will send you a reward along with our everlasting gratitude. If you can’t or if you’ve already donated don’t despair, you can still help! This week we are running a referrals competition. All you need to do is visit the campaign homepage and click on the facebook, twitter or google+ links below the video. We can track referrals and will award a t-shirt to the person with the most! The current record stands at 15, surely you can beat that! Thanks again to everyone who has got behind us. Let’s get Para La Tierra moving once more – get clicking! Karina

miércoles, 1 de mayo de 2013

Introducing Jean-Paul

Hi everyone, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Jean-Paul Brouard (aka Japes the Piz). I originate from Durban, on the east coast of South Africa, but for the last five years I have resided on the small, frozen, damp AND cold island known as the UK. I have returned to Laguna Blanca to fulfil the role of the legendary Helen Pheasey as Museum Curator and Volunteer Co-ordinator. Growing up in the small coastal town of Amanzimtoti, south of Durban was an awesome experience. My dad, a true wildlife fanatic and Bushman by heart, developed my passion for wildlife from a young age. If we were not looking for the threatened Dusky-bellied Water Snake near the local river, we would be exploring the bush or searching through the tidal pools at the beach. Time flew by and my interest in Herpetofauna (Reptiles and Amphibians) escalated. I remember my first solo snake catch in an abandoned field, strewn with waste. I lifted a tin and a snake shot out. I Paused. Heart racing, the chase ensued. I managed to get my hands on this fast, little beaut, a Short-snouted Grass Snake, a widespread species found in the eastern parts of the country. When I entered High School we moved from the coast and settled on a small-holding inland from Durban. I did extensive local surveys in my spare time, and developed an interest in bird watching ;) As a Fifteen year old, getting involved at general EIA (environmental impact assessment) meetings, with my wildlife inventory lists, was a stretch out of my league. At one of these meetings I was fortunate to meet my butterfly mentor, Steve Woodhall, author of several field guides to South African butterflies and President of the Lepidopterist Society of Africa. Steve took me under his wing from the word go. We spent most weekends chasing butterflies, and he got me into macro photography. I only had a video camera at the time, but that was good enough. It was glued to my hand 24/7. I moved to Johannesburg after school. My uncle opened a position for me as a Learner Technician in his UPS business. At this time I started a BSC in environmental management through UNISA. After two years I decided to make a change and immigrated to the UK. I managed to get a job near Henley-on-Thames as a gardener. I spent the next five years working hard to make a living and eventually worked my way up to manage the company. The neotropical region has always fascinated me. The mighty Amazon rainforest with its blue Morpho butterflies to the Andes and its range restricted species. I needed to come explore this rich land. In the first quarter of 2012 I got my opportunity in Paraguay as a volunteer at Para la Tierra. My introduction to this special place had started before I had even arrived at Laguna Blanca. Karina had come to fetch me from the small town of Santa Rosa and I decided to sit on the back of the pickup truck on our way to the reserve to soak up the scenery. It proved to be a good choice as I saw a snake crossing the road. I leaned over the side of the vehicle and shouted SNAKE. All at once I had lost my grip and fell off the back of the car. That was not going to stop me. I got up and sprinted towards the serpent. I brought the prize over to show the others with the biggest smile on my face. Heaven. It was a gorgeous Yellow-bellied Liophis. A very gentle, non-venomous snake that eats amphibians. We arrived at dusk and I was mind blown by the beauty of Laguna Blanca. Not even five minutes spent within the reserve and my lifelong dream to see a wild Morpho butterfly was realised. My time at PLT seemed to fly by as I worked on the inventory of butterflies within the reserve and helped Helen with her reptile projects. I made some amazing friends, and was inspired by the hard work and passion the organisation put in to protect the wildlife and local people within the area. A new year and a new chapter in my life as I have returned to be part of the PLT team. Everyone has been very warm and welcoming. Sadly at the end of the week we will be saying our goodbye’s to Helen, Victoria (Capuchin monkey volunteer), Sean (Fish inventory intern) and Kevin (Bird inventory volunteer). I wish them all the best. In the coming months I hope to share with you my experience and wildlife encounters within this unstudied part of South America. Until next time. Jean-Paul

lunes, 1 de abril de 2013

Holy Fortin Toledo!

Hey everybody, Last week I had the amazing opportunity to visit a private reserve in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco called Fortin Toledo. The name “Gran Chaco” comes from Quechua for the land of great hunting. Its Guarani name translates to something resembling the “Green Hell.” And let me tell you that it certainly lives up to both names. On the bus trip alone up we saw countless birds, including raptors and herons; we also saw caiman and desert hares. The panoramic views from out the window showed huge expanses of the wet savannah plains expanding all the way to the horizon. We passed through the humid Chaco that consisted of palm trees and Quebracho trees surrounded by tall tropical grasses growing out of swamped plains. It looked like a place that even Bear Grylls couldn’t survive in. This habitat is a transitional area between the humid Pantanal and the Dry or Alto Chaco savannah to the north-west. A few hours after leaving Asuncion, we passed out of the Humid Chaco and entered the Alto Chaco. The Alto Chaco is hotter and dryer than the Humid Chaco, and the habitat reflects it. The trees are shorter and spinier, cactuses are more prevalent, and there are sand dunes and small hills from which you can see the desert spreading out around you. The Alto Chaco is also home to a number of large mammals such as peccary, puma and jaguar but due to the increase of agricultural pressures, their numbers are steadily falling. While the trip on the bus was a great introduction to the environment I was going to see at the reserve, it also showed the huge threat to the area: Cattle Ranching! The majority of the Alto Chaco is contained within the Boquerón Department of Paraguay, which is Paraguay’s largest geographic department. Up until recently, due to the lack of infrastructure and the unrelenting heat, it was also a sparsely inhabited department. However, thanks to the completion of the Trans-Chaco highway and an increase in technology it has flourished in the past few decades. It now produces over 65% of the country’s milk and meat due to the fertile soil and ease of clearing land for ranching in the flat savannah. Boquerón is also currently experiencing the country's greatest rate of population increase, about 12.4% annually. The fate of the beautiful Alto Chaco habitat is under grave threat! Once I arrived at the Reserva Privada Fortin Toledo, I was amazed at what I could see. Turning off the main road and onto the reserve, the forest sprung up around me. The near constant sight of herds of cattle disappeared behind us and a new type of fauna surrounded me. Before getting out the car, I’d seen a snake, a tinamou, two buff necked ibises and a Brazilian cotton-tail. The two days I spent there was an amazing experience, especially the evening frog hunt after a heavy rain. We saw 6 species of frog and 2 different snakes on a short walk about the reserve. Truly amazing. The reserve is also home to the Centro Chaqueno de Conservaccion y Investigacion (CCCI) and the site of the Proyecto Tagua. As I mentioned above, all the large mammals are feeling the effects of agricultural expansion but the Chaco Peccary (Catagonus wagneri) or Tagua was thought to have gone extinct over 200 years ago due to poaching and was rediscovered in 1972. The Tagua is one of the few large mammals to be discovered by science since 1900. Proyecto Tagua is a rehabilitation project focusing on the breeding of the Chaco peccary and releasing family groups into pristine environments all throughout the department. The project is over 20 years old and seeing over a one hundred critically endangered peccaries in one place was a great experience. Especially knowing that they were destined to be released back into the wild! For more information on the Chaco peccary and how you can help, please visit CCCIpy.org. Fortin Toledo had one more surprise in store for me. “Fortin” in Spanish means Fort and the site has a number of small bunkers and two graveyards built after a large battle in the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. It was amazing to see the cultural heritage hidden within a beautiful nature reserve. I was also impressed by a giant Palo Boracho tree trunk that had been hollowed out by a sniper to use as cover. The tree trunk was at least a meter and a half wide and had plenty of space for a full grown man to hide within. The whole experience gave a real sense of the inhospitality of the habitat that was only enhanced by the brutal war that took place within it. While I only had enough time to spend two days on the reserve and at least five of those hours I was trapped inside by a torrential rain storm, Fortin Toledo still blew my mind. The mix of passive and active conservation combined with the cultural heritage of the area was enough to make your jaw drop. While I can’t claim to be an expert on the area in such a short time, however I can assure you of one thing: it is a place worth visiting! Even if you have to brave the 40° heat . Until next time, Joseph

jueves, 14 de marzo de 2013

Lights, Camera, Action!

It’s been all go at PLT in the last couple of weeks. The whole reserve received a big spring (or autumn as it is here) clean, the house was gutted, the Atlantic Forest trails were cleared and the area around the house was given what was probably its biggest ever clean!! Everything looked shiny and brand new. The reason: the arrival of a camera crew from Rolex to make a short film about Karina and the work of Para la Tierra. Sara (the director) and Mike (the cameraman) arrived on Sunday night and work began first thing Monday morning. We had spent the previous week collecting small mammals, reptiles and insects in pitfall and Sherman traps and all of these had their moment in the limelight as they were filmed being released and scurrying back into the forest. As the sun fell it was the turn of our flagship species – the white-winged nightjar – to smile for the camera. The next day my first monkey volunteer, Vicki, arrived in the midst of all the filming madness. At night Mark gave an interesting presentation about his time as a PLT volunteer, particularly about his work on beginning a butterfly inventory. After his presentation there was a flurry of activity as Helen and Karina went frogging, Joe, Kevin and Jorge fought with the bat mist net and Vicki and I worked the moth light. On Wednesday the staff and volunteers headed out on mass to be filmed checking the pitfall traps in the Transitional Forest. We found a selection of scorpions, centipedes, spiders and lizards. When we returned it was time to say goodbye to Mark as his 6 weeks came to a close and he headed back to England. Thursday morning found the film crew, Karina, Joe, myself, Sean, Vicki and the Forest Guards in the Atlantic Forest being filmed walking up and down Trail 1 for a couple of hours. The monkeys had been seen that morning in the North Forest but they decided to be divas and not show up for filming in the South!! On Thursday night we all got a special treat! We had a delicious asado and three local men came to play traditional Paraguayan songs for us. It was a fantastic experience and everyone thoroughly the entire night. At 6am Friday morning Mike decided to come on a monkey hunt with Vicki and me. Just for good measure Mike brought his camera. Our thoughts were “now that the camera is here, the monkeys won’t be!” but we couldn’t have been more wrong. As we crept through the forest I looked up…and there they were; all 8 monkeys crossing the path right above our heads. In true capuchin form they shot by so fast that Mike wasn’t able to get film. We decided to call it a day as Mike was leaving and then luck really was on our side. As we walked out towards the edge of the forest a rustle in the bushes beside me alerted me to the spy. Mike whipped out his camera and got a great bit of footage of two of the monkeys rushing through the trees!! Look out for the video on the Rolex Awards website early in June, but if you can't wait to see what we are up to, check out the current video at http://www.rolexawards.com/profiles/young_laureates/karina_atkinson !! Until next time! Becca

lunes, 18 de febrero de 2013

Where’s the Snow and Cold Weather?

On December 29, 2012, I was at the peak of mountain waiting to drop in on the slope with my snowboard. There was low visibility due to the blowing snow and the air temperature was approximately -20°C. Despite this, I inched forward over the edge and began my downhill ride. Fast forward six days and I found myself waiting at the bus terminal in Asuncion, Paraguay, sweating and having a hard time coping with the 35°C weather. Leaving the cold, Canadian winter and arriving in the humid, Paraguayan summer can be a difficult transition for a Canadian. However, I was still ambitious to see my new home at Laguna Blanca. The Para La Tierra staff and the local people working at the nearby resort greeted me with a warm welcome despite that I did not understand any Spanish and Guarani, which is the local dialect. For the next two months at Laguna Blanca, I unknowingly would have one of the best experiences in my life. By being a volunteer for Para La Tierra, I got to participate in many different projects occurring throughout the three different habitats: the cerrado, transitional forest, and Atlantic forest; which are all situated within the reserve boundaries. However, most of my time here was spent in the transitional forest setting up trail cameras deep within the understory to get photographs of the elusive little spotted cat and other rare mammalian species. Most of the camera images I retrieved were of shrubs moving in the wind, agoutis, armadillos, and cottontails. Despite this on-going disappointment and hoping for some rare animal, the trail cameras finally captured some breaking images. Three white-collared peccaries got their photographs taken. This was exciting because this particular species has not been seen in the reserve since 2005 and were believed to be extirpated from the area. Besides the camera trapping, I had many other highlights. The one morning, the primatologist and I were fortunate enough to see the local group of Capuchin monkeys within minutes of entering the South Atlantic forest. It was amazing to see the monkeys jumping from one tree to the next, and we also witnessed an infant holding onto its mother’s back. The museum curator and I got to catch small opossums in the transitional forest using Sherman traps, capture lizards using pitfall traps, and collect insects that were attracted to a spotlight. I also joined three marine biology students on the lake, and assisted with the capture of some fish using gillnets. In particular, I got to remove snapping piranhas tangled in a gill net. However, my favourite highlight at Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca was holding a white-winged nightjar in my hands. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a critically-endangered species sitting there in front of you. Although, I am sure that the nightjar was not feeling the same enjoyment as I was. When I was off the reserve, I got to celebrate a Paraguayan girl’s 15th birthday party. It was fun drinking with the staff, interns, and other volunteers at the party. Particularly, it was funny to witness the local men attempting to buy a dance with the female staff members by persuading the guys at Para La Tierra with beer. Secondly, everyone from Para La Tierra, including myself, had the opportunity to see Carnival in Encarnacion, Paraguay. It was a great time seeing the women in the parade, and having numerous spray foam fights in the VIP booth. Carnival is a must-see event if you visit Paraguay during January and February. If you plan to volunteer or become an intern for Para La Tierra, I would like to recommend a few things. First, participate in every Para La Tierra project and join the local people in some of the Paraguayan customs. Try something new and out of your element. You are guaranteed to acquire a wide range of valuable field skills and to maximize your Paraguayan experience if you do. Secondly, keep a journal. Your friends and family would like to hear about your Paraguayan adventure. Lastly, have some fun and make some new friends. I met people from different parts of the world, and I had a fun time hanging out with each individual. Even though this blog was a brief summary of my Paraguayan experience, I am sure whoever joins Para La Tierra will also have a great time! Adam Moltzahn – Canada 2013 Para La Tierra Volunteer

jueves, 14 de febrero de 2013

What happens at Carnaval...

This month the staff and interns at Laguna Blanca were given a pretty big treat, four days in Encarnaciόn for Carnival!!! After two weeks of the excitement building after hearing about how awesome Carnival was from Karina and Joe the big day finally arrived and Helen, Mark, Sean and myself began what turned out to be the three day camel hike from Laguna Blanca to Encarnaciόn. Adam, Sam and Dan would follow the following day. We left the house at 5:30am, all more awake than I know I have ever been at that silly hour of the morning thanks to the adrenaline and anticipation for the nonsense ahead!! This wore off slightly as we sat at the bottom of the soy field waiting for the bus. I was still dark and I actually started to feel cold for the first time since leaving Edinburgh!! This feeling would not last long. The bus arrived at 6:30am and we were finally on our way! The first bus trip was two hours, and sometimes nail bitingly terrifying as the incredibly rickety bus edged over pretty terrifying wooden bridges!! Of course, we made it to Santa Rosa safe and sound and even had time to grab some empanadas before jumping on a much fancier bus, with air con(!!), for the five hour trip to Asunciόn. The early start catching up on everybody we all feel asleep pretty much straight away!! When we arrived in Asunciόn bus terminal it was straight to the coffee shop for some much needed caffination. We got our tickets for the final six hour trip and waited. The final bus was hilarious. The fierce Paraguayan sun was now out with a vengeance and much to our horror we got on the bus, sat down and quickly realised that this bus did not have air conditioning!! The next six hours were spent feeling very much like we were being cooked like Christmas turkeys but as we pulled in to Encarnaciόn and the excitement started to build the misery of the bus trip was quickly forgotten. One quick taxi ride to our lovely guest house to drop off our stuff and then we quickly made our way to the beach and the bars!! Friday was spent in a blur of beach bars and beers until Adam, Sam and Dan finally joined us about 9:30pm. The night flew by with far too many Cuba Libres and pretty dreadful Paraguayan music. Everybody got a good laugh as I was dragged in front of the whole bar for being the only blonde girl there and made to spin “The Wheel of Fortune”. Extremely embarrassing, especially as my Spanish is….questionable and I had had enough alcohol to attempt to answer the questions I thought he was asking me, not what he was actually asking me!! Worth it though as I won us all free drinks! Saturday came round with a haze of headaches and hangovers but that didn’t matter. It was finally Carnival day!!! For those whose hangovers would allow the night began with tequila shots before we even went out! Hyper and with pockets and bags full of fake snow we headed to the parade. It was absolutely fantastic! Six hours of girls in bikinis, glitter and feathers and guys doing backflips alongside elaborate sparkly floats with latin music loud enough to make your ears bleed. Combine that with fake snow fights breaking out every few minutes, first between the PLT crew and soon spreading to full blown, good humoured gang warfare with the Paraguayans, and it’s a guaranteed recipe for an incredible, once in a lifetime experience. So even though Carnival is over, next year can’t come quickly enough!! Becca

sábado, 19 de enero de 2013

Introducing Becca

Hello!!! My name is Becca Smith. I am originally from Edinburgh, Scotland and I have recently moved to Paraguay to join the Para la Tierra team as the Primate Project Leader. I have been fascinated by wildlife my entire life and decided very early on that all I wanted to do was work with animals. In 2010 I finished my undergraduate degree in Zoology and after spending the majority of 2011 working in Namibia in a wildlife sanctuary I discovered that working with primates was my true calling and returned to university to take a Masters of Research in Primate Biology, Behaviour and Conservation. After graduating in September 2012 I travelled to Panama for an internship rehabilitating rescued mantled howler monkeys. I am very excited to be working in such a beautiful place and I think there are endless possibilities for the direction that the primate project can go in. I have spent most of my time so far being shown the ropes and the amazing work that has already been done in beginning to habituate the monkeys and organise the trail system by Amber and Brett. To begin with I aim to fully habituate and identify the monkeys so that behaviour studies can be carried out. I am hoping to possibly extend the trail system into the parts of the reserve that, at present, have no trails or the trails are extremely overgrown. My more long term goals are to attempt to establish whether or the capuchins at Laguna Blanca are a distinct sub-species and also create a definite map of their home range and determine whether there are other troops in the area that they are breeding with. Right now I am just excited to be part of the very welcoming team at Para la Tierra and hope I can contribute to the project during my time here!! So if your into science, monkeys or just working in the sunshine in a beautiful setting why don’t you come down and join me!!! Becca

viernes, 11 de enero de 2013

The epic saga of Berendan Wasp slayer

I left Melbourne, Australia on the 3rd of November. Saying goodbye to my family and heading off into the unknown of South America where no Slade had ever been before. The trip was an epic one leaving at 11 in the morning and arriving in Los Angeles at 9 in the morning of the same day. Wait what? A fourteen hour plane trip and I had gone back three hours in time. I spent all day at LA airport and then headed off another plane trip to Panama City, Panama. I spent another five hours reading before setting off on the last plane leg to Asuncion, Paraguay arriving at 2 am on the 5th of November. This plane was novel as the primary language spoken on board was not English but Spanish, something I had never encountered before. Luckily everything was repeated in English and the headset could also be adjusted to Spanish. Leaving the airport I was very excited and intrigued to see the city. The route from the airport to bus station was not particularly impressive though with many cars and motorbikes squashed in and a general disregard for road rules. I was very glad I was not the one driving although I was concerned about the lack of seatbelts. Using my limited Spanish I managed to buy a bus ticket to Santa Rosa and jumped on. Bus travel in Paraguay is definitely an unusual experience. For one thing the bus had air conditioning, TV, two levels, reclining seats and cost half the price as at home. The other thing was that people continually got on the bus and sold fruit, water and sunglasses. One guy even gave some sort of speech although I have no idea what it was about. I quickly fell asleep. I awoke terrified that I had missed my stop and having no way to work out if I had or not as Paraguayans don't seem to believe in road signs. After a tense hour we did arrive in Santa Rosa and I was much relieved. I waited at the terminal clutching my bags and feeling out of place among sell these dark skinned, dark haired, short, Spanish speakers who occasionally started rambling at me in rapid incomprehensible Spanish which I could only reply with 'no comprehend, yo soy Australia'. When Helen turned up to pick me up I was again much relieved. I had managed to get to Laguna Blanca without any issues. Laguna Blanca is an amazing place. Think of an ideal tropical beach. Laguna Blanca is a lot like that despite Paraguay being a land locked country. It is a large crystal clear freshwater lake with a beach of pure white sand. The house I am to be staying in for the next three months has four bedrooms, each with a bathroom, and a communal dining area. My bedroom has 7 beds but never more than 4 are occupied and at present I am the only one. Each bed is surrounded by a veil of mosquito netting which makes me feel oddly safe. There is also a fan but unfortunately it is no real substitute for an air conditioner. We aren't here for luxury and it helps you to appreciate good plumbing. After arriving in the evening I went to sleep for almost 24 hours straight and the bed never feels this comfortable again. Upon waking I am introduced to the other volunteers, interns and staff. There is Helen, Jacqui, Georgia and Jonny from England, Joe and Tom from America, Monique and Fionne from the Netherlands, Ruby from New Zealand and Dave from South Africa. Rarely before did I meet such a group of friendly and interesting people and I really hope we can all stay in contact once I go home. Primarily I was to be searching for Capuchin monkeys. At Laguna Blanca there is a troop of 9 monkeys which reside in the dense Atlantic Forest. We were hoping to habituate the monkeys so that their behaviour could be better observed and studied. The Atlantic forest is unlike any forest I have been in before. You enter the forest on a tiny little path barely more than an animal track. On either side is dense vegetation which is continually trying to grow back over the path. There are a few key plants which you quickly learn about. The most irritating is a fairly small one with little green leaves and tiny branches which looks perfectly harmless however it is covered in small thorns which gleefully attach to your clothes, making you unable to move. They are also a nightmare to cut down as the thin branches merely bounce off the machete. The next plant has huge flat green leaves about the size of dinner plates and if you touch them you will feel a sharp burning and within a minute an itchy rash. You quickly learn to avoid these and fortunately they are very easy to cut down and doing so gives you immense satisfaction. The next plant is bamboo. Bamboo is not much of a threat but grows very quickly so often needs to be cut down to prevent the path disappearing. There are than ferns which are as tall as me with huge, lush leaves, just after it rains these will leave you soaking wet. Then there are the vines, these grow from the canopy down to the ground and are somehow impervious to being cut they are also a letdown in that you cannot swing on them. Between climbing under and over and between all these plants you scour the tree line for monkeys. Unlike you they can move very fast through the forest jumping from tree to tree like acrobats. I quickly become very jealous. Generally you will hear them before you see them and I was quite surprised to find they sound a lot like a bird chirping, but staccato. Suddenly you will emerge from between trees and see them sitting in the branches and staring at you. It's hard to say who is more surprised usually. They will start moving off through the trees, usually one of the males will try to distract you off in another direction and then they are gone, leaving you staring in wonder with a few blurry shots on your camera. So far I have seen the monkeys eight times, three of them at night under a full moon. Each time is just as exciting as the first and spurs me on to further slogs through the vines and thorns. There are also a lot of other creatures in the forest. The two most concerning are spiders and wasps. For reasons known only to them both these groups like to set up their webs and nests in the middle of the path. There are also many "friendly" creatures. Giant Stick Insects pretending to be twigs, Giant butterflies flapping lazily around, their wings vibrant yellow, blue and red. Giant praying mantis sit around looking awesome deadly but rarely actually moving. Giant ants climb up and down logs. Giant, yes everything in Paraguay is at least twice as big as at home. Giant grasshoppers leap around flashing bright orange as if they are trying to be butterflies and then turning back into leaves. Giant cicadas burst from the undergrowth shrieking madly and flying into you for unknown reasons. Giant moths lie camouflaged on trees. Lizards lay basking on the ground ready to shoot off if you get too close. Birds of every colour and shape call and fly around and generally try to pretend they are monkeys giving you false hope. If you are really lucky or unlucky depending on how you look at it you might even see a snake slither across the path. When not monkey hunting i have also been helping out with some of the other projects. I have set up mist nets to catch bats with Ruby. A mist net is basically a large net strung between poles several metres apart. The bats fly into the net and get tangled up. This sounds easy however unfortunately the nets also like to get tangled up and each one must first be untangled. I let Ruby stay out overnight to actually take the bats out of the net but I was able to hold them while she photographed them in the morning. I also helped Jacqui in bird netting which is basically the same thing but with birds and thus can be done in the early morning rather than overnight. By early morning I mean we got up at 4am so we could be out there before dawn. If a bird was caught we would take them out photograph them, measure their head, wings and legs and then let them go. We got a surprising variety of wrens, wood creepers, thrushes, doves and flycatchers. Even though their beaks look sharp they can't break your skin and thus aren't too dangerous to hold except for one species which Jacqui nonchalantly informed me may try to peck my eyes out. I also have helped out with some pitfall traps. These involve a line of plastic over a group of buckets. Animals can't get through the plastic and fall into the holes. Although looking at you would think even an idiot wouldn't fall for this trap we actually caught a reasonable number of lizards, scorpions, spiders, ants, beetles, centipedes and millipedes. Of these the scorpions were the coolest and most dangerous. The final project I have helped with was Monique and Fionne's opossum trapping. They placed 245 small mammal traps throughout the Atlantic forest, transitional forest and the cerrado. A small mammal trap is basically a steel box with a lever so when an animal enters the door shuts behind it. On my trip we found two opossums. These guys are about the same size as mice but are marsupials. They are also one of the most aggressive species I have ever seen. They had their mouths wide open showing all their teeth and glaring and hissing at Fionne. We took their weight and gave them a microchip so we could recognize them if caught again. Whenever I finished field work the first thing I would do is jump in the lake. Unlike at home where the water is always freezing here it is just right and you can just sit with it coming just up to your chin and forget all the heat and sweat and insects. The lake has little fish which swim around you curiously and occasionally nip you harmlessly. The water is so clear you can see the bottom even when it is two metres deep. The whole lake is quite large and in the middle it is apparently 8 metres deep. We took out the kayaks once and paddled around it and this took a few hours. After swimming it was usually almost time for lunch. Food at Laguna Blanca varies a lot. It is usually cooked by Gricelda, one of the locals and she does a pretty good job with what's available. The meals generally include spaghetti carbonara, spaghetti with tomato sauce, rice with lentils, pumpkin soup and bread, pizza, boiled eggs with salad, meat/vegetable pie, roast chicken, empanadas, deep fried schnitzel, fruit salad, cabbage salad, cereal, roast potatoes and even chocolate cake. After lunch it's often time for another swim or just chilling, some people take a siesta, read, make use of the wifi internet to skype or even play cards. Anything to stay out of the heat which is always over 30 and sometimes up to 40. Sometimes in the evening we will get together for a volleyball game with the Paraguayans. As most of the volunteers can't speak Spanish and the Paraguayans can't speak English things can at times get confusing but it is a lot of fun. There have been several other things which have happened which I feel need mentioning. One day we found an armadillo and I even got a chance to hold it! It was immensely cute with a very tough shell and long sharp digging claws. Once we placed it on the ground it vanished within a minute. We have also had a couple of volunteers try the delicacy of fried cicada. I wouldn't recommend it myself but they said it was ok. We went for a horse ride western style on a very placid bay horse. I have seen 6 snakes which have all taken the opportunity to slither away as fast as possible however these guys are also the most lethal animals at Laguna Blanca. Occasionally we have an asado which is basically a bbq and is quite delicious although for some reason the Paraguayans don't start eating till after 10 and then keep chatting till the small hours which is not ideal when you need to be up at 4. Paraguay has regular spectacular thunderstorms and swimming in the middle of them is also a lot of fun. We made a Blair witch project styled home video which possibly only we will fully appreciate and cannot stop laughing the whole time. Overall Para La Tierra is an amazing group mainly because it is filled with amazing people. The work is often tough with very early starts, overwhelming heat and a plethora of interesting plants and animals. However it is also very rewarding when you do succeed in finding your target species and this more than makes up for it. My time here is going by incredibly quickly with only just over a month left and I am still hopeful of hitting the jackpot and seeing a jagarundi, maned wolf and of course more Capuchins. Brendan Slade - Australia Para La Tierra Volunteer 2012/13

jueves, 3 de enero de 2013

The Butterfly Effect by Monique Brok

People say that every choice you make influences the rest of your life. That the main road you eventually walk on during your life depends on the short sidepaths you took. Everyone takes decisions in life based on what they feel and/or think. Some were good while others were bad, but even though each choice creates doubt and confuse us by thinking about what could have been, in some cases there is no doubt about it. That ''that choice'' was one of the best you made. I feel and know that for me, going to Para la Tierra was one of them. Living in a tropical fantasy world is the best way to describe staying in Laguna Blanca at Para La Tierra. Loads of sunshine that brightens up every single day, a white beach and the clear blue lake are alike those you see in travel magazines and the soft chirping of birds create peace of mind throughout the day. But there is more, much more to be amazed by. One of the first things that caught my eye since my arrival was the gathering of numberous butterflies. They were dancing in the sky, flying around in circles and eventually creating a patch, sitting side by side. I was possessed by this occurrance, it took my breath away. From this point, I felt like I was in paradise. It made me wonder what other treasures this place would hold, what other beauties lay ahead of me. Many more, I can tell you... One day, I was sitting on the porch, doing nothing significant in particular. The sound of leaves moving drew my attention. I looked up and was paralized for a moment. I saw an Armadillo, walking just in front of me in the middle of the day. These animals are nocturnal and live underneath the ground, so that it was there was a little miracle! After the severe shock passed, I called Tom and Fionne to come and with the three of us we followed it for 15 to 20 minutes. The Armadillo wasn't scared at all, it even had a look at us back from a distance of maybe 1,5 meters before it disappeared into the bushes. Some time had passed and another Armadillo, the Naked Tail Armadillo, was found at the tourist area. All interns and volunteers jumped into the back of the car and drove to the Cerrado for its release. We all got to hold the cute animal for a little bit and afterwards released it. Within seconds, the only sign of the Armadillo was a small mound of dug up sand. It was an amazing thing to withness and I cherish the memory! What intrigered me as well were the out of proportion and weird looking insects that one way or another are beauty to the eye and occur on site, such as the Longhorned beetle which can reach the size comparable to the hand of an adult person, Cicadas that look like big mutant flies with African-like paintings on their bodies and making an alarm sound during warmer nights, the Rhino beetles that have similar head figuration as real rhino's and other insects that I previously could have only imagined to exist in the real world. Walking through the forest was one of the many things I loved during my stay at Para la Tierra. To see the beautiful sunrise in the early morning, see the forest come to life with lizards running around all over the place, woodpeckers and hummingbirds flying around, hearing the calls of the insects and all creatures settling on their place. Sometimes I was lucky and saw animals that you don't so often, such as the Black Tegu. I saw two of them and couldn't believe it in the first place. If you don't know them, look them up and you will understand perfectly what I'm talking about. I just can't describe what the experience was to see them, up close, just in front of me. You have to see them and imagine them for yourself. Both times I saw them was while conducting my research. The research I was on, together with my study buddy Fionne Kiggen, was on two Opossum species; the Gracilinanus Agilis and the Marmosa Constantae. We had 225 traps in total, scattered over the 3 beautiful habitats: the Atlantic forest, the Cerrado and the Transitional forest. We went out 6 days in a row of which the first day contained opening and baiting the traps, then four days of baiting and checking the traps for the adorable little cartoonlike animals and the last day comprised checking and closing the traps. We didn't just find the Opossum species we focussed on of course! Lizards, the white eared Opossum and cute little forest rats visited the peanutbutter-vanilla melanged traps occasionally and a lot of the big bugs sped up our heart rates countless times. In my last week, I went out to the forest because I still had to do some forest structure studies for our research. So I went to the Atlantic forest and did what I had to do. A black beautiful butterfly flew up to me and sat on me for more than 1,5 hours. After it flew off again, I felt as if it given me direction to just follow my instincts and go into the forest a little deeper. I did what my gut feelings told me and went on an adventure. After walking around for a while I found a field, where I had never been before. I just walked and walked and all of a sudden, it was there. A skull of an Armadillo. I took it with me, thinking it might be something useful for Para la Tierra. It was more than that. It was a whole new species for the reserve! This was amazing! Mindblowing! I was living on a cloud and I coulnd't have wished for a more ''fairytail-like'' ending of my stay. This was more than I have wished for! This place is not just where people and animals come close together, this place is magical. It brings out the best in you, makes you wonder where you've been and what you've been doing all your life. It makes you realize there is a world that you need to see, need to taste, to feel. For me, personally, it changed my persective on life in general, on who I am, what I want to be, what I want for my time to come. I started my own little butterfly effect just by coming here. Monique Brok Para La Tierra Intern 2012-2013 The Netherlands