Research Assistantship Programs
Field Projects International offers students the unique opportunity to receive hands-on training in the Peruvian Amazon. We partner with several universities to carry out a number of long-term research programs. Our primary subjects are the primates at the Los Amigos field site (aka CICRA) in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, with research topics including growth and development, life history, health and parasitology, reproduction, spatial ecology, and communication.
All of our research programs contribute to the student training opportunities that we offer, especially as platforms for learning for our long-term research assistants. We specialize in teaching field research methodologies applicable to small mammal capture-and-release, parasitology and health monitoring, tracking and space-use, and behavioral observation. Research assistants come from a variety of backgrounds: pre-vet, anthropology, biology, and various other occupations and disciplines. If you are interested in gaining field experience in the Peruvian Amazon, you’ve come to the right place.
We are an equal opportunity organization, which believes there are many skills, traits, and perspectives that can benefit our mission. Joining a research team is a competitive process, but it comes with many rewards including professional training alongside experienced investigators, and a one-of-a-kind experience amidst extraordinary biodiversity. Additionally, FPI extends generous support for our participants seeking further opportunities to conduct research or join graduate programs.
Read below about our current programs
- 1. Wildlife Handling
- 2. Wildlife Technology and Behavioral Ecology
- 3. Primate Reproduction and Endocrinology
Wildlife Handling: Primates-Bats-Birds
This training program targets students with interest in wildlife handling, zoology, or veterinary science. Students will participate in annual capture and release programs focused on nonhuman primates, bats, and birds in southeastern Peru. Participants will work alongside several wildlife biologists and veterinarians obtaining opportunities to handle a variety of mammalian and avian species, gaining valuable knowledge of their biology, learning to record morphometrics, collecting and processing a variety of samples, and becoming competent in several roles that are vital to a successful health screening program. Our work in this project is sanctioned by the Amazon Conservation Association, the Animal Care Committee of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (SERFOR) in Perú.
- Program dates: May 31 – July 18, 2020
- Start dates: May 31, June 7, June 14
- Minimum stay required: 4 weeks (in special cases we will consider 3 weeks)
- Application deadline: April 1, 2020
- Program fee: $2000 for 4 weeks; $450 each additional week
- Appeals to majors: Vertebrate Physiology, Anthropology, Veterinary Science, Zoology
- Training areas: Animal mark-recapture and handling, health assessments, vital signs monitoring, morphological measurement, sample collection and storage.
Wildlife Technology and Behavioral Ecology
Tamarins are some of the most challenging primates to study. They’re small, fast-moving, and highly arboreal. But when it comes to behavioral ecology, there’s no substitute for direct observation, so this program trains students to keep eyes on the elusive monkeys, follow them, and monitor their behavior. Once you’ve learned to follow wild tamarins, we believe you’re ready to study any kind of primate (or other fast-moving arboreal wildlife).
Our behavioral ecology program collects detailed information on space use, feeding ecology, and social behavior in an effort to understand the natural history of these unique organisms. This year, we’re adding another dimension to our research: GPS micro-collars. Because the animals are so small, commercially-available GPS collars don’t fit them, so we’ve had to design our own devices. This will be our first season of data collection using the new design, so students will be involved in a first-of-its kind scientific study of movement ecology in tamarins.
- Program dates: May 31 – August 1, 2020
- Start dates: May 31, June 7, June 21,
- Minimum stay required: 6 weeks (in special cases we will consider 5 weeks)
- Application deadline: April 1, 2020
- Program fee: $3000 for 6 weeks; $450 each additional week
- Appeals to majors: Animal Behavior, Anthropology, Biology, Environmental Science, Psychology, Wildlife Management, Zoology
- Training areas: Off-trail navigation, wildlife tracking, telemetry, behavioral sampling, spatial analysis, GPS collar design, microchip field trackers
Primate Reproduction and Endocrinology
In tamarins and other callitrichine primates, females exhibit extreme differences in reproductive success. In fact, even though multiple females may live in the same group, only one will usually reproduce from year to year. The others are suppressed in some way, but we don’t completely understand how or why. To help answer these questions, research assistants will gather individual behavioral and hormonal data from tamarin groups, including full-day follows to record interactions between individuals and fecal sample collection for hormone analyses. Participants will learn how to operate telemetry equipment, collect and manage behavioral data, and perform hormone extractions at the site.
- Program dates: May 17 – September 26, 2020
- Application deadline: April 1, 2020
- Minimum commitment: 6 weeks (in special cases we will consider 5 weeks)
- Start dates: May 17, May 31, June 7, June 21, July 5, July 19, August 2, August 16
- Program fee: $3000 for 6 weeks; $450 each additional week
- Appeals to majors: Animal Behavior, Anthropology, Biology, Psychology, Zoology
- Training areas: Behavioral data collection using scan- and focal-sampling; non-invasive hormone sample collection; field hormone extractions; telemetry; off-trail navigation; primate reproductive biology
Preparing for your visit to the Amazon
- Traveling to CICRA
- Permits and Visas
- Health Overview
- Staying healthy
- What to bring with you
Step One: Fly to Lima
Flying to Lima is available on a number of international airline carriers. With advance notice, it is possible to book a roundtrip ticket from Chicago or Washington D.C., USA, to Lima, Peru, for ~$600 USD, but these prices can be quite different from other cities. Here are some good places to begin searching for flights: Kayak, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia
Remember that baggage charges are extra these days. Check your airline’s website for online purchasing of baggage claims as it’s often cheaper than paying for your bags in person at the airport. Typically, Perú does not allow more than 2 checked bags. However, Spirit now only allows a single checked bag, so confirm with your airline before you travel.
Step Two: Get to Puerto Maldonado
You can get to Puerto Maldonado either by bus or plane. The bus can takes 21 hours to get to Cuzco, followed by an overnight trip from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado. Although this trip is long, it is cheap ($150 or so for the whole trip), and can provide you with some of the most amazing views of the Andes and cloud forests.
A flight to Puerto Maldonado is the shortest and most efficient way to get across the Andes, but it is also more expensive. A well-known public airline, LAN, charges higher rates for foreigners and it costs ~ $300 (roundtrip) to get to Puerto Maldonado. All bookings must happen over the phone or online, and their website is reliable and will accept foreign credit cards.
Other airlines include Taca (tickets can be purchased through the websites above) and StarPerú (tickets can be purchased only through Star Peru’s website, which is fairly difficult to navigate). The advantage with either of these airlines is that they are roughly a hundred dollars cheaper to fly.
Step Three: Get to a hotel in Puerto Maldonado
This is a crucial step because it is very rare to be able to catch a boat on the day of your arrival. For all of our programs, we will pick you up from the airport and put you up in a hostel in town. However, if you have family visiting or want to extend your stay or arrive early, here are a few good hotels to choose from: Perú Amazónica (family-run, no website, email is: peruamazonico(at)hotmail(dot)com) and Cabaña Quinta (larger and more well-established, thus crowded, has its own restaurant, has its own website). A good hostel is the Tambopata Hostel which can be booked on hostelworld.com.
Navigating Puerto Maldonado is quite simple – it is the departure point for a variety of eco-lodges in the area, and thus, it is full of small restaurants and cafés mostly located along the main street, Jiron Velarde. You can walk almost anywhere in this town, but if you need to you can take a small motocar (three-wheeled tiny taxi) for 2 soles (~50 cents) anywhere in town. Your ride from the airport to your hotel in one of these should cost less than 10 soles (~$3), and is reimbursed by the program.
Step Four: Travel to Laberinto
In all of our programs, we will assist you along this leg of the journey. This trip is short, ~45 minutes, and takes you along the interoceanic highway to the small port town of Laberinto. A private taxi costs 50 soles or so for this trip, but we will cover this fee.
Step Five: Take the boat to Los Amigos
There are two ways to travel to the Los Amigos Biological Field Station – by the station boat or by the collectivo, or local boat taxi. Although it used to be a slower option, there are now a series of fast boats that provide a much more colorful ride. For all of our programs we will organize a collectivo for you to use. Boats leave early from Laberinto as well as from the field station for the return journey. Never book a flight for the same day as your boat into town.
If you join any of our programs, you will receive further information on vaccines, waivers of liability, participation contracts, currency, and other travel tips.
This is important, if you’re not a Peruvian citizen. Peru does require visas and getting them can be quite complicated.
Requirements for a Peruvian visa for a US citizen
No visa is required for a visit of up to 183 days. You can get a stamp in your passport at the Lima airport. If you are staying for over a month make sure to ask for the full 183 days or they give you the default of 30/90 days.
Requirements for a Peruvian visa for a non-US citizen
These requirements can be found here.
Start the process early. You will need an airline ticket before you can apply. If you live in a city with an embassy then it should take about 3 days to get your visa. If you mail it in the whole thing should take a week. It costs approximately $30 to get a visa. They will require a bank statement with sufficient cash in a checking account before they give you the visa.
Once you are in the country, you can get extensions for a month at a time at the office in Puerto Maldonado for a fee, but not for those with the maximum 183-day visa. At the very worst, you can overstay your visa and pay $1 a day as a fine. We have done this and it seems to be acceptable to the immigration folks.
Unsurprisingly, there are health concerns involved in traveling to and living in a rainforest. Some simple precautions can ensure an enjoyable visit. However, things do go wrong and a visitor must have a clear understanding of what they are getting into before visiting CICRA.
Your health is primarily your concern, not that of the station staff or the research team. People at the site will do what they can to help you but keep in mind the following:
- the nearest doctor is at least 4 hours by boat in Puerto Maldonado.
- you will have to go to Cusco, at least, for above-average medical care.
- in the rainy season, getting you to a town by boat, in the dark say, is fraught with risks so please, stay smart and avoid taking unnecessary risks. This is not Survivor. Or Man vs. Wild. Or any other staged show they invent next!
Here are some common-sense and some not-so-obvious things to do to stay safe and healthy at CICRA:
- DO NOT pick up snakes, spiders, etc. Seriously. There is anti-venom at the site but you will most likely encounter snakes in the forest, away from post-exposure medication, and if you are alone that will be the last stupid thing you do. Snakes are rarely spotted and are very afraid of you. Despite what you might have heard, you will not be attacked by anything in the jungle without provocation. The only people that have ever been bitten by a snake have been handling them – so don’t touch them on this project.
- Eat well. It’s the simplest way to stay healthy. Don’t be picky about your food, it’s just not worth it. Most people find this rule the easiest to follow because hiking all day makes you ravenous. The food is wholesome and good and there’s always enough to go around. So if there is one thing you do, eat well.
- Stay clean. This is another simple rule. You will get very messy following monkeys so it is likely that you will want to shower every day. However, the showers are from a really cold stream so sometimes, you might be tempted to skip them. The only way to beat the chiggers (confused? read on!) is by showering well and using soap liberally. Do laundry often and do it well. Soaking clothes in detergent doesn’t clean them so be prepared to scrub what you wear. NEVER reuse inner wear. The infections that can ensue will not only ruin your stay but will force us to have to ask a lot of embarassing questions.
Get your vaccines up to date before visiting. For a list of vaccines reccomended for travel to CICRA see here. For exceptions to this rule see below.
- a. Typhoid (take it close to when you travel). Do not rely on a 3 year old vaccine – retake it!
- b. Yellow fever. A must. Available in Lima for 70 soles if there is a shortage in your own country.
- c. For assistants handling animals only: rabies pre-exposure shots ( 3 doses taken over 1 month – let us know if you have trouble getting them)
- d. Hep A
- e. Hep B
Here are some basic supplies you will need to live at CICRA short term (mostly taken from CICRA’s website with a few additional notes from us):
- Your field clothes are important because we are off trail 90% of the time. You will want to be wearing long pants, a light long sleeve shirt, a light under shirt, comfortable socks, rubber boots (suggest buying these in Puerto Maldonado), and perhaps a hat or bandana. We do laundry about once a week at the least, so make sure you have enough clothes to last you that long. Also, certain things like pants can be warn several days in a row without changing them. Other items, like sweaty shirts, socks, and underwear we change everyday.
- At least one set of cold-weather clothes (temperatures can drop below 10°C in April-September and canoe rides in the rain are cold year-round) – bring sweatpants, warm socks and a sweatshirt or two.
- Rubber boots/ gum boots – knee high boots to hike in. These allow you to cheerfully wade through swamps and also prevent snake bites from the knee downwards. You’ll find them for cheap in Puerto Maldonado but if your feet are unusually small, buy these at home.
- A light rain jacket or poncho, whichever you prefer.
- A first-aid kit with antibiotics (Cipra is preferred), painkillers, anti-diarrhea medicine, anti-fungal creme, band-aids, topical antiseptics, a venom extractor, antihistimine, epinephrine (an Epi-pen), ear infection topical treatments, vaginal infection creams, etc. (no medication is provided by the station). You will not find all of this in one kit. Make your own and be generous.
- Bring all regular medication that you take including feminine care because it is not available in town.
- Sunscreen and insect repellent (bring something with DEET in it. The herbal, organic stuff just doesn’t work, see above). You will not need sunscreen everyday because you’re in the shade under the canopy for most of the time. Boat rides will require it, however. These things are not available easily close by so stock up.
- Destolit cream for chigger bites (ask at a pharmacy in Puerto Maldonado)
- Alcohol alconforado or camphorated alcohol, sold at a pharmacy in Puerto Maldonado, usually separately as medical alcohol and small squares of camphor. This really soothes chigger bites and is cheap and easy to use.
- Low-impact laundry soap (bath soap is provided at the station in dorms only): go for a bar of soap rather than powdered detergent as wasps really like the powdered stuff and tend to sting the owners frequently. If you can use biodegradeable detergents, soaps and shampoos only.
- You must bring your own bedding for a single bed. These can be bought in Puerto on your way to the station. You will want at least one good blanket, 2 pairs of sheets and a pillow. Two pairs of sheets are important – things take a while to dry at the station and you do not want to be stuck without any sheets at all.
- A light daypack to take to the field with you. Make this small with one or two compartments – you will hate your pack if it is heavy while empty!
- A water bottle with a nozzle if possible, so you can drink quickly and easily on the fly. Avoid stainless steel and go with plastic because the former tends to smell a bit funny after a while in the jungle.
- A pocket knife of some sort.
- Earplugs for light sleepers
- Headlamp with rechargeable batteries, the stronger the lamp the better
- A battery recharger
- A small LED operated headlamp for reading books in bed without attracting every bug in the jungle to your face.
- Sunglasses and a hat
- Make sure your shampoo and creams aren’t excessively perfumed. The nicer you smell the more you get bitten.
- Tweezers (great for extracting bugs, etc.)
- Binoculars – very important! You need a good pair or you will find yourself way behind the rest in the field. Spending the money on this is worth it. We use either the Nikon Monarch or the Nikon ATB Trailblazer at either 8×42 or 10×42. If you have questions or concerns PLEASE email us well before you travel. DO NOT show up at the field station without binoculars or with a pair with low-magnification! We will not provide you with these and you will NOT be effective in the field.
- Laptop: Your personal laptop will survive the jungle. We have pelican cases for electronics so feel free to bring them along. Bring a batch of silica gel or drierite to keep your personal electronics dry. A laptop is your only connection to the world outside and will serve you in many ways.
- A camera: If you have a really good camera you definitely want to consider bringing your own pelican case and silica gel. Do not count on taking your DSLRs out to the field everyday – this is risky and can harm the machine. However, there will be plenty of opportunity to use them – camp is right in the jungle after all!
- A digital wristwatch: This is absolutely necessary. Also, don’t buy it the day before you leave – try to learn its functions before you get here. It must have a stopwatch and alarm on it.
- Towels: these are not provided at the station. Quickdry ones don’t work all that well in that much humidity so bring some cheap towels you can toss at the end of your stay.
- Toiletries case: you might be sharing restrooms and will have to have some way to bring your things in every evening.
- Ziplock bags: essential to store batteries, food, passports and anything else valuable. Bring small ones and double bag everything. American passports in particular tend to mold within weeks in the jungle unprotected.
Researchers planning long stays should consider bringing the following:
- A new or extra battery for your laptop
- A new or extra charger for your laptop
- Rechargeable batteries (and charger) for your headlamp or other equipment
- An extra pair of prescription glasses or a glasses repair kit
- Extra contact lenses and plenty of lens solution. It is safer to leave your lenses in for a few days in a row than to stick your fingers into your eyes twice a day. You might consider practicing with your lenses on while you sleep before coming to the site.
- Extra pair of rubber boots in your size. Mark them with your initials using paint or something waterproof and permanent. This way, they won’t get mixed up with the station’s supply of boots.
- Books to read: there’s a lively book swap going on at the site’s library so you will most likely find things to read.
- Academic reference books, should you think you need any. Accessing journals online is practically impossible.
- Chocolate and peanut butter – feel-good stuff is hard to come by. Also bring somethign airtight to keep the bugs away from your private stash.
Don’t bother to bring the following:
- A bathing suit. Really, there’s a lot of stuff in the river that can eat you or parts of you. People still swim and people still get eaten. So I’d leave the suit behind.
- An umbrella
- Anything electric that you could do without. This includes hair-dryers, irons, and most definitely, electric toothbrushes.Plugpoints are sought after and you charging your toothbrush when you clearly have at least one arm is going to be irksome.