Training Program: Wildlife Monitoring

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Quick Facts

This unique training program takes place in southern Peru and provides a singular opportunity for individuals with an interest in wildlife monitoring, zoology, or veterinary science to gain practical skills and experience that are not easy to come by. You will receive hands-on training in the context of an annual mark-recapture program spanning 3 animal groups: primates, birds, and bats. Each participant will have numerous opportunities to work with wildlife of these groups after receiving intensive instruction pertaining to sampling protocols, data management, and best practices for personal safety and animal welfare. Participants will thereafter be contributing to FPI’s long-term sampling efforts, some of which began in 2009. 

Beyond collecting longitudinal data on nonhuman primates, an overarching goal of this program is to study the extent to which parasites and pathogens connect the faunal community in ways that are not visible. To accomplish this, we also collect comparable samples such as blood, feces, and ectoparasites from birds, bats, and small terrestrial mammals, and use both targeted (molecular) and non-targeted (microscopy & molecular) screening approaches to determine parasite/pathogen overlap. Through the mark-recapture program we strive to gain a snapshot of parasite species richness and prevalence in numerous wildlife species with varying degrees of ecological overlap (diet and space use) and phylogenetic relatedness.

Our primate mark-recapture program at this site is unique in that it does not disturb habituation to the observer. All capture events are conducted using a multi-compartment trap into which the animals voluntarily enter – we do not coerce them in any way or tranquilize them using darts. Once captured, they are processed using safe, verified protocols and released within a few hours of capture. In addition to the invaluable information gleaned about the health of these primate populations, we are also able to provide each group with a GPS collar, and each individual with a temporary ID tag that drops off within a couple of months. This greatly facilitates the collection of detailed individualized behavioral data.

FPI’s bird, bat, and small terrestrial mammal programs, which launched in 2018, have been carefully practiced and refined by our senior scientists, and several local and foreign wildlife veterinarians with whom we collaborate. All sampling protocols are comprehensive but put the comfort and safety of the animals above our own. For example, to ensure the maximum safety of the animals, we conduct all processing in the jungle, at the trap site. We limit the number of animals we trap each day; in the case of primates, we work with a single group per day and capture the entire group together so that we do not alter their social dynamics. We begin each day very early, setting up our processing tents before dawn and closing our traps at an appropriate time to ensure that no animal is held overnight or for an entire day, depending on whether the animal is nocturnal or diurnal. Thus, we cause as minimal a disruption of their lives as is possible. We are proud to say that most animals that have been captured once through our programs and that are present in the following year, are captured again: a good measure of success.Samples from this program are analyzed on site and at partner laboratories in the USA and Peru using microscopy and molecular techniques. Further training in field molecular genetics may be possible for participants; contact us for these opportunities, which will be afforded on a case by case basis.

All of this work is sanctioned by the Amazon Conservation Association, the Animal Care Committee of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Perú.

At the end of this program, research assistants will be able to:

  • Construct and organize animal processing kits and in-situ animal processing tents
  • Collect biological samples from primates, bats, birds, rodents and marsupials.
  • Determine sex and appropriate age of individuals by morphological characters
  • Appropriately restrain and handle wild animals with proper technique and PPE
  • Record data on animal weight, TPRs (temperature, pulse and respiration), injuries, dentition, and much more.
  • Store and process biological samples for downstream analyses of endocrinology, parasitology and reproductive physiology
  • Manage and work on a team and in a laboratory like no other. 

We are currently recruiting participants with the following requirements.  If you are uncertain if you are eligible, contact us to confirm.

  • Participants must be at least 18 years of age by the time the training program begins (there is no upper age cut-off)
  • Participants must demonstrate a grounding or strong interest in animal monitoring and biology
  • Previous field experience is not required, but previous non-domestic animal handling experience is a plus
  • Participants must justify why this program is important to them, and what they hope to gain from it
  • Participants must be able to provide professional and/or academic references
  • Participants must be in good physical condition, with the capability to walk 4 miles a day
  • Participants will not be discriminated against for medical conditions they might have, if we determine that being on this project will not pose an immediate risk to their health
  • Participants must sign waivers of liability for this project and for the field station before their participation in the project is finalized
  • Participants must be willing to maintain long hours in the field, and return to complete data entry in the evenings.
  • Sometimes we wait for animals and are unsuccessful. Participants must demonstrate patience.
  • Participants must be reliable – when a team is assigned to work with a group of animals, days of planning go into the execution of the protocol. Carelessness and tardiness on the part of the participant could jeopardize the entire project.
  • Due to the nature of the work and weather constraints, participants MUST be willing to be flexible about their schedules
  • Participants must exhibit a willingness to adjust your schedule to primate daily activity patterns. This can require waking up early, sometimes by 4 or 5 am, and going to bed early, 8 or 9 pm.

The wildlife monitoring program was initiated by Dr. Mrinalini Watsa with a primary interest in studying genetic chimerism and reproductive biology for her doctoral dissertation. In 2012, Dr. Gideon Erkenswick formally joined the effort to study tamarin parasite ecology, also for his doctoral dissertation.

Four wildlife veterinarians including Jesus Lescano, Ana Peralta, Giancarlo Inga, and KC Hill were incorporated to the mark-recapture program in 2018 to assist in safely expanding our sampling effort to non-primate taxa including birds, bats, and small terrestrial mammals. Combined, our team has decades of direct experience working with tropical wildlife and conducting behavioral research.

Since this program began in 2009, we have provided wildlife monitoring opportunities and training to approximately 20 aspiring researchers and veterinarians annually.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are pretty firm minimum requirements for each program (3- to 6-week commitments). These are firm because each research assistant must be trained, during which time the data they collect cannot be relied upon entirely. Anything less than the minimum time is deemed insufficient for the research assistant to contribute real data to the project. However, for most programs, you are welcome to apply for stays that are longer than the minimum period – in fact, we really do recommend and love it when you do!

You absolutely can apply to both a field course and an RAship program if the dates will line up! In fact, if you are accepted into the research assistantship, you can attend a field course for a lower fee (typically a $400 discount)

In order to train our research teams, it is necessary that everyone arrives on specific start dates. However, for some programs we are able to provide multiple start dates in order to accommodate the varying schedules of our research assistants. Note: this is not offered for all of our programs, so please pay attention to the specific start times for each program.  If you REALLY cannot make a particular start date, don’t abandon hope – email us and we can do our best to accommodate you!

Our courses have fewer enrollment requirements, and we strongly encourage anyone to apply. The research assistantships are more competitive, and there are fewer positions available.

No, you do not need previous research experience. These are training programs designed for participants at all levels. It can be hard to acquire field experience, so we balance our teams with veteran researchers and those new to the world of field research. We seek bright and enthusiastic candidates with the right temperament to work in this challenging environment. 

The cost to participate includes lodging and all meals at the field station, transportation between Puerto Maldonado and the field station, specialized training for candidates accepted into the program, and the provision of equipment and supplies necessary to conduct this research.

A large majority of the fees paid to our training programs cover lodging fees charged by the host field station. Importantly, at the Los Amigos Biological Station lodging fees not only support the cost of running and maintaining a remote field site, but contribute to the larger mission of their parent NGO (Association for the Conservation of the Amazon Basin) to protect conservation areas, monitor deforestation, maintain wildlife corridors, and more.

We are now able to offer a peer-to-peer fundraising program for research assistants. Once accepted, you would be able to create a shareable profile on our platform. This is a team-based initiative, so half of your raised funds will go toward your own program fees, while the other half will go into pool to be split evenly among all program participants who had at least 5 donors. More details will be available during (and after) your interview. If you require help with the cost of the program, there are other options that you might pursue as well. You could start by contacting the Office of Undergraduate Research of your school, or request professional development support from your employer. Here you can explore what is available through your college/place-of-work, as well as through external funding sources. Many universities have SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) programs, which may provide stipends for students to pursue independent research. Please note that if you do find any kind of research-related funding — as many RAs have in the past — it will need to be applied for in conjunction with us, on research projects that we approve. In this case, one of our principal investigators will consult with you about developing a project that is feasible.

Some candidates may have an opportunity to win a grant that will fund their research assistantship site fees and travel. However, the grant requires them to submit a research proposal. If this is your situation, we may be able to work with you on a proposal. Contact us at info(at)fieldprojects.org and we can help you structure one. We cannot accommodate completely independent projects, but we can assist you with finding a subset of our samples or data that has not yet been full used, which you could develop further with supervision.

Yes, you can. We do not give co-authorship for collecting data alone, but we offer interested students the opportunity to work on data analyses after the summer research program, that could lead to co-authorship in the future. Many of our former field team members have gone on to become research collaborators.

Once you make your payment towards the program, we will go ahead and book your stay at the field station, which requires us to pay in advance and provides no refunds. We also block your spot and reject other applicants based on your being on the team; thus cancellations can affect team recruitment quite strongly. Nevertheless, we do recognize that circumstances sometimes demand cancellations – so we do the best that we can, given the restrictions we are under.

Here is our cancellation policy: 

  • 45 days before your start date: 45% refunded
  • Less than 45 days from your start date: no refund is possible
If you have extenuating circumstances, or applied closer than 45 days to your start date, please contact us to confirm your specific cancellation policy.

1. Apply online here. You will need a CV/resume and two references.

2. Once we hear from your references, we will schedule an interview with the principal investigator of your desired project

3. If accepted, you will be notified within 1 week

4. Upon acceptance, gain student access to online training modules to get prepared before you arrive.

5. Turn in medical info, vaccination record, liability waivers, etc.

6. See you in the field!

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