Notes from the Field: Protecting Amphibian Biodiversity in Peru

You heard recently from one of our education experts about how the Detroit Zoological Society is working with Peruvian schools to conserve the rainforest through outreach and education. Conservation of the biodiversity in the Peruvian rainforest has been a priority of the Detroit Zoological Society for over a decade, and we have many programs in the rainforest that help to achieve this goal. One of our programs focuses specifically on amphibians, and that is where I have the great fortune to visit this incredible location.

Boana calcarata

There are over 600 species of frogs in Peru, with more species discovered every day. With this high number of species, Peru is called a “biodiversity hotspot.” These “hotspots” are very important to monitor for changes, because while there are many species they are all very dependent on one another. Small changes can cause drastic effects. Amphibians are some of the most sensitive animals, because their skin absorbs everything in the environment. If amphibians begins to get sick or have difficulty surviving, that is an excellent clue that something is wrong in the environment. All over the world, amphibians are currently having difficulty with changes we are seeing in the environment- because we are seeing global changes, it is extra important to study the animals in areas like the Amazon, where amphibians are in higher concentration, to try and understand patterns in these changes.

Boana calcarata call image

The convict tree frog (Boana calcarata) is a frog found in the Napo River region. This sound recording and image were made by the National Amphibian Conservation Center during a survey.

In order to keep an eye on the amphibians in the Peruvian Amazon, staff from the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center conducts surveys for frogs twice a year. This means we physically go out and look for frogs. Because we know we cannot possibly see all the frogs, also record the songs of frogs at night. Hearing the songs can help us guess numbers of animals singing and help us to hear the songs of species that are difficult to find on visual surveying. In addition to surveys, we monitor weather data in the Napo River valley. We have our own weather station that collects year-round information about the valley region. We also use small data loggers to collect immediate, specific “microclimate” changes where we visualize species breeding (for example: on a specific plant or under leaf litter). The weather data helps us understand both immediate changes in behavior of frogs, as well as changes in populations over time.

Weather stationDr. Ruth Marcec-Greaves downloads six months’ data from the weather station.

While data collection and surveying are important, fostering appreciation of animals in the local community is the primary goal of the visits to Peru. Our hope is that educating the community and creating excitement in future generations will help to preserve these animals for the future. The “Club de Protectores de Anfibios,” or Amphibian Protectors Club, is a club comprised of high school students that are local to the Napo River valley region. The club was founded in order to help impart enthusiasm for amphibians and the environment.

In Peru, there are many misconceptions surrounding frogs. There is a general belief that frogs are bad luck and should be kept away from homes. When the Detroit Zoo staff visited the Amphibian Protectors Club in June of 2019, the club members taught us how the Amphibian Protectors Club is changing the community. The club members performed a play in which they explained another local belief is that a woman will become pregnant if she spends time around frogs. Told from the perspective of high school students, this was a chilling superstition. Through the play, the students explained that by participating in the club they have learned not only that this is a myth, but also frogs are important for human health and humans need to protect frogs. The club members have taught their friends and families frogs are important and have begun to see more frogs in their villages since this change in attitude.

Night HikeAn Amphibian Protector’s Club member observes a frog up close on a night hike.

The students from the club went on an overnight excursion with the National Amphibian Conservation Center staff, where we visited one of our regular field research sites. We took a late night hike in order to see frogs calling and breeding at this special location. At this site, we saw species of frogs the students do not commonly see in their villages. After a good night rest, the club rose early in the morning to hike to the nearby canopy walkway- a breathtaking experience where the club members were able to look down on the rainforest from the treetops. While these students live in the rainforest, many of them have not seen their tropical home from this perspective. They were inspired by this view, observing the unique habitat of rare and diverse species. One club member called it “the view of the animals,” and asked very advanced questions about some of the plants and insects he observed.

Canopy

This was an incredibly rewarding trip. The students showed us that their appreciation for the amphibians is making a difference. While I will not see them in person for a few months, the students will continue to speak with me over a WhatsApp chat (they named our group “Whatsappos,” because “sapo” means toad in Spanish). While I am away, the club meets monthly to survey in their home towns and the students will send me photos and descriptions of frogs the see. Over the app, we talk about the species and have a question and answer session. Their excitement is inspiring and infectious, and I am confident their enthusiasm will be what helps save species.

– Dr. Ruth Marcec-Greaves is the director of the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center.

 

 

Conservation through Education in the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon rainforest is home to tens of thousands of species of animals and plants, making it one of the most biodiverse and beautiful places on Earth. The Amazon and Napo rivers curve through the dense jungle, providing vital resources for the people who live there, including the only means of transportation in an area with no roads. Raising a family in a remote village, surrounded by the rainforest and the bounty and perils it holds, is incredibly challenging – ensuring children have access to an education is an almost insurmountable task.

The Peruvian government provides a school building and teachers for each community, but school supplies for the classroom and each student are the responsibility of the families to provide. The financial burden of traveling to a city by boat from the remote communities and purchasing the supplies is too much for families to bear.

This spring marked the 20th year the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has partnered with Conservacion de la Naturaleza Amazonica del Peru, A.C. (CONAPAC), a Peruvian non-profit, to protect and conserve the Amazon rainforest through education. The Adopt-A-School program is an essential piece in this partnership, providing school supplies to children who live in remote areas of the rainforest and annual teacher workshops that incorporate rainforest ecology and conservation into the curriculum. In exchange for the school supplies and teacher support, communities sign an agreement with CONAPAC to live sustainably in the rainforest, using the natural resources in ways that will protect them for generations to come.

For the last three years, the teacher workshops focused on rainforest birds and their important role in a healthy ecological system. Karen Purcell, a Project Leader at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York, works with a talented team of ornithologists and educators to create materials that are relevant to the teachers and students in the Amazon rainforest. She facilitates the workshops personally, working with the teachers to model how to use the materials with students.

After the workshops, the teachers keep in touch with each other and key staff at Cornell, CONAPAC and the DZS through WhatsApp, a free messaging software for mobile devices. The teachers share photos and notes of how they implement the curriculum, encouraging each other and providing a steady stream of documentation on their commitment to preparing the next generation of rainforest advocates and stewards.

You can help support this program and the important work we’re doing in the Amazon rainforest by donating to the Adopt-A-School program. A donation of $425 provides a year’s worth of school supplies for a classroom and a donation of $50 supports an individual student for a year. To donate, visit https://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school/. Each spring, the DZS invites volunteers to help with the delivery of school supplies and to assist in community service projects in the rainforest. To express interest in participating or sign-up for the 2021 trip, visit https://detroitzoo.org/about/travel-programs/amazon-travel-program/.

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Creating Environmental Stewards in the Amazon

Imagine if you were a teacher and your outdoor classroom was the Amazon rainforest. Endless biodiversity of every species of plant and animal you can imagine exists just a step outside your classroom walls. However, your teacher preparation was at a university in a city, and you have no idea where to begin teaching about ecology beyond what you’ve read in a teacher prep textbook. On top of these challenges, the only way to reach the community you’ve been assigned to work in is to take a boat down the Amazon River. The trip takes several hours, which means you’re only home on weekends and rarely have an opportunity to learn with or connect to other teachers.

Such is the case for the dedicated employees of CONAPAC, the Civil Association for Conservation of the Peruvian Amazon Environment, which was formed in July 1990 by a group of teachers, forestry engineers, and employees of the travel operator Explorama Lodges in Iquitos, Peru. Registered with the Peruvian government, its purpose is the conservation of the Peruvian Amazon primary rainforest. Though the staff is small, it serves those most in need of education and other tools for sustainable living in the rainforest, with the help of Explorama Lodges. The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has been a partner in this important conservation and education program for nearly 20 years.

As part of the services and support CONAPAC provides partner communities, an annual teacher workshop brings educators in these rural, remote communities together to learn. Earlier this year, Karen Purcell from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology returned for the second time to provide professional development for these teachers. Fluent in Spanish and passionate about birds, she delivers dynamic, hands-on workshops that demonstrates what teachers can do with their students by having the teachers do it with her. Guides from Explorama Lodges, who are also bird experts, assisted by guiding the teachers to understand how binoculars work, how they add excitement to bird observation, and how to identify common species.

Karen created a safe place for the teachers to share their attitudes towards birds, addressing common misconceptions and dispelling myths and legends that often cause people to dislike or even dispatch birds. She prepared them to be citizen scientists, gathering and sharing data on the species they see most in theircommunities. The teachers continue to document their successes and encourage one another through a massive group chat in WhatsApp. While there may not be internet access in these communities, almost all the teachers have a cell phone that has service and a means to charge the phone by generator or solar panel collected energy. Not a week goes by without a teacher posting photos of his or her students looking for birds, drawing them, building replica nests or some other activity. Karen and the team from CONAPAC are all on the group chat, documenting the progress in real time of how the workshop content is being implemented.

In early November, DZS staff returned to the rainforest to assist with end-of-the-year evaluations in each community. Teams of CONAPAC staff, Iquitos Board of Education representatives, local environmental experts and DZS staff traveled to each community to ensure school supplies are being utilized, children and teachers are attending school regularly, and that the teachers are implementing their skills and concepts shared with them during the workshops. The artwork, poems, field work and skits that the communities shared with the teams provided solid evidence that the spring workshops were a tremendous success.

Professional development is an essential part of any profession. The CONAPAC teacher workshops are a vital part of creating the next generation of environmental stewards, providing teachers and students the information and passion needed for protecting the rainforest for generations to come. This year’s workshop was supported through the generous financial support of JBQ Charitable Foundation and Explorama Lodges.  An international donor-base further provides financial support to provide annual teacher and student school supplies. To learn more or to participate in these efforts, visit https://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school/.

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Notes from the Field: Adopt-A-School Assessments in the Amazon

When the boat beached for the third time on a sand bar, we knew we were in for a long day. Late autumn means low water in the Peruvian Amazon, requiring more walking than boating to get around. I was in the rainforest with a Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) colleague, representatives from our Peruvian partner, the Civil Association for Conservation of the Peruvian Amazon Environment (CONAPAC), and several volunteer educators from the nearby city of Iquitos. We were conducting our annual end of the school-year evaluations in the Amazon Rainforest Adopt-A-School program communities and we were in for a long, hot day.

The Adopt-A-School program is a decades-long partnership between the DZS and CONAPAC, using donations to provide educational supplies to schools, teachers and students in rural Amazonia. The program ensures that students have the materials necessary to earn a basic education and build an understanding of the complex and globally important region they call home.

The evaluations we conduct each fall coincide with the end of the school year in Peru – late November to early December – and are a great opportunity to focus on each community’s strengths and challenges.

The experienced boat drivers know when to call it quits and ours realized there was no viable path down the parched river. He dropped off us off on a muddy river bank and we gathered our supplies and trudged up the bank to a path on the jungle’s edge. An easy half hour walk brought us to a familiar animal sanctuary and a long dock that stretched into the tributary we needed to travel up to get to our assigned communities.

The dock stretched toward the water but ended on a muddy beach, not quite reaching the shallow, murky water. At first, the damp mud was easy to traverse, the sand holding firm. Then the river bank dropped off and the choice was to wade through the mucky water or climb the bank and walk through giant grasses that stood 10 to 12 feet tall. We chose the grasses.

After another half hour of battling grass stalks as thick as sapling trees and covered with spines, the river’s edge dropped back down to a sandy pathway. We gratefully slid down and continued our walk. Soon, a wooden boat about 10 feet long with a small outboard motor came towards us. After some negotiation, all 11 of us piled on board. We carefully balanced our bags and ourselves for an easier, albeit slow ride up the shallow river. A full three hours after we set out, my small team and I arrived at one of the communities that we were assigned to evaluate.

Community evaluations are a critical part of the Adopt-A-School program. They confirm that participants are holding true to the contract of sustainable resource use, prioritizing education, and organized leadership in exchange for support from CONAPAC and the DZS. All 55 communities were visited and vetted through a comprehensive rubric that addressed environmental, educational and institutional management. The vast majority of the communities were rated as “good” or “excellent”; three were placed on a watch list and one was unfortunately cut from the program due to a breach of contract.

This community has faced some challenges over the past several years. Record floods wiped out crops and unsteady leadership let the community bakery and drinking-water purification plant fall into disarray. CONAPAC offered support in restarting the bakery to make it a potential profit source. Turning raw materials into a finished product has a higher profit margin and bread is a constant need in surrounding communities. CONAPAC also offered training and materials to restart and refurbish the water purification plant, ensuring there would be clean drinking water available. The community declined both offers.

When the evaluation team arrived to assess the community, they came across a large path of bare earth; huge machines had clear-cut a road into the rainforest. The community acknowledged that they had contracted with a lumber company who had cut a path into the forest, removing dozens of large, old-growth trees for a relatively nominal amount of money. The community leadership was neither remorseful nor willing to work with CONAPAC on other projects that would allow them to profit in an environmentally sustainable way. The evaluation team discussed and unanimously decided to remove the community from the Adopt-A-School program.

There is always an open door for communities removed from the Adopt-A-School program to rejoin. The process is careful and thoughtful, involving several community visits to ensure a change in either leadership or practice has prepared them to be a successful partner again. Many of the 54 communities currently in the program have participated for more than a decade and are both dedicated to protecting the rainforest and appreciative of the educational opportunities it provides for their children.

To learn more about the Adopt-A-School program and how you can make a difference in the life of a child in the Amazon rainforest, please visit https://detroitzoo.org/support/give/ and choose
“Amazon Rainforest Adopt-A-School Program” from the drop-down menu.

Our upcoming volunteer expedition is scheduled from March 25 to April 2, and spots are still available. Volunteers will help deliver donated school supplies to these communities in need along the Amazon and Napo rivers . For more information, visit detroitzoo.org/about/travel-programs/amazon-travel-program/ or contact clannoyehall@dzs.org and/or adewey@dzs.org.

Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Education: Teaching in the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is an incredible place, the subject of countless novels and stories. Discovered, explored and exploited for generations, millions of people call this biodiverse and globally important region home. The area is often referred to as the “lungs of the earth” as the plethora of plant life grabs carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and replaces it with life-essential oxygen. In partnership with a Peruvian non-profit organization, CONAPAC, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is preserving the rainforest, one child at a time.

The DZS has partnered with CONAPAC since 1999, supporting children and teachers in rural areas of the rainforest. Each spring, more than 3,000 students and teachers receive a year’s worth of basic school supplies, purchased with money donated by individuals from all over the world. To complement the supplies, all teachers are required to attend a professional development workshop to enhance their teaching skills and increase student literacy.

This year, the teacher workshops were held in the city of Indiana, in Loreto, Peru, during the last week of June. I attended the workshops to observe first-hand what the investment of time, energy and resources was producing. I was incredibly impressed. This year there were two sets of workshops; one for teachers working in communities on the Amazon, the other for teachers who are working in the communities off the Napo River and its tributaries. The non-profit organization, El Conocimiento Se Comparte (which roughly translates to ‘the sharing of knowledge’), facilitated the content of the workshops on mathematics, reading comprehension and linguistics.

El Conocimiento Se Comparte is a U.S. entity, composed of four siblings who were born and raised in Peru. All four moved to the U.S. as adults to pursue their individual careers. Their goal is to share their talent and passion for teaching with a broad audience, including their home country of Peru. The CONAPAC team coordinated the location and logistical aspects of the workshop, and the El Conocimiento Se Comparte group brought their passion and talent.

For the most part, I was a participant of the workshop proceedings. I sat through each session, gleaning as much information as I could, completely immersed in the native language and enjoying every moment of it. I watched as teachers engaged with one another and with the presenters, asking for more explanation when necessary, inquiring about specific student needs and adaptations, and taking copious notes every step of the way.

Over the course of the next month or two, the board of education in the region will visit the teachers in their schools to observe if they have implemented the new teaching strategies. If they have, they will be eligible for a certificate, which could earn them a raise or a future promotion. When the CONAPAC and the DZS team conducts end-of-year evaluations in November, we’ll also be looking for signs that teachers have implemented the strategies and report back to our donors and the team.

The conservation work in the Amazon continues to be incredibly rewarding, yet also challenging. By providing the opportunity for an education based in conservation, we are empowering the next generation of children who call the rainforest home to protect the ecologically vital ecosystem.

For more information on the Amazon Rainforest Adopt-A-School program, including how to participate in annual deliveries or to support a school financially, visit http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/ or email clannoyehall@dzs.org.

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Education: Constructing School Kitchens in Peru

During the second week of our visit to Peru as part of the Adopt-A-School program, we continued to deliver donated school supplies to our final eight communities along the Amazon and Napo rivers. Students and teachers received pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks, textbooks and more that will assist with making learning accessible and achievable. The students showed their appreciation for this invaluable academic support by thanking the volunteers and giving presentions cultural performances, many of which include ecological messages.

As part of the Adopt-A-School program, community partners must commit to following these requirements:

  • Children must go to school regularly
  • Conservation and preservation of the Amazon Rainforest must be standard community practice
  • Communities must be kept clean
  • Productive projects such as medicinal gardens or crops must be maintained in community spaces

Creating reverence and respect for the natural world starts in childhood, is re-enforced through schools and grows into adulthood. In some of the long-standing Adopt-A-School communities, some former program participants now have children within the program, further expanding conservation and preservation as a family value.

In addition to school supply deliveries, the second week of the Adopt-A-School visit includes a service project. This year’s project is taking place at Centro Unido and includes constructing a school kitchen for the government-funded Qali Warma (Quechua for “strong child”) meal program. This will allow parents to cook both breakfast and lunch every day at school to further incentivize attending class by providing meals, while making learning easier by removing hunger as a distraction.

While construction is going on, some volunteers work with the children, providing individualized attention that is hard to come by in a classroom setting. We do many crafts and art projects with the students, exposing them to different learning experiences that are sometimes missing in the rote learning style of Peru. This opportunity to interact one on one with students creates new friendships and many memories.

As this Adopt-A-School volunteer trip comes to an end, it is hard to say goodbye to all of the people we’ve met in Centro Unido as well as the volunteers who have committed their time, energy and finances to making this program a possibility. A big thank you goes out to all who made the 2016 Adopt-A-School school supply deliveries and service project a great success!

Are you interested in preserving the rainforest, one child at a time? For more information on Adopt-A-School donations and volunteer opportunities, please visit http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school.

– Adam Dewey is an education specialist for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Education: Preserving the Rainforest, One Child at a Time

We’re off to Peru for the 24th year of Adopt-A-School, a program that empowers the citizens of the Amazon rainforest to conserve and protect this globally vital ecosystem.

For this journey, I am joined by fellow Detroit Zoological Society Education Specialist Ben Connor Barrie and 20 volunteers from the U.S., Canada, and as far as Australia. We will be making deliveries of school supplies to communities along the Amazon and Napo rivers.

An average day begins with us packing the four “rapidos”, or fast boats, with school supplies. The volunteer team splits up into small groups and each heads out in a different direction to deliver the supplies. The children often come running to the riverbanks to greet us while adults play traditional Amazonian music on drums and flutes. Once the school supplies are moved into the schools, we begin the ceremonies with speeches, dances and more music.

During one of these deliveries, I was lucky to return to a community that is very special to me. Pucallpa is home to many students I’ve become attached to, as it was the first location I traveled to on a service project three years ago. During my last visit to Pucallpa, I had some down time after program evaluations and took up with a few elementary-aged boys who were playing with their balsa wood airplanes. We zoomed around making plane noises through the school and into the schoolyards. One young boy remembered this and wanted me to do it again. He disappeared for a few moments before returning with one of his balsa wood airplanes. He handed it to me and said it was a gift for me. This was by far one of the most special gifts I have ever received from anyone, as it was truly given from the heart.

The global importance of this region cannot be stated enough. It is home to a massive variety of life and produces much of the world’s oxygen. The people who call this region of the world home are crucial partners in conserving the Amazon rainforest. This international collaboration is preserving the rainforest, one child at a time.

For more information on Adopt-A-School donations and volunteer opportunities, please visit http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school.

– Adam Dewey is an education specialist for the Detroit Zoological Society.