Follow by Email

jueves, 16 de enero de 2014

One Year in Paraguay

In January 2013 I packed my bags and headed to Edinburgh Airport, ready to embark on one of the biggest adventures of my life. I was moving to Paraguay – a country I knew almost nothing about, where everyone spoke two languages I didn’t know – to start my new job as the Primate Project Leader for Para La Tierra. Looking back at the last year, wondering how the time could have passed so fast, I am finding it hard to choose my highlights. One moment I will never forget is the first time I ever saw the monkeys. Walking down the road in the Atlantic Forest and realizing that there were two capuchins sitting in the trees at the side watching us. As we ran into the trails I tried to jump a fallen tree, covered in vines. I failed – miserably. My feet got caught in the vines and I instinctively grabbed my camera, meaning that I flew head first into a bush. Thankfully I am far more surefooted in the forest these days! One of the most challenging parts of my job is finding the monkeys. As we have not yet fitted any individuals with GPS collars we search the forest each morning hoping to come across the group. One of the best parts of my job, and something that has not changed at all over the course of the year, is the feeling of awe and excitement that I feel when we finally find the monkeys. To watch these incredibly intelligent creatures, free in a small island of their natural habitat makes me feel so privileged. This feeling was completely overwhelming the day we discovered the Black and Gold Howler monkeys. After walking through the forest in the cold and the rain for two hours and looking into the trees and seeing a species that everybody told me had not been seen in the reserve for years was one of the most breathtaking moments of my life. I burst into tears and had to lean against a tree to be able to stand – if the volunteers hadn’t thought I was crazy before this definitely confirmed it!! Two more moments that stand out for me was the day that we discovered that the forest has far more monkeys than we originally suspected. I had been told that there was a group of around 8 individuals and 2 extra group males. This was all I had observed until one day in the North Atlantic Forest with Anna. The forest exploded with capuchins. As we ran down separate trails, all thoughts of wasps and spider webs abandoned, we shouted breathlessly down the phones the numbers we could see. I had 9 in my sight, Anna had 11. This included mothers carrying infants. The second day was the day we discovered that there is two separate groups in the reserve and at the same time confirmed that the howlers were still present. It is not just the work that has made the last year so special. I have made friends that I know I will have forever. With experiences ranging from all floating the lake because it is too hot to even sit out of the water to huddling together round a fire under piles of blankets trying desperately to warm up, from driving an hour in the middle of the night to pick up and deliver a coffin to learning how to drive a motorbike for the first time wearing flip flops and shorts with Jorge sitting on the back holding three machetes every moment – good or bad, easy or hard – has been incredible. I have learned new skills, the biggest being that I can now speak Spanish, something I never thought I would be able to do. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to witness and embrace an entirely new culture that I could never have even imagined and still don’t know how to explain to those who have never visited rural Paraguay. As 2014 began with watching fireworks on the beach before dancing barefoot in the red dirt until 5 30am with a group of the best people I have ever met, I thought about how much has changed over the last year. I am bubbling with excitement thinking about what this year holds for the Primate Project. Take the risk, try something new and come down to Paraguay and share this amazing place with us. Happy New Year everyone! Until next time, Becca

jueves, 2 de enero de 2014

Life as a Monkey-Person by Johanna Wahlbeck (Sweden)

I have now spent more than one month at Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca as a volunteer for the primate project and would like to share some of my experiences: Every weekday I get up in the dawn, make breakfast and eat while I watch the sun rise above the beautiful lake. This morning it was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve seen yet with the sky colouring the whole lake pink. When you start a day like that it doesn’t matter what time it is or how tired you are, you’re ready for the day to begin (cheesy but true) and it begins with a walk in the Atlantic forest in the search for monkeys. When I first arrived here I didn’t see the capuchin monkeys for a couple of days but when I finally saw them it was amazing, they were quite close, looking at us, threatening us and feeding. We stayed with them for about 20 minutes before they disappeared in the forest. The second time I saw them was even better, Becca suddenly turned and pointed at something among the trees and there they were travelling towards the road. We hurried the same direction to get a better look at them and when reaching the road we saw them cross from one forest fragment to another. As we were approaching them a juvenile was about to cross and hesitated when seeing us. It was all fuzzy without any tufts and looked at us without making any alarm calls. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. After seeing the monkeys for a while a couple of days goes by without seeing them, even though intense searching is being performed. And when you’re on the edge of getting really frustrated about not knowing where the monkeys are Becca will suddenly point and exclaim “There they are!” and all the hours of searching is rewarded by a quick and exciting sighting that makes it all worth it. The primate project is very new, we only recently were able to identify the monkeys, something that I found really rewarding. I and Anna, a fellow volunteer, looked at all the pictures we had of the monkeys and looked for characteristics in the face and body. Then we named the different individuals after Greek gods and mythical characters. During this time I discovered a favourite monkey of mine, the one named Cupid, name being based on the fact that his face is shaped as a heart (I’m romantic like that). Being here has taught me a lot about work as a biologist and about scientific work. Not only do I now know what it may be like to work as a primatologist, I’ve also had an insight in the fields of ornithology and herpetology. I’ve learnt how to use a GPS in the field and I’ve improved my sense of direction to the level that I now know every trail in the forest by heart. Some body work is also needed when working in the fields. We’ve been using machetes to cut trails in the forest to walk on when looking for the monkeys. This part always makes you feel like Rambo, Lara Croft or some other hard-core fictional character. When I’m not searching for monkeys, or getting in character as Rambo, I am enjoying the company of all the amazing people I am sharing this experience with, swimming in the lake, kayaking, learning Spanish, watching a movie or just hanging out. Some weekends there are parties to go to and a couple of weekends ago Para la Tierra hosted a party to raise money for the Female Empowerment Project. It was so much fun, great atmosphere with loud music and good food, drinks and company. I ate very good empanadas, drank beer and danced until I couldn’t dance anymore. The evenings at the reserve are as magical as the mornings and the sunsets as colourful as the sunrises. The other night I stayed up with two of my friends and fellow interns watching the stars. In fifteen minutes I saw five starfalls. However, I didn’t know what to wish for since I am so fully satisfied and happy with my life here. I couldn’t wish for more and I wish for everyone to feel the same way as I do being here, so come join us as a volunteer and see for yourself what I’m talking about. Love Johanna.