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My summer volunteering in the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon River

As a Geography student, I have always been fascinated by rainforests. To me, they are the most diverse, rich and beautiful ecosystem on our planet. I will forever be enamoured by them.

Last year, I asked myself if there was anything stopping me from achieving my dream of visiting the Amazon Rainforest… Nothing was, so I thought why not try?  Naturally, it would be easier for me not to face the numerous challenges that lay ahead such as booking flights, vaccinations, and hostels, let alone travelling solo to a new country. But where’s the fun in not trying?

Using the website I eagerly researched for volunteering opportunities within the Peruvian Amazon, and soon found the perfect conservation programme just outside of Cusco. Soon enough my month-long volunteering experience had begun and I was excitedly living and working amongst 15 like-minded volunteers and scientists in Peru’s Manu National Park.

Many different species!

A tailless whip scorpion – they can grow bigger!

Our main goal was to attain data regarding species diversity and abundance in the secondary rainforest (previously disturbed) and comparing it to the undisturbed primary rainforest. Using this data we could then gauge the resilience of the rainforest ecosystem.

A beautiful poison dart frog

Butterflies were among the species we would monitor each day, with baited traps raised high into the canopy and taken down after 24 hours for counting.  The myriad of colours, shapes, and sizes could sometimes overwhelm, given that each individual butterfly needed to be identified, gendered and recorded.

It was always an honour to witness rare Amazonian species in their natural habitat. There was something so powerful about seeing these animals unbounded, free to jump across the canopy or simply lumber across the leaf litter. Seeing monkeys, birds, sloths, otters, ocelots, toucans, frogs, butterflies, and parrots (to name but a few) were in themselves, unbelievable experiences! But to see them in such numbers gave me hope for Manu National Park and the Amazon as a whole.

Of course, the experience didn’t come without its challenges. Being met at eye level by a wandering spider or a venomous snake during a nighttime survey may not be the most pleasant idea for some, nor might the thought of hearing illegal deforestation occur within a protected reserve. It was at times like these when, regardless of the perceived difficulty, we understood that our work really was essential to this area of science; it encouraged us all to continue with our efforts.

Highlight of the trip

Ascending a liana

Although we were in the Rainforest to monitor species (rather than conserve them) the biggest highlight of the trip was the thanks we received from the locals for our work during Manu’s “43rd-anniversary March”.  As we paraded through the local Amazonian town of Salvación we were greeted with a standing ovation from the audience. These locals had gathered to show their appreciation for the work we were doing. It was heart-warming to feel such gratitude from a community who so desperately rely on the rainforest and who could easily disregard help from Westerners.

What will you do over the summer?

So what is the takeaway message of this I hear you ask? Of course I am by no means suggesting that you spend your summer in the Amazon, I merely hope that this blog has inspired you to think of new and exciting ways in which you can use your time over the holidays to benefit others and push yourself out of your comfort zone, you will be amazed how much fun you can have.

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