Adventures in the cloud forest

Peru (32)
A natural swing in the forest.

Every so often I spontaneously decide I need a wildlife and travel adventure and being the go-getter that I am, I venture forth and suddenly 6 months later, there I am eating breakfast with dense, green, forest around me at 2200m, watching clouds waver above me in the mountains… the cloud forests of central Peru. I was fortunate enough to spend two and half months in a beautiful gem of a place called CDS. Before my journey to Peru I had no idea what to expect, except that I had all the necessities to survive in the forest. I had no idea it would rain as much as it did, nor the fact that it’s so humid that there is no way your clothes will dry in a day or two. I also had no idea just how beautiful it would be!

While most people visit this location as a work-away volunteer, my reason for going was to work as a research assistant on a frog project. My specialty is herpetology so naturally my passion is all things reptiles and amphibians. Besides who doesn’t think frogs are cute anyways?!

The misty air and luscious green trees

CDS is a conservation and sustainable development education centre, situated 5.5km from the lovely town of Oxapampa in the Andean mountain range. My hosts Federico Patrón and Florencia Trama decided to start up this centre 5 years ago, finding the most ideal location to host students, volunteers and researchers from all over the world. Some of their current projects include the frog project, the garden and terrace projects, composting, reforestation and Agro-forestry. Anyone that has tried to set up their own organisation knows just how difficult it can be to manage and the time and dedication required to maintain it.

Ballet on a bridge

Luckily with a bit of help from volunteers, tasks like weeding, planting seeds and trees, fertilizing and composting, becomes a little easier. The frog project at the centre is a collaborative project with Colorado state university in the USA. The study at CDS is part of a post-doc looking at the evolution of the ear within multiple frogs and toads in other regions of South America. My job as a research assistant was to search day and night for the toad of interest, Rhinella leptoscelis and to successfully captive breed them. In addition to finding adults, I pursued to find eggs and tadpoles of this species to observe its development, especially considering nobody has seen the eggs of these species before. This species is also unusual in that it lays eggs in the river while many other toads lays eggs in ponds. I had no idea finding this frog would prove to be so difficult but with some help from my new friends, we found a few lurking around during the day, every couple of weeks. After two and a half months we had successfully only caught 5 frogs but over 300 tadpoles. Perhaps there is a decline in the number of adults in the area, more research still needs to be conducted, but I had a wonderful time searching for these wonderful toads and their offspring.

Hard at work in the lab following protocol

I was fortunate enough to help out on other projects at the centre too, including making concrete steps from scratch and planting an array of veggies (tomatoes, lettuce, spinach) in their organic garden. I was also excited to learn that my hosts educate the local community about planting natural forest instead of the invasive sweet passion fruit and encourage the community to care more about the environment. The town of Oxapampa falls within a large Biosphere Reserve and they recently celebrated their 7th anniversary. To commemorate and appreciate the natural environment, all the cities within the biosphere reserve hosted events (seminars and talks) between the 25th of May and 24th of June. I was lucky to witness a fantastic parade in Oxapampa as school children, members of different organisations and musicians dressed up in animal costumes to sing and dance around town. It was truly wonderful to see people appreciating the forest and its wildlife. There are many things I learnt from my trip that I hope to implement, particularly by educating people in local communities. Everyone wants to play a part in saving the environment, they just need a little help to understand how!

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