Conservation Research Assistant Program in Peru
97% Rating
(11 Reviews)

Conservation Research Assistant Program in Peru

Operation Wallacea is a research and environmental organisation, working alongside university and college academics to build long term datasets to put towards various conservation management goals. We recruit volunteers to help out with the data collection, and train them in the skills and background that's needed to help effectively. There's also the option to complete dissertations or senior theses at our sites.

The Peru project is based in the Pacaya Samiria National reserve, deep in the forests of the Amazon basin - so deep that this project involves living and working off a river boat! The first few days of the project are spent doing a wildlife ecology and conservation course en route to the site, travelling along the river on a restored and converted boat from the rubber boom era. Once at the site location, the boat moors up and surveys are conducted from it, and involve surveying everything from pink river dolphns to macaws and caiman alligators.

Locations
South America » Peru
Length
2-4 Weeks
1-3 Months
Language
English
Starting Price
$0.00
Currency
USD

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

  • Impact
    93%
  • Support
    95%
  • Fun
    79%
  • Value
    95%
  • Safety
    96%

Program Reviews (11)

Default avatar
Fiona
Female
20 years old
United Kingdom
University of St Andrews

A Truly Unique Experience

9/10

I had such a wonderful time in the Peruvian Amazon with OPWALL last summer! It was something that I signed up to without really thinking it through fully (because I would probably never have taken the chance, otherwise), but it was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I have made. Because there is nothing in the world that compares to waking up each morning to the urgent squawking of brightly-coloured macaws overhead, the splash of pink river dolphins out for an early morning hunt, and the low, stirring call of the howler monkey which echoes through the foliage on all sides.

The two-week expedition was packed full of exciting, varied and genuinely meaningful fieldwork tasks, ranging from fishing and mist-netting to bat-counting and caiman-catching. Not only were all of the tasks exciting and awe-inspiring in themselves, offering a unique set of close-up encounters with species endemic to the most biologically diverse region on Earth, but we were constantly surrounded by the knowledge that what we were doing was actually helping to make a difference. By contributing invaluable data to the fieldwork studies, we were playing our part in sustainable rainforest management,to ensure its protection for the wildlife and communities reliant upon its resources. And all whilst having the time of our lives!

The OPWALL staff and the natives played an enormous part in helping to make the trip so enjoyable. They really looked after us throughout the trip, right from the moment the plane landed in Iquitos, and not only that, but we were entertained each evening with activities from pub quizzes to a particularly memorable night of salsa dancing! The staff have dedicated most of their lives to observing and studying the species in the Amazon in meticulous detail, and so had so much wisdom to share with us, which they did through a series of fascinating biodiversity lectures held throughout the trip. The local people working on the boats could not have been more friendly and welcoming, and the extent of their skills and talents when it came to producing souvenir crafts for us to take home, using resources from the rainforest, has to be seen to be believed...!

Another highlight of the trip was visiting the village of San Martin de Tipishca on the return boat journey to Nauta. The local children there were so delighted to see the boat again (the arrival of which is clearly viewed as a big event!), and the local people showed us great gratitude for the gifts of toys, clothes and medical provisions which we took for them. It was really promising to see the developments which had taken place there over the past few years, and in particular the brand new school, which was about to open. And it was extremely thought-provoking to see the hopeful faces of the children beaming, in spite of the poverty that surrounded them. In addition to this, what better way to spend the final afternoon of the trip than by feeding manatees their greens at the rehabilitation centre near Iquitos?!

Overall, I cannot recommend undertaking an expedition with OPWALL highly enough, to anyone who is interested in conservation and willing to experience an extraordinary ecosystem which so many talk about, but so few have actually set foot in. Even as a mere Geography student, with no expert knowledge or experience in biological surveying techniques, I got a huge amount out of the trip, and learnt a great deal along the way. OPWALL were there supporting me right from the start, providing tips and guidance for fundraising and detailed packing lists and tutorials to ensure that I was fully prepared for the expedition, and that I had a brilliant time.

I couldn't have been happier with my trip to the Amazon with OPWALL, and I strongly urge you to push the boat out next summer and join them, too. You will never regret it.

Default avatar
Marc
Male
26 years old
Kemptville
University of New Brunswick

Life Changing Experience

9/10

Before taking part in this expedition, I had no experience living and working in a tropical setting where the native language was not English. Leading up to my departure for Peru the staff at OpWall were very helpful in informative in making sure that I would be set for the expedition. The atmosphere on site was relaxed and open, staff, university students and high school students interacting throughout the day, forming new friendships and learning about each others experiences and interests. The first time that I stepped off of one of the small auxiliary boats and into the jungle was truly exciting as the feeling of actually being in a remote region surrounded only by the natural environment was a thrill! As a research assistant staying for 4 weeks the first 2 weeks provided us with the opportunity to try all of the studies on site. For the last 2 weeks we were then able to focus our attention on the studies that were of more interest to us, this allowed me to take part in more of the mist netting surveys of understory birds. By the end of my time there it was sad to have to leave and would love to return the next time the opportunity presents itself!

How can this program be improved?

It might be beneficial to include some Spanish lessons on site, maybe 2-3 times a week, to help those who want to learn Spanish to communicate at least a little bit with the local guides.

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Emily
Female
20 years old
Wakefield
University of Manchester

The Peruvian Amazon

10/10

A lot of people studying wildlife will agree, growing up and seeing the Amazon rainforest on TV made it the dream destination due to the huge abundance and diversity of wildlife. What it fails to capture is the atmosphere generated by the incredible rainforest sounds- insects, so many different bird calls and of course the distinctive howler monkeys that can be heard for miles-the excitement of being the one to spot something, or seeing some interesting animals and behaviour. Even the wellies full of water when slipping on a log have their own charm in the Amazon.

As someone with a strong interest in cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) no trip sounded better than getting to see all the diversity the rainforest had to offer alongside my favourites- one of the few places in the world you can find river dolphins! And were they abundant, you couldn't go a boat journey without seeing the pink river dolphins (the other species, the grey dolphins, were less commonly seen but still exciting), a lot less variable than spotting cetaceans at sea and without the rough conditions! One great feature of Operation Wallacea is that on the 4 week+ projects they encourage you to specialise in your favourite surveys and increase your expertise in that. This allowed me to focus on the dolphins and really get the most out of the experience, although this was not limited and I still enjoyed partaking in other surveys.

Unforgettable memories were made, being completely surrounded by these strange, primitive-looking dolphins was fantastic and the best surveys were the few that the dolphins associated with the boat and followed us all the way down the channel. If you're lucky you may get a sighting of one of the rarer animals on the reserve such as jaguars or the harpy eagle. As someone who loves aquatic mammals, the rarer species I was keen to see was the giant river otter, which is endangered but occasionally encountered on surveys. I'd just about given up hope of seeing one when on our last day, our Peruvian guide spotted and pointed out two just ahead and it was an incredible experience, truly lucky on our final day!

Other highlights included the caiman and mist netting surveys- getting hands on to collect important data with such amazing animals was an experience!- seeing bizarre animals like the electric eel up close, observing lots of monkey species and sloths regularly and of course the amazing people I met through the trip, my fellow volunteers who are sure friends for life. Operation Wallacea had great organisation and information prior to leaving and when there. The Peruvian guides on site were wonderful people who were eager to share their knowledge of the rainforest- their home- and it was truly a joy to learn from them.

I would highly recommend Opwall to anyone wanting to experience conservation as the research done here is funded by you and generates very important data on climate change in one of the world's most incredible places. Lectures ensure the trip is very educational and you will come away enriched from the experience, even beforehand if you fundraise for the expedition! It also allows you to visit a remarkable country, my friend and I took a few days at the end of the trip to visit Machu Picchu- when in Peru! I would like to thank Operation Wallacea for the opportunity and again recommend it to possible future volunteers to allow this great research to continue.

How can this program be improved?

The quality of some of the rooms wasn't the best but it is to be expected on boats so old!

Default avatar
William
Male
18 years old
Hickory, NC

A wonderful trip

10/10

Peru was the first trip I've taken out of the continent and farthest I've traveled. I loved living on a riverboat over a century old and the faculty there were amazing. Our trip's lecturer kept the lessons interesting and all the biologist became good friends after the match. I will always remember the morning mist netting survey where we woke up before the sun and watched it rise as we left for the our spot. The mot mot and wood creeper we caught were so beautiful and wild I will always remember their spirit.

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Kaelyn
Female
20 years old
Essex Junction
University of Vermont

Research Assistant in Peru 2015

10/10

I did quite a few primate surveys during my time in Peru. One afternoon, there were 4 or 5 of us including the guide out gathering data. We hadn't seen any monkeys yet, but suddenly the guide told us to stand still and be very quiet. We assumed he had spotted some monkeys, so we looked around trying to find them. In the next minute that followed 15 or so coatis jumped out of a tree a few meters in front of us. It was pretty amazing because we were so close and could see them really clearly. We didn't spot any primates during the survey but even during surveys where you didn't always find what you were looking for, something great would come out of it.

How can this program be improved?

I think the program is really great. One part that I especially enjoyed was being able to help the staff run some of the surveys and help teach the high school students. One thing that might be interesting to consider adding to the program is a camping skills tutorial. During my time in Mexico with Opwall we did this for a couple hours one day, and in addition to learning how to build a fire we also learned about some of the uses for local plants. One such example is we learned how the bark of the chaca tree in Mexico can be used to counteract the effects of the chechen tree, and is also good for skin irritations. I think it would have been cool to learn a little more about the culture while I was there.

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Katie
Female
21 years old
Worcester
University of Worcester

My Peruvian Adventure

10/10

My time in Peru with OpWall was probably the best two weeks of my summer. Combining the unique experience of the being up close with the wildlife and the hands-on research, and meeting some truly amazing and inspirational people, there isn't a single better way that I could have spent my time.

On expeditions, we were separated into smaller groups of 6 or 7 to make out experience more intimate and more rewarding. I think it's safe to say that our group weren't the luckiest on the jungle treks, and our first transect in the rain-forest could easily be described as a disaster to some. After trekking about 1km into the flooded forest, we were met with our first swamp of the expedition. Although the guides had tried hard to create a path through the middle, the continued use of the bridge and the fragility of the materials used meant that it was a little trickier than expected, and I (as with many other members of my group) ended up knee deep in the water, collecting some great samples in our wellies! After emptying our boots and completing the last 1km of the trek, we had still come across no animals - which is risk you're always taking with biodiversity sampling. I wasn't disheartened by this, and as per out methodology, the team all took a seat to wait till the forest fell silent again before walking our second transect. Except that is when the rain happened.
All I remember is our guide shouting something in spanish, and the face of our leader dropped very quickly. This would be it: our first look at why the rainforest is really called the RAINforest!
What an adventure! We walked back at about 5 times the speed, bypassing any thoughts of trying to elegantly cross the swamp for a second time. By the time we arrived back at the boat, we were soaking wet and had only our ponchos to shelter us from one of the most spectacular of rain storms!
This was one of my favourite experiences from the trip. Not only did our team have the chance to really bond with each other, it gave us something to laugh about for the rest of the trip. I don't think i'd be able to say I really experienced the Amazon rainforest if I hadn't had the chance to experience their climate.

For those of you that are reading this and worrying, we did get the chance to see some beautiful primates on our next transect. That's one of the brilliant things about this expedition: you get to try a bit of everything, and most of them you even get to do twice!
Oh, and if you're worried about the rain, don't be. It was like a warm shower in the outdoors, and shelter wasn't too far away. If you are thinking about travelling to Peru with OpWall this summer though, I highly recommend taking a waterproof that you know you can trust, and that slips right into your day bag, because you can go from the bluest of skies, to the densest of clouds in a matter of seconds in the Amazon.

How can this program be improved?

The sleeping arrangements could really do with being updated, and I wouldn't put the schools and the university students together for the evening briefings - they can be two very different experiences.

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Katie
Female
20 years old
Edinburgh
University of York

Operation Wallacea in the Peruvian Amazon

10/10

I spent an incredible month living in a real-life Attenborough documentary with pink river dolphins, sloths, several species of monkey, caimans and thousands of birds for company. Every day involved some sort of boat journey along the river either to access a new part of the jungle to explore or to survey life on the river itself. Not a day went past without an exciting wildlife encounter. Trekking through the jungle was sweaty and at times a struggle through thick clouds of mosquitoes but ultimately more than worth it to experience families of squirrel monkeys and capuchins playing only three metres overhead. The local guides are amazing, their knowledge of the forest is just incredible, and the opportunity to learn the ways of the jungle from them adds enormously to your own appreciation of nature and the way we think about conservation.

I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone interested in conservation, the outdoors, ecology or those who just want to live in the jungle for a bit!

Jessica
Female
21 years old
London, United Kingdom

Most Amazing Month in the Amazon

10/10

Had the most amazing time in the Amazon as a research assistant. Here the day to day activities included surveying some of the most amazing animals such as pink river dolphins, macaws and monkeys.

The experience was made completely unique with the fact we slept, ate and socialised on historic boats from the rubber boom period. From the boats during breakfast you could spot the elusive pink river dolphins.

The trip was challenging but was so rewarding, trekking through the rainforest in extremely high humidity, but seeing howler monkeys all around you makes the effort all worth while.

With no connection to the outside world for a month, it gave everyone on the boat to form really close relationships and by the end of the 4 weeks of research I had made some great friends.

I would highly recommend the program as it covers such a broad range of animals from frogs, to dolphins to monkeys to caiman, there is something for everyone. Also, it is extremely rewarding to know that my work has helped collect vital data about the ecology of that region in Peru, which can go on to help conserve the rainforest.

Matthew
Male
22 years old
Merthyr Tydfil

Operation Wallacea Peru

10/10

The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is an awesome place to survey wildlife; dolphins and primates are common sights, and if you're lucky you may see a jaguar, anaconda or harpy eagle! There is a diverse range of surveys to join, and you will get the opportunity to handle various animals. Living on boats is a great experience and I found it easy to get used to. The food is good and there is always plenty. I made loads of new friends, my Facebook friends list increased by ~50 people! There are extra activities held in the evenings, we watched Game of Thrones!

I think Opwall expeditions are incredible, this was my second experience with them and I would love to go again.

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Connor
Male
20 years old
Pontefract
University of Cambridge

Peru Opwall

9/10

Cracking experience! Something I've been wanting to do since I was 5 years old. Fantastic times catching caiman, fish, birds and getting up close and personal with these amazing creatures. Staff were amazing and the locals were very knowledgeable about the ecology and biology of the area. Even got to see a swimming wild green anaconda, which was something I'll never forget. would certainly recommend for a first time travel experience, as Opwall are helpful with everything from fundraising to flights.

How can this program be improved?

Very, very expensive! Good for a first time as it provides a nice introduction but would not pay for again, as I can get experience via university departments and other organisations for a fraction of the price. Also, over-the-top on safety. For example; trained herpetologists are forbidden from handling non-venomous snakes, such as anacondas, which is just a bit silly...

Response from Operation Wallacea

Hi Connor, many thanks for submitting a review! We'd just like to point out that the reason herpetologists aren't allowed to handle snakes in Peru is because our permits do not cover it - it is not health and safety related. On our other expeditions, for example Honduras, where our permits do cover the handling of snakes it is something we do allow.

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Christine
Female
30 years old
Hull

My Peru Trip

10/10

Absolutely amazing experience in Peru this summer, it was great to get involved on all the different surveys. It was my first time away on my own and it was brilliant from start to finish. All the staff were so friendly and helpful and do some great work. I learnt lots, met lots of new friends and saw some of the most amazing animals on the planet. Would definitely recommend. I feel so lucky I got the opportunity to go.

About The Provider

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Operation Wallacea is a network of academics from European and North American universities, who design and implement biodiversity and conservation management research programmes. Research is supported by students who join the programme, to strengthen their CV or resume or collect data for a dissertation or

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