Peru - School Expeditions - Operation Wallacea

Peru – School Expeditions

Peru Schools Booklet 2018 

Structure of the expedition

During the two weeks of this Amazonian expedition the students will be based on research ships in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve which is the second largest protected area in Peru, spanning over 20,000 km2 of tropical rainforest and is a truly exceptional wilderness area. There are two main objectives of the research programme;

  • To collect data on the sustainability of forest resource use by the indigenous Cocama people within the reserve.
  • To provide information on the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance in the Amazon.

The second objective is made possible by long-term datasets that are gathered using standardised methods and effort. Flooded forests are more sensitive to climate change than non-flooded forests, because very high water levels reduce the amount of dry land available in the reserve to around 2% thereby affecting population levels of species such as agouti, deer and peccaries, whilst very low water levels cause problems for the fish populations and consequently dolphins. Therefore the Samiria Reserve is a perfect site to study the impacts of both climate change and exploitation on wildlife and overall biodiversity.

Dolphins, wading birds and fishing bats are being used as indicators of the aquatic hydroscape. Macaws, small primates and understorey birds are used as indicators of the terrestrial landscape. Fish are used as indicators of the impact of fisheries, primates and other terrestrial wildlife as indicators of wildlife management of bushmeat, caimans as indicators of the recovery of species after excessive overhunting and turtles as indicators of intensive restocking management.

Expeditions from late June until August are in the low water season (water levels falling from June to August). Over this season, surveys of two sites will be completed on the Samiria River – the mouth and Tacshcocha. The exact schedule depends on water levels and when sites can be reached. During their two weeks in the Amazon the students will be undertaking two main tasks: helping with the biodiversity surveys and completing an Amazonian wildlife and conservation course.

Weeks 1 & 2 – Pacaya-Samiria Reserve

Students will be split into small groups and will have the opportunity to take part in the following research projects over the two weeks. Each student will be expected to join one of the morning and one of the afternoon/evening activities alongside assisting with data entry.

  • Primates, large mammals and game birds: Distance based survey transects will be completed by the students for these groups along 2 – 3 km trails. The method and theories behind DISTANCE sampling will be explained to students and they will be taught how to recognise different species and the main identification features. These data are then combined with the camera trap data to estimate abundance of the main species and using time-space analyses to estimate densities. The density data are then used to calculate whether hunting levels are sustainable.
  • Macaw Surveys: Boat based point counts are used to monitor macaws with each site separated by 500m. Fifteen minutes will be spent at each point with censuses carried out twice a day. Within the fifteen minute counts, all macaw species either perched or flying are noted and the time of observation and distances of the birds from the observer estimated.
  • Wading bird surveys: These surveys include 5km river transects divided into 500m subsections where all river edge bird species are recorded (this survey is dependent on water levels). Line transects are conducted along the river for 5km where all shore bird species are recorded. The abundance of bird species is calculated and is used as an indicator of the aquatic ecosystem, especially fish production.
  • Understorey birds: Standard length mist nets are set at replicate sites in a range of habitats (riverine forest, closed canopy forest, levees, liana forest, palm forest). All birds captured are identified and measured. Catch per unit effort data are compared between years to identify population trends.
  • River Dolphin Transects: 5km transects at each site are travelled downstream using a boat with the engine turned off. Information collected on sightings includes: species, group size, group composition, behaviour (travelling, fishing, playing), time and position at first sighting. During these surveys students will be taught how to record the distribution and behaviour of both pink and grey river dolphins. Expeditions later in the survey season(depending on water levels being low enough) may also include turtle monitoring. The turtle monitoring method consists of registering the number of individuals sighted, either sunbathing or swimming. Students will be taught how to differentiate between the two turtle species found in the reserve.
  • Fish Surveys: Students will be able to work with a team who are setting standard gill nets to quantify the catch per unit effort (CUPE) experienced by the Cocama Indians. The students will learn how gill-net surveys are implemented and will help with measuring, weighing and identifying all fish captured. They will also take part in surveys using fishing lines.
  • Butterfly and moth surveys: This is a new project using standardised baited catch-and-release traps. Students will learn how to set-up the traps and handle butterflies and moths. The diversity of butterflies and moths along transects and in different forest types will be examined.
  • Habitat surveys: These surveys are designed to produce quantitative data on the various forest habitats (size structure and biomass of trees, levels of light penetration and ground vegetation, regeneration rates).
  • Night time caiman surveys: This survey involves spotlight surveys of the river after dark to locate and identify caiman species in order to estimate population size and distributions. Noosing is used to capture caiman to obtain data on morphological measurements, sex and age.
  • Fishing Bat surveys: This river survey involves travelling along the river for a 1hr period during dusk recording the number of fishing bats seen flying over the river. The students will also use a batbox (ultrasonic bat detector) to help detect and identify the bats.
  • Nighttime amphibian floating meadow surveys: An auxiliary boat is driven into a raft of floating vegetation and students spend 15 minutes searching for amphibians within 2m around the boat. Upon detection individuals are captured and morphological measurements taken. Amphibian species are used as biological indicators and the survey identifies species using the floating vegetation as breeding platforms.
  • Canopy access training: The students can complete a short course on learning how to ascend into the canopy which is run by the team that does much of the canopy filming for BBC wildlife films. This is an optional course and costs US$170 extra.

Amazonian Wildlife and Conservation course

The students will also be completing an Amazonian Wildlife and Conservation course, which comprises of lectures and related activities/discussions on Amazon geography and biodiversity, flooded forest and upland forest ecology, conservation strategies in the Amazon, survey methods, Pacaya-Samiria birds, mammals of Pacaya-Samiria, Amazonian fish, amphibians and reptiles, wildlife monitoring and calculating sustainable hunting levels, examples of best practice conservation management in the Amazon. During the course the students will also get the opportunity to visit an Indigenous Cocama community.

Peru Teacher


Students will be based on the Rio Amazonas research ship, moored adjacent to the flooded forest. Accommodation is in single sex shared cabins (4-10 people) with fans. There are manual flush toilet and shower facilities on board and electricity for charging computers when the generator is on. With a communal eating and lecture area. Living on a research ship in the heart of the biodiverse Amazon is a truly memorable experience.