Biological research is turning to genetic research methods for a deeper look into the factors that encode behavior and physiology. We use genetic techniques to determine species delimitations, define populations, understand mating systems, explain behavioral differences in foraging efficiency, screen for disease, conduct paternity studies, evaluate immune status and functioning, and explore microbiome diversity… and these are just a few examples of the full breadth of the field as applied to wildlife biology. The field of genetics is revolutionizing biological research, and in the past few years we have even witnessed the successful deployment of instruments that enable molecular work to be conducted ‘on-the-fly’ and in the field. These new tools are minimizing the hassles and barriers associated with transporting samples around the world to distant labs that possess the equipment and resources to extract, amplify, and sequence DNA. In many ways, this new technology is democratizing wildlife research by empowering field scientists all around the world with genetic tools to directly advance their research and conservation initiatives.
This course will take you to the Peruvian Amazon, where you will learn how field research is conducted, assist in sample collection, and then actually extract, amplify, sequence, and interpret genetic data to answer several practical research questions about wildlife ecology and natural history. It will take place at the Inkaterra Field Guides Station, which is the site of the Green Lab, the world’s first tropical rainforest molecular genetics laboratory. You will go from sample collection to sequence analysis directly in the rainforest. This course is will provide an introduction to next-generation primatologists and biologists, who will gain not only the skills requisite for field research but the technical know-how to employ genetic research tools in the field.
In this course, we will focus on three specific cases in which cutting-edge genomics can help us solve mysteries common to wildlife research in the field. The ultimate goal of all of these projects will be to use a MinION, a USB-sized powerful sequencer that is revolutionizing how we do genomics in some of the craziest places on the planet.
The MinION has been used to:
- do whole-genome sequencing to identify species with PCRs in under 40 minutes and whole genome amplification in under 100 minutes
- conduct real-time DNA sequencing in a remote rainforest by a course instructor
- sequence DNA offline in the Antarctic and even on the International Space Station in outerspace!
We will study three specific cases (class size and time permitting):
- DNA fingerprinting
- The effects of captivity on microbiome diversity
- Environmental DNA
We will try to answer a few additional questions with all case studies:
- Can we use the What’s In My Pot (WIMP) workflow to accurately classify these species to a reference database in real-time for all of the case studies?
- How many different kinds of samples can we multiplex at one go on a MinION?
- Does the choice of DNA extraction kit affect the outcome?
- Does the length of time we let the MinION run for affect the accuracy of our species identifications?
- Course Objectives
- Research Case Study 1: DNA Fingerprinting
- Research Case Study 2: Does Captivity Alter Primate Microbiomes?
- Research Case Study 3: Environmental DNA
- Food & Lodging
- Program Costs & Student Aid
Explore one of the most biodiverse areas in the world – lowland Amazon rainforest.
Hike over a quarter of a mile on the iconic Inkaterra Rainforest Canopy Walkway, 98 feet above the ground.
Track three (or more!) primate species to noninvasively collect biological samples for DNA barcoding in the lab
Identify plants by morphological characteristics and DNA barcoding techniques
Visit a wildlife rehabilitation center to collect biological samples from captive exotic animals for comparison to the microbiomes of their wild counterparts
Manage a molecular genetics field laboratory in the Peruvian Amazon’s first such venture
Conduct parasitological screening in wild and captive primates
Visit Colpa Chuncho, a spectacular clay lick located within the 1000+ square-mile Tambopata National Reserve that attracts large numbers of several bird species, including scarlet macaws and toucans
Stay on after the field course and visit iconic archaeological sites such as Machhu Picchu.
The goals of this course are to give participants advanced training in field techniques important to the collection of biological samples from Amazonian wildlife, their prey, and their parasites, all the way to sequencing DNA from these sources. The course has the following objectives
To engage in both independent and team-based data collection
To teach sample collection techniques from Amazonian wildlife, with a focus on primates as model megafauna
To learn sample storage and clean-lab protocols in the field
To extract DNA in a field laboratory
To test DNA quality and quantify it
To run basic PCRs for a range of markers using multiple protocols on field PCR machines (smaller, lighter, lower-scale and more rugged than typical lab-based machines)
To explore metagenomics in the field using three case studies:
In 1986, the first criminal was captured on the basis of DNA fingerprinting, a process developed at the University of Leicestershire in the UK. Semen stain samples from two murders were collected and matched to the same perpetrator. An innocent man accused of the crimes was exonerated, and the real culprit caught. Since then, DNA fingerprinting has revolutionized the way crime scenes are processed and biological samples screened. But DNA fingerprinting is not restricted to forensic science applications alone. You can fingerprint anything, and one way in which we do so in wildlife biology is to use a barcode database.
For this case study, we will collect fecal samples from wild primates and use these known samples to identify a series of unknown samples down to the species. To do this, we will barcode the DNA of each sample, and compare it to a reference database. A second dataset will use a similar process to identify unknown plants, keeping in mind that plants are polyploids and so a bit more complex to barcode.
Skillsets: Sample collection from wild primates and Amazonian plants, sample storage and sterile technique, DNA extraction using multiple kits for comparison, amplification of barcoded regions in the genome, gel electrophoresis to confirm amplicon sizes, sequencing of the regions using a MinION, real-time species identification with the WIMP workflow.
A microbiome is a collection of the genes of all the microbes in a community, and a disturbance of the “normal” microbiome of the gut of an animal (including humans) can result in disease. However, what is normal? Which microbes are present and what do they do? Although much of this information is now known for humans, it is completely unknown in wild primates.
For this case study, we will compare fecal samples collected from a local wildlife rehabilitation center (including animals thought to be healthy and sick) with samples from wild primates living in forests nearby. The goal is to conduct 16s sequencing of all of the bacteria present in these samples. We will also visit the Taricaya Rehabilitation Center to discuss wildlife rehabilitation and the wildlife trade in Peru with veterinarians and keepers on site.
Skillsets: Sample collection (wild and captive), storage and sterile technique, DNA extraction, PCR amplification of the genetic material in the 16S ribosomal subunit, multiplexing of samples and cDNA library prep for sequencing on the MinION, subsequent analysis of data using the WIMP workflow.
Imagine, if you will, the contents of a primate fecal sample. Beyond thinking about the icky side of things, a fecal sample is as valuable as gold to a research scientist. It contains a multitude of organisms, each with their own unique trace of DNA. For example, represented will be the bacterial microbiome of the animal’s gut, the parasites it might contain, the plant and animal material it consumed, and it’s own gut cells with the host’s DNA. So from one single sample, we can not only identify the producer of the sample but also everything that animal ate. For a wildlife biologist studying hard-to-see and often unhabituated animals, this is indeed, an unappreciated treasure of information. Even the best animal trackers cannot pursue every animal so closely as to see everything it eats, including tiny insects or rare species of vines in the canopy of a rainforest. Enter, genomics in the jungle!
In this case study, we will use markers such as that of the 18s ribosomal subunit to identify all prokaryotic and eukaryotic DNA in a range of fecal samples. Our goal is to ignore the obvious, such as host DNA but to focus on environmental traces of DNA.
Skillsets: Sample preparation and collection, DNA extraction, library preparation, sequencing on the MinION and analysis.
Gideon Erkenswick co-founded Primates Peru Inc. in 2009 which later evolved into Field Projects International. Cumulatively, he has spent 8 years working in the Neotropics leading research programs in primate behavior, disease ecology, and mark and recapture, and for the past 4 years, he has also taught field courses in general tropical biology and primate behavior. Between 2011 and 2017 he completed a doctorate in biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) that focused on parasite-host relationships from a diverse community of nonhuman primates using molecular genetics and genomics. At UMSL he also acquired formal classroom teaching experience in anatomy and physiology, comparative vertebrate anatomy, evolution, and organismal biology. In addition to his role as a Senior Research Scientists for FPI and founder of the Green Lab, he continues in the UMSL Biology Department as a post-doctoral researcher.
Aaron Pomerantz is currently in a Ph.D. program in the Integrative Biology department at UC Berkeley and is interested in how Neotropical butterflies are able to produce such an incredible array of colors through the use of both pigments and nanostructure formations (structural color) in their scales. He also hopes to apply novel technology to conduct fieldwork in remote locations of the Amazon rainforest, such as origami-based portable microscopes and handheld gene sequencers. Most recently, he worked with the MinION in Ecuador to go from sample to sequence in under 24 hours.
Visit his full profile here or explore his website
Mrinalini (Mini) Watsa began a love affair with the rainforest in the backyard of her home in India, virtually overrun with cobras, chameleons and even jackals. She has a PhD in biological anthropology, with a specialisation in molecular genetics of vertebrates. She has managed a ten-year mark-recapture program with wild primates in Peru, and run both university and field molecular genetics laboratories in the US and Peru. Today, she splits her time between being a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Missouri St. Louis, instructing courses on tropical field biology through FPI, and running the Green Lab.
Stefan Prost joins the FPI team as the bioinformatician for this field course. His experience covers comparative genomics, paleogenomics and genome architecture at Stanford University as a postdoctoral researcher. But Stefan has experience outside of the lab as well – he joined co-instructor Aaron Pomerantz last year in sequencing using the MinION under field conditions in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Visit his full profile here.
There are a few simple requirements to determine eligibility for this course:
- You must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the course.
- You must have medical insurance, and provide proof of such insurance to us to complete your reservation.
- We have no citizenship requirements. Anyone is welcome to apply. You must obtain visas independently if necessary.
- You do not need any training in biology – our course is structured to accommodate people from a variety of backgrounds.
- Courses have a maximum capacity of 12 participants. If you are concerned that you will lose your spot, please contact us to confirm how many spots we have left.
- Students applying for the Peruvian course rate are capped at a maximum of 3 for this course.
- Course readings: Reading list to be announced in March 2018. These are intended to foster better comprehension and discussion of course topics and should be read ahead of the course start date.
- Download the syllabus: HERE
- Download our Sexual and Gender-Based Policy: HERE
- Download our Student Policy Manual: HERE
The course is held at the location of the Green Lab, the Inkaterra Guides Field Station. Participants will first fly directly into Puerto Maldonado and take a 1-hour boat to the Inkaterra Guides Field Station (IGFS), where they will base all activities for a period of 13 days. Field trips will include a visit to a claylick and a local wildlife rehabilitation center.
At the IGFS, housing is in shared single-sex dorms, with four people in a room and a shared private restroom. The site has dedicated common areas, including a dining room and lounge.
At the field station, you will be provided with three meals each day – breakfast (~6 – 7 am), lunch (~12-1 pm) and dinner (~6:30 – 7:30 pm). These meals are healthy and will fill you up, but this being the middle of the rainforest, don’t expect to get all your food groups represented in the same way you try to eat while you are at home. If you are concerned, take a multi-vitamin while at the field station. Rice is a major staple of almost every meal, with proteins, vegetables, and fruits widely available. The stations have fabulous cooks who can make tasty dishes with basic and wholesome ingredients. Vegetarians will sometimes get tofu and soy meat substitutes. Being vegan on this course can be difficult (but it is not impossible).
You will also have access to cookies, crackers, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, at all times during the day (while you are at camp). If you think you will do better with Cliff or Luna bars (or the like), please bring some for yourself. Any additional treats you bring (including precious chocolate) will be fair game for small rainforest creatures, so bring plenty of ziplock bags in which to place your food. Also, avoid leaving wrappers in your rooms containing anything at all edible because that will attract some curiosity from miniature wildlife.
International Air Travel: Getting to Peru from a different country is accomplished primarily by air. We recommend using Kayak, Orbitz or Expedia to book your flights online. Please do not book flights until March 1 for this course. If you want to stay on to visit Machu Picchu, let us know, and we can provide travel recommendations.
Local Air Travel: You may fly into Puerto Maldonado any time on July 22nd. Your departure should be anytime on August 4th.
As with all of our courses, a comprehensive travel packet that contains information on when and how to book your travel, visas, vaccinations, and packing tips, will be made available to all students. This packet is provided to students once they have registered for the course.
Please see the FAQs below for initial information on visas and vaccines.
The fee for this course for non-Peruvians is $3200 and must be paid in full 6 weeks after online registration or May 1, 2018, whichever is EARLIER. Peruvians are entitled to take the course for a reduced fee of $1300, but space at this rate is limited to 3 students and will be provided on a first-come-first-serve basis.
The fee includes the following:
- Food and lodging for the entire course.
- Transportation to and from Puerto Maldonado to the field site.
- Experienced instructors and field equipment.
- Access to the field laboratory and ingredients to complete all projects
This course fee does NOT include:
- International travel to Peru.
- Local airfare to Puerto Maldonado
- Travel or health insurance (proof of health insurance is required for course attendance).
- Rubber boots, binoculars, flashlight and insect repellent (all of which are required to take this course).
There are two ways to obtain financial assistance for attending this field course. You may participate in both of these programs simultaneously as follows:
- Scholarships: This year, we are offering one scholarship to participate in this class targeting a Peruvian citizen. For the application details, please visit our scholarships page.
- Fundraising: FPI can now provide a peer-to-peer crowdfunding platform for all field course students. You will be able to make your fundraising page to share with your contacts and social networks. At the end of the fundraising period of 6 weeks from when you register, FPI will issue a discount code to you for 100% of the funds that you have raised. You would then enter this code as you make your final course payment. If you raise enough to cover all (or part) of your initial reservation fee, you would be refunded that portion as well. Please note that funds raised in excess of your program fees will be rolled into our scholarship fund. Also, if you withdraw from the course at any time, your donors cannot get a refund. In this case, all of those funds would also roll over into our scholarship fund for other students. To set up this option, please register for a course, first, and then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your fundraising page.
Please read our cancellation policy carefully before applying to a field course:
- $100 of your deposit made during registration is a processing fee that is nonrefundable under any circumstances.
- If you cancel on or before April 1, you will be refunded 40% of the course fee, minus the processing fee of $100.
- Course fees cannot be refunded for cancellations made after April 1.
- If FPI has to cancel this course due to mitigating reasons, a full refund of all fees paid, including the registration fee, will be made available to all participants.
- Early departures from the field course are not entitled to a refund for any reason.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you don’t find the answers you are looking for below, please contact us.
Participants can acquire credit directly from their universities. You would provide your university with the course syllabus, and the school may decide to accept the instructor’s grade and issue credit for the course. For more details on obtaining credit or deciding if credit is for you, please email us at email@example.com
The United States university system runs on credits – typically 2 to 4 per class. A student needs a certain number of credits to graduate with a bachelors’ degree eventually. However, this system has little to no meaning outside the US itself, and thus, when we offer credits, we are primarily targeting those students within the US to whom this is relevant. Course credit is therefore only available to students in the US, or possibly countries like Canada, who can transfer credits from US Universities to their institutions to apply towards their degrees.
For all other students — and there have been plenty who have attended our courses — you receive many other benefits to taking the course, such as:
- A certificate from FPI showing that you attended and completed the course
- A detailed report of your performance and your final grade, which you can share with future employers or anyone else in any manner you wish to.
To be clear: You are not required to sign up for credits in the US university system if you come from a country in which this system is itself not recognised. Furthermore, there is no requirement for US students to take this course for credit either. Course credit is an optional item and will incur credit fees from the university in question.
Questions to ask yourself before signing up for credit:
1. Will my university accept transfer credits from another university? Please consult your advisor and confirm this before signing up, because this is not the responsibility of either the university or Field Projects International
2. Can I afford to take the course for credit? The credit costs are paid directly to the university while the course fee is paid to FPI. Both will be necessary before you can take the course for credit.
Apart from the valuable skills, knowledge, and experience, you will acquire, FPI encourages alumni to network, support, and collaborate with each other after the course is done. Also, our staff remains available for academic and career advice. Many of our alumni have returned as research assistants, and later even joined us as research collaborators, field team leaders, and instructors.
In addition to the specific training that will benefit those going into many fields, our courses also entail pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and are challenging both mentally and physically. Furthermore, this is a chance to visit remote research stations in one of the most bio-diverse regions of the planet, and to learn about the incredible flora and fauna that you will see at every turn.
Preparing to travel to Peru
Every country has different requirements for visitors, depending on their citizenship. Tourist visas are free for US citizens and are available upon entry (see the US State Department’s information on travel to Peru here). For all other nationalities, please check here for your specific requirements. It is possible that you will have to apply for a visa at your local embassy before you arrive in the country so please confirm your visa requirements early. Visa applications can take as long as six weeks sometimes, during which your passport will need to be with the embassy in question.
One further thing to consider is the visa requirements of any country you are transiting. For example, flying from Asia into Peru can be done via Europe, or via the UK, Canada or USA, which require transit visas. So when you consider purchasing a flight, please look at the visa requirements of any stops along the way.
Download a packing list here. Please read sections below for explanations for each item as well.
The currency in Peru is the Peruvian Nueve Sol. We say 1 “sol” and many “soles”. The currency exchange rate is ~ 3 soles to 1 USD (see here for current rate). Changing US dollars in Peru is a difficult thing to do; you will need to bring brand new,high-denomination bills, without any blemishes on them, for a bank to exchange them for you. You can find currency exchanges easily in the airport in Lima as well as in Lima city. In Puerto Maldonado, you will have to change currency at a bank (so keep in mind bank working weeks and hours). Thus, the easiest way to get money is to use an ATM via a credit or debit card.
Things to consider: Bring two cards, in case one doesn’t work. Test that your pins work on both of your cards before you come to Peru. You can use an ATM in Lima, Cusco or Puerto Maldonado very easily. The most you can withdraw in a single day from an ATM is 700 soles or ~$260. ATM charges can apply, including conversion fees, so check with your bank about that. Withdrawing from an ATM is convenient, and prevents you from carrying around a lot of cash, which is always a much safer way to travel.
Traveler’s checks are entirely a thing of the past – just don’t buy them!
You do not need to have cash on you at the station except for possibly 100-200 soles at the very most, for emergencies. There’s nothing to buy, no stores to spend it on; cash, in short, is irrelevant in the rainforest. You only need enough to allow you to return to town in comfort.
You will require gumboots (aka wellingtons or muck boots), which are knee-high rubber boots. These are essential for all activities, every day at the station. You can bring these from home or buy them in Puerto Maldonado. If you have unusually large feet, don’t risk it and please buy your boots at home. Select a natural coloured or black pair, if possible. You will wear these boots every single day while you are in the forest, so if you’re bringing them from home, break them in if you can. If you have sensitive feet with arch trouble, please bring insoles for your boots.
A pair of sneakers will come in handy during your travels and for use while at the camp itself. You will never wear flip-flops at camp, for your safety. You may, however, prefer to bring a pair so that you can wear them to — or in — the shower.
Pack in something you can carry on your shoulders. Suitcases are not very practical (though people have managed with them). We recommend bringing a big duffel bag, or a backpack with most of your things in it. Try to make it waterproof, or buy a waterproof cover. In the worst case scenario, though, you can put your whole bag in a giant plastic bag to keep it dry once you get to Puerto Maldonado. You’ll also need a small daypack when on site.
The most important things you need in the forest that we will NOT be providing are your daypack, a water bottle, insect repellent, rain jacket or poncho, and a pair of binoculars. Additionally, a laptop (not a Chromebook) can be extremely helpful, as will be a digital watch with a repeat timer. Check your packing list for more details. Also, some things to consider bringing include a penknife (check it in, don’t hand carry – it will get caught), a bandana or hat, and some energy bars as an extra snack.
You will need to use a battery-operated headlamp with LEDs on this course. This headlamp will be your best friend and is useful since it is hands-free. If you’re interested in seeing wildlife at night, bring one that is bright, and that has a red light option, as the red light scares nocturnal animals a lot less. Headlamps will need batteries, and we strongly suggest that you bring rechargeable batteries with you. This means that you must also obtain a small battery charger. If you can’t and have to bring regular batteries, please buy energy efficient ones so you use as few as possible, since you will have to take all batteries back with you and recycle them (you cannot leave them at the field station).
Yes. Make sure that you have something extremely reliable as an alarm clock – whether you use your phone or watch is up to you.
Passports are valuable items that you want to protect from mould in the rainforest. The best way to do this is to put them in small ziplock bags and then leave them entirely alone. Do the same with any cash you bring with you also. Paper gets mouldy very quickly.
The weather in the lowland Amazonian rainforest is typically warm and pleasant (~24C or 75F). However, it can be chilly when it rains on a boat ride. Therefore, you have to pack for both warm and cool weather.
The field station and the course do not provide any medications to students. As such, you must bring a small medical kit for minor issues:
– A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics (ciprofloxacin is a common and effective one)
– A course of antibiotics for digestive trouble, and a small number of pills of Immodium (to be used in emergencies only)
– Electrolyte/rehydration packs (hint: the juice flavoured ones are much nicer than the medical ones)
– Anti-fungal cream/powder (effective on yeast), particularly if you are prone to these infections
– Anti-itch medication: over-the-counter lotions are ok
– Camphorated alcohol – a local anti-itch/disinfecting method that we highly recommend (can be purchased in Puerto Maldonado)
– Antacids to comfort your stomach
– Band-aids, tweezers
– An Epi-pen if you are allergic to anything at all
– Antihistamines to be taken in case of mild allergies (something like Claritin/ Zyrtec)
You will have to provide proof of a regular vaccination record (as listed here by the CDC). For travel to Peru, we require that you also get the following vaccines: Typhoid (oral or injectable), Yellow Fever, and Tetanus. If you have the flu shot for the year, all the better. Find a travel clinic and get your shots EARLY.
We take the health and safety of all participants very seriously. We look out for each other and take care of our students. The field sites have stringent protocols on safety procedures in the case of an emergency that we are obliged to follow. Inkaterra is only one hour from Puerto Maldonado, from which you can be evacuated to Lima for major emergencies or be treated locally at several clinics or hospitals for smaller issues. For specific emergency protocols, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neither the field station nor Field Projects International will be responsible for costs associated with medical emergencies. Before being accepted to the program, applicants must submit a brief medical history evaluation. This is not meant to discriminate against people, but instead to protect them from being in a situation where they are at a severe or life-threatening disadvantage.
All participants must sign a participation contract, without which applicants cannot participate in our courses or research programs. We make special references to an alcohol policy in our participation contract – we have a zero tolerance policy at this field station. You will also sign a sexual and gender-based misconduct contract (and so will your supervisors). This is not to suggest that this issue is a problem at this field site in particular. However, there has been a large amount of reporting on these matters in the press of late, and we want to assure you that we take any such violations extremely seriously. We want our participants to be as safe and comfortable as possible.
Field Station Amenities
The station will provide you with sheets during your stay. However, we strongly encourage you to bring a spare towel for use while one is in the wash or drying.
We strongly encourage you to bring your laptops on this course, as well as your cell phones. They will come in handy for data entry, entertainment, assignments and for checking email. Due to the intermittent/slow nature of the internet, as well as the need to use Garmin Basecamp software, Chromebooks are not recommended.
Electronics have to be treated differently in the rainforest than you would anywhere else. Do not bother to bring a soft sleeve for the laptop with you, because it will suck up moisture from the air and will envelop your computer in it, which is terrible news. We find that simple plastic ziplock bags work better than sports dry bags. We recommend that you purchase at least two ziplock bags that are large enough to fit your computer. You can also buy silicon gel packages online (Amazon Smile or Jake’s Silica Gel are good places to try, along with local stores like REI). Put a couple of 5-gram packets inside the ziplock with your computer and bring at least two more packs with you.
Peru uses a different set of plugs than the U.S. or England. The field sites, however, will have extension cords and power strips that accept US plugs. If you want to plug things in while you travel, though, you might consider picking up a small converter for your electronics that will fit plugs in Peru (see here for a full explanation). The Peruvian system uses 220 volts, instead of 120/140 volts as in the U.S. Please CHECK your electronics to make sure they are compatible before plugging them in at the station or anywhere in Peru. If they don’t work at both voltages, you will need to bring a step up converter such as this one. Also, note that you will not find three-pronged sockets in most places, so definitely at least bring a three-to-two prong modifier (such as this) for your electronics.
Electricity at the field station will be provided via a generator for a period each day, during which you will charge your electronics as needed. You may certainly bring solar chargers if you feel the need to, and you should expect to use your laptop during lectures and labs. Please make sure that it has a functioning battery that will allow you at least 2 hours of work time without being plugged in.
Do not bring a hair dryer, electric razor, or electric toothbrush because those are very much considered an unnecessary luxury at this site. We will prioritise charging absolutely everything else over those items.
Wifi internet access at Inkaterra Guides Field Station is available. This means that smartphones, iPads, tablets, and computers of all kinds should be able to connect to the internet to send an email or make wifi phone calls. However, this is limited to certain times during the day when solar panels are charged, and the network can be turned on.
There is no cell phone signal at either of the field stations. If you have a phone with an international travel plan, then you will be able to make phone calls and send messages while in Lima and Puerto Maldonado. If this is important to you, we do suggest that you contact your cell service provider in advance to confirm that your phone will work in Peru.
Things to consider: You can rent a cell phone at the Lima airport with a local number if desired. You can communicate through internet phone services like Whatsapp while you are at Lima airport and Puerto Maldonado wherever there is a wifi access point (such as Starbucks or your hostel).
You will do your own laundry at the field stations, so bring (preferably) biodegradable laundry detergent from the US with you. You don’t need a lot of it, a 10 oz bottle of liquid or a small packet of powder should be more than enough for the duration of your stay. You can purchase non-biodegradable detergent as well as clothespins (to secure your washing to a line for drying) in the Puerto Maldonado market.
This is the Amazon rainforest, and as with all tropical areas, there are disease risks. Unlike towns, however, this field station does not hold enough people to serve as constant reservoirs for many diseases.
Malaria can be a concern, and while none of our principal researchers takes malaria prophylactics, your travel doctor will most likely disagree because their information is about the region in general, and it is true that malaria can be contracted in Puerto Maldonado. As such, the choice to take malaria prophylactics is entirely personal – if you feel better about it, take the medication. FPI offers no recommendation or medical advice whatsoever.
In recent years, there have been a few cases of dengue in the area, although it is hard to verify whether researchers have contracted it in town or at the field station. There is no vaccine, but there are cures – we remain watchful for this disease.
Leishmaniasis is a tropical disease that is found at this site – and several researchers have contracted it in past years. It is not a painful disease, but it can be unpleasant if left untreated. As such, if any student or researcher receives a bite that does not heal in a week, we advise them to get tested locally. This has worked for everybody in preventing leishmaniasis and will be the rule for our team at this field site. In short, any misgivings you may have about using high concentration DEET are significantly outweighed by the unpleasantness of leishmaniasis. Treatment for leishmaniasis can be obtained in Peru or abroad at a travel/CDC clinic.
The recent Zika outbreak is of concern in much of Latin America, although a great deal is still not known about this virus. Since Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are the primary vectors of the virus, we again recommend DEET to prevent bites. For much more detailed information, please see the next section in this FAQ.
Chiggers are annoying but do not carry disease. They are small mites of the family Trombiculidae (also known as harvest mites) that can cause you some irritation. They cause small welts, like mosquito bites, that can itch very badly. They clear up quickly, and there are rarely any scars. Using insect repellent can help in preventing these bites. Also avoid sitting directly on the ground, and tuck your shirt into your pants. Wearing tall rubber boots will also help greatly. FYI, the mites are 1/60th of an inch long (nearly invisible to the naked eye) and are long gone by the time the bites start itching. Sulphur soup is helpful for ameliorating chigger itch.
A great deal is still not known about this virus, which is spread by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. There is a possible link to a condition called microcephaly in children born to infected women. While mosquitoes are the primary vector of the virus, the virus can be sexually transmitted.
The CDC’s travel advisories for pregnant women have extended to Peru, suggesting that students who are pregnant — or likely to be pregnant at the time of the course — use caution. There is currently no evidence of any effect on future births for those who are not pregnant at the time of infection, and only around 20% of all infected people exhibit even the minor symptoms of Zika (fever, rash, etc.). There is an additional suspected link to a rare but more severe condition called Guillain-Barré, however, this risk is exceedingly low.
The Peruvian government is taking numerous proactive measures to prevent the spread of Zika within the country. These include the use of ovitraps to identify the virus in mosquitoes at many monitoring sites around the country, allowing for a swift response if detected.
This is a developing story, and much is still unknown regarding the transmission and health risks of this virus. We recommend that each prospective student and researcher determine their comfort levels by weighing the available data against their own relative risk. At this point, FPI’s non-pregnant investigators and other staff remain confident about safely returning to the field.
To reduce mosquito bites, we recommend repellents with DEET as the active ingredient, along with loose-fitting clothing and long-sleeves. Clothing may also be treated with permethrin. Furthermore, mosquito bed nets are provided at the field station.