Notes from the Field: Passion for Peru

The fall trip to the Peruvian Amazon as part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Adopt-A-School program has come to a close. Over the course of two weeks, our team of 21 staff members and volunteers were able to visit all 53 communities involved in the program. Even though each of these communities is facing challenges, they have shown their commitment to protecting the rainforest. The families clearly see the value of their children’s education.

To accomplish the evaluation for all the Adopt-A-School communities in a two-week period, we rely on volunteers from the city of Iquitos. Volunteerism is not a common practice in Peruvian culture; however the concept is growing. The volunteers this year included people in the fields of education, environmental sustainability and agriculture. The team was enthusiastic and dedicated, which was evidenced by the smiles of the children and hugs from community leaders. Their passion shined in the schools where they sang songs, told jokes and played games to help ensure students were comfortable with them before the evaluations began.

Volunteers support this program throughout the year, and now that the evaluations are complete, we are beginning to focus on our plans for next year. The Adopt-A-School program would not be able to function without the support of our volunteers from around the world. Without them and their contributions, we wouldn’t be able to deliver the donated school supplies to the communities at the beginning of the Peruvian school year. Our program volunteers contribute financially through a mandatory trip donation as well as providing their physical support and presence while they are in Peru.

If you’d like experience these beautiful places and meet some incredible people, consider volunteering with the Adopt-A-School program and join us in our travels to the rainforest in the spring: http://conapac.org/2016AmazonRainforestiBookletShort.pdf. If traveling to the Amazon is not for you, and you would like to contribute in a different way, please find a link to donate here: http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school/.

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society. The Adopt-A-School program provides donated educational materials and supplies for schools in rural Amazonia. The DZS has partnered with Conservacion de la Naturaleza Amazonica del Peru (CONAPAC) in this conservation and education program since 1999.

Notes from the Field: Visiting Schools Along the Napo River in Peru

We’ve traded in the “mototaxis” for boats as we moved from Iquitos into the rainforest at Explorama’s Explornapo Lodge along the Napo River in Peru. It’s interesting – when you look straight down at the water, it is a milky shade of brown, but when looking further out, the reflection of the clouds and blue sky give the impression that the Amazon River is actually blue, which it is not. The scenery is green and lush, as we expect, but now that the water level is lower, we can see how aggressive it is when the river rises. We know how fierce yet resilient nature can be. The mud is sculpted like artwork in places high above the current water line. In many places, green plants have taken over the steep mud cliffs, growing where water stands for months of the year. Birds are flying around checking out the water below, and there is a sense of tranquility from the wind and noise from the boat as we travel from place to place.

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All of this boat travel means that we’ve completed the first week of evaluations, having visited 29 schools as part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Adopt-A-School program. We can’t all visit each of these communities in this time frame, so we spread out and meet up every night for a recap of what is happening in each community. Common issues that come up revolve mostly around water. Due to flooding, some schools weren’t able to hold classes for up to four months of this school year. Some don’t have enough time to grow crops between the flooding, and almost all communities are having trouble with proper trash disposal. Being here in the rainforest and immersed in this environment leads me to question what is the best solution for this situation. There aren’t garbage boats that come through these communities to pick up trash, so what are they expected to do with it? This is one of the reasons why this program is so important – we focus on education, including education about sustainability and preservation of the environment.

I’ve enjoyed visiting many communities this week, but Canal Pinto was one of the most impactful experiences for me. It was obvious the two teachers in the community had everything under control. You could tell by looking at the students, the classrooms, and their interactions with students that this community was in good hands. As I looked around the beautiful kindergarten classroom, I noticed something that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Recycled plastic bottles, cut and painted, neatly labeled with student names. Inside each cup was a toothbrush. Hanging on the shelf next to each toothbrush was a washcloth. The students are learning to take care of themselves and to reuse items they have around them. This shows these children – at a very early age – the importance of helping to conserve items and take care of themselves, hopefully habits that will help them and the environment for years to come.

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We have a few days left of reviews before we head home. We will be soaking in the heat and humidity while we can before coming back to the much cooler north. Adios for now!

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society. The Adopt-A-School program provides donated educational materials and supplies for schools in rural Amazonia. The DZS has partnered with Conservacion de la Naturaleza Amazonica del Peru (CONAPAC) in this conservation and education program since 1999. For more information, or to donate to the program, visit: http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school/

Education: Adopt-A-School in Peru

Most days don’t start with a walk through a construction site and a “mototaxi” ride to get into the office, but today it did. It also included watching an iguana outside of the office window as it rested against the tree branch soaking in the Amazonian heat.

Currently, I am in Iquitos, Peru, preparing for evaluations in 53 rural communities along the Amazon and Napo Rivers. This is part of our Adopt-A-School program that the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) supports in conjunction with an organization called Conservacion de la Naturaleza Amazonica del Peru, A.C. (CONAPAC), based out of Iquitos.

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We work together to bring conservation awareness to these communities as well as provide opportunities for education. Each spring, the DZS leads groups of volunteers down to Peru to deliver school supplies to these communities. In the fall, as the schools wrap up their school year, we send DZS staff to attend these evaluations to check in with communities on how well they are using their supplies, how well the students are learning and how well they are maintaining the environment around their communities. That’s what DZS Education Specialist Adam Dewey and I are here to accomplish.

Although I’ve attended the school deliveries in the past, this is my first opportunity to be here for the evaluation component. I’m looking forward to seeing what the communities look like without the festivities that the school supply deliveries bring. We will see students in school, see how they learn and all that they’ve been able to accomplish this past year. We will talk with leaders within the program to see how well they’ve maintained and supported the service projects that have been completed within their communities. We will also see the new water filtration systems in use in each of the schools. Clean drinking water has been an additional project for CONAPAC, and one that has helped to keep children in these communities healthy, so I am especially looking forward to seeing this in action.

Soon, we will be heading down the river to rustic lodges in beautifully remote areas, where hot water isn’t an option, and electricity is only found in the dining hall. I am looking forward to being immersed in the rainforest for the next two weeks, spending time in these communities and visiting with the amazing people that live here. Check back soon to hear more about the program and our upcoming adventures in the communities!

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Notes From the Field: Silence in the Amazon

Hola mis amigas y amigos!

This has been an interesting trip indeed! We can normally get pretty close to the island of Purawa by boat, but this time, we ended up walking on what looked like a desert a mile long! When we finally got to the “green” part, it was equally as dry. We cut a path with a machete for the evening hike and waited for the sun to disappear. We saw some species of amphibians, but none that we would’ve hoped or expected to see. This island is uninhabited and usually has not only a large number of amphibians, but also a lot of different species. We often see an abundance of tree frogs and many smaller species perched in the grasses along the smaller ponds. This time there were almost no tree frogs and only a handful of toads.

Days later, we made plans to meet with the Amazon Amphibian Protectors Club and take them out on a night hike. We have been working with these students for close to five years, and they have such a lovely appreciation for amphibians now, spreading the word to other students in their school. They are always thrilled to participate in an evening trip to learn about amphibians and potentially see different species than what they normally would. We chose an island that was close by the school and looked promising. The children found several toads until the professor announced that she heard rain. It took quite some time to get back to the boat and by then we were experiencing heavy rain and thunder. As we drove back to the school, several fish jumped in our boat. They were similar to what we have as sunfish or bluegill, and small and flat enough that I could toss them back into the water as quickly as they flew into the boat. I was thrilled I could toss them all back, but I may have been the only one that was.I am a third of the way into my travels and have seen and heard less than I would have expected. I have tried to record in the evenings so I can determine if there are other species present. I place a digital recording device in an area where I can already hear calls, so that I can record and download the sounds
later. One night, there was silence – complete silence for what seemed like an hour though it turned out to be only 10 minutes. That is an unusual sound in the rainforest – hearing nothing at all. Lightning and thunder came on quickly, which may explain the brief silence. I was curious before but am now very interested to see what the remainder of the week will be like.

Buenos noches!

– Marcy Sieggreen is the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society and is doing fieldwork in Peru, studying amphibians in the lower elevations of the Amazon River to see how they are faring with increased human populations and impacts in their habitats.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes From the Field: Amphibian Diversity in Peru

Hola mis amigas y amigos!

My Peruvian friends have been telling me that the last few months have been very dry, so I had no idea what to expect upon my arrival. I was very surprised to see that the Amazon River was at least 30 or more feet lower than when I was here in March, which could potentially have a huge impact on what amphibians we see. Areas where there would normally be ponds could be completely dry. As you can imagine, I couldn’t wait to get out into the rainforest and see what may be waiting for us.

Unfortunately, my suspicions were accurate and amphibians were much harder to find than usual. Since we monitor some of the same areas year after year, I had a pretty good hunch on where and what I might find in certain areas. When we have time, we always check other areas but our priority is to first survey our research sites. Among many other pieces of data we have been collecting, we are looking at diversity and abundance of species – basically, what types of frogs and toads and how many. This year seems to be the most obvious change, likely, due to the dryness. The humidity levels even felt different – normally my skin stays moist but this time I was using lotion.So far, the most interesting or peculiar sighting was a toad that had climbed a tree. The toad, common to South America, was at least four feet off the ground with no visible easy climbing point. I can hardly wait to see what else we may find!

Buenos noches!

– Marcy Sieggreen is the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society and is doing fieldwork in Peru, studying amphibians in the lower elevations of the Amazon River to see how they are faring with increased human populations and impacts in their habitats.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Education: Adopt-a-School in Peru

Claire Lannoye-Hall is a Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

The ecological health of the world’s tropical Peru - Clairerainforests are vital to the balance of the global environment. Rainforests have been called the lungs of the earth, cleaning the air we breathe. The area is rich in biodiversity and culture, and supporting the people who know the rainforest best from living there for generations places them in an unparalleled position to protect the natural resources that they depend on for their way of life.  By empowering these communities to live sustainably amongst these resources, they become protectors of this essential region.

One of the keys to creating change in the world is access to education and current information. The Detroit Zoological Society has long been a partner in the Amazon Rainforest Adopt-A-School Program to provide school supplies and support to people living in the rural areas of Peru to strengthen education. With this education comes empowerment and responsibility to live sustainably in this vital region.

Peru - Claire 3I and another member of our education department have returned to Peru this spring to deliver school supplies to more than 3,000 children and teachers. Each child will receive several notebooks, pens, pencils, a folder, ruler and pencil sharpener. Each school receives a single set of books and basic school supplies like glue, construction paper and markers, and physical education materials like soccer balls and volleyballs.

The school supplies are purchased in Peru - Claire 2Peru with money donated by individuals and organizations from around the world. A group of about 20 people travel with us to deliver all the supplies in a single week. These generous individuals pay their travel costs and make a donation to the program that helps support operational costs.

The program was started almost 25 years ago by Amazon Explorama Lodges and CONAPAC, a Peruvian NGO. The DZS has been an integral partner since 1999.

To follow our daily diary of our trips to Peru, visit: adoptaschool.edublogs.org

– Claire Lannoye Hall

Notes from the Field: Blood Moon in Peru

Hola mis amigas y amigos!

I’m nearing my last days in Peru but I couldn’t have ended on a more delightful note – the lunar eclipse was amazing!  We had a late night observing frogs the evening before and slept a couple of hours before we were back out on the river at 3 a.m.  The morning began with clear skies and the moonBlood Moon was completely visible until 5 a.m., when clouds came in and threatened to ruin our view. We waited for them to dissipate, but it never completely happened.  About 5:50 a.m., we couldn’t see anything so we ended up using a compass to determine where the moonset should occur and watched.  All of it paid off as the reddish hue was projected beautifully for about 30 seconds! The next one isn’t until September, so I was very grateful to have seen this one.

Marcy - PeruThroughout the remainder of the day, we had several electrical storms making for a beautiful night. Once the weather subsided, everything was out in full force: frogs, insects and birds were all calling. One of my favorites here are the Phyllodmedusa species, basically long-legged tree frogs. They are stunning and very interesting to watch as they navigate high in the canopy.

Caiman

Sometimes observations aren’t easy – when you hear calls there is always a strong desire to find what you are listening to. This occasionally leads to us sharing the water with other animals that are also looking for what is calling – more for a feast then to admire its beauty and log for data collection. Although the storms came back, we were still able to squeeze in another four hours of observations before having to call it quits for the night.

Early the next morning, we awoke to the pleasant call of other early risers (or late nighters).  A wonderful way to wrap up another season!  Until next time… Saludos!

– Marcy Sieggreen

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.