This volunteer training program targets participants with an interest in wildlife handling, zoology, or veterinary science. The program will provide training in the context of an annual mark-recapture program spanning 4 animal groups (primates, birds, bats, and small terrestrial mammals) in southeastern Peru. Each participant will have numerous opportunities to work with wildlife of these groups after completing a rigorous training session, and will contribute to long-term sampling efforts, some of which began in 2009! There is a serious lack of available training for those interested in working with wild animals today, and our program has become a singular resource of opportunity in which trainees will gain practical know-how and skillsets that are not easy to come by. Throughout the program participants absorb valuable knowledge on the natural history of many neotropical species.
Beyond collecting longitudinal data on a large number of animal species, 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 collect comparable samples such as blood, feces, and ectoparasites from terrestrial mammals, birds, bats, and primates, and use both targeted (molecular) and non-targeted (microscopy & molecular) screening approaches to determine parasite/pathogen overlap. In conjunction with the Primate Community Disease Ecology team, through the mark-recapture program we strive to gain a snapshot of parasite species richness in a large proportion of the wildlife with varying degrees of ecological overlap (food resources 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 verified protocols and released within a few hours of capture. In addition to the invaluable information gleaned on the health of this wild population of tamarins, we are also able to provide each individual with a temporary tag that will drop off within a couple of months. This greatly facilitates the collection of detailed behavioral data that is individualized for all animals in the program.
Our 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 that we collaborate with. All sampling protocols are comprehensive but put the comfort and safety of the animals above our own. For example, to ensure the maximum security of the animals, we conduct all processing in the jungle, at the trap site. We limit the number of animals we trap each day, for example, 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.
The majority of samples from this research program are analyzed at the Green Lab in Peru using microscopy and molecular techniques. Further training to those who are interested in field molecular genetics will be provided in research internships based at the Inkaterra Guides Field Station.
At the end of this program, research assistants will be able to:
- Construct an animal field processing kit
- Collect biological samples from the primates
- Determine sex and appropriate age of individuals by morphological characters for two primate species
- Learn appropriate handling techniques for wild primates
- Record TPRs at regular intervals (temperature, pulse and respiration)
- Manipulate a weighing scale to accurately record the body mass of subjects
- Store and process biological samples for analyses of endocrinology, parasitology and reproductive physiology
- Manage and work 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
- Participants must demonstrate a grounding or strong interest in animal handling and biology
- Participants must be certain that they are not squeamish at the sight of medical equipment
- Previous field experience is not required, but previous handling experience (or some contact with animals other than your pets) is a plus
- Participants must justify why this program is important to them, and what they hope to gain from it
- Participants must provide a letter of recommendation from a source that can substantiate the participant’s experience and skills
- 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 and are unsuccessful – this is the nature of the work. 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.
Program dates: May 27 – June 30
Start date: May 27, June 3, June 10
Minimum commitment: 4 weeks
Application deadline: April 15, 2018
Program fee: $1800 (includes food and lodging, transportation to the field station from Puerto Maldonado and back, training and use of field equipment)
The wildlife handling 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. In 2014, Dr. Efstathia Robakis joined the team to conduct research on tamarin vocal communication. In 2018, four wildlife veterinarians including Jesus Lescano, Ana Peralta, Giancarlo Inga, and KC Hill were incorporated to the mark-recapture program to assist in safely expanding our sampling effort to non-primate taxa including birds, bats, and small terrestrial mammals. Combined, our this team has decades of direct experience working with tropical wildlife, as well as years of experience in conducting behavioral research. Since 2009, we have provided wildlife handling opportunities and training to approximately 10-15 aspiring researchers and veterinarians annually.
For additional information, please visit our Research page.