Volunteer in South America - Icons of the Amazon: Jaguars, pumas, parrots and peccaries in Peru
This expedition to volunteer in South America will take you to a remote and beautiful biodiversity hotspot of the Amazon basin. As part of a small international team, you will experience living and working in the jungle together with local biologists on an important wildlife survey concentrating on cats, primates, macaws and other flagship species of the Amazon. In doing so, you will also aid community conservation efforts and the development of sustainable management strategies. Based at a comfortable jungle lodge in a remote part of the forest, you will be working on foot in the jungle, recording cat, primate and other species and setting camera traps, as well as from hides observing macaws feeding on riverside clay lick sites, creating databases, and much more. All this as an integral part of a conservation project that will preserve an intact landscape of forest for further multidisciplinary research projects.
"Just a quick note to thank you so much for the opportunity to take part in Biosphere Expeditions' conservation volunteer work in the Peruvian Amazon - it was truly an eye-opening, wonderful experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. Great company, great leader and scientist, and a really special location.” >
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Expedition contribution: £2120 (ca. €2430 | US$2580 | AU$3450) excluding flights per dates as shown. A £300 deposit is required and the balance is due four weeks before the expeditions starts. Base currency British pound sterling, see XE currency converter for other currencies. More about this contribution and where the money goes.
Dates & meeting point: 10 - 16 Sep 2017 (7 days). Other dates. Participants can join for multiple slots (within the periods specified). The meeting point is in Puerto Maldonado (a regional centre in Peru) and participants have to organise their own travel there. More details on this and how to get to the assembly point are in the .
A word on mosquitoes
Our study site and base are on one of the Amazon’s “blackwater” river systems. The very acidic, almost sterile water, with a pH between 3.5-6, keeps parasite, bacterial and mosquito populations to a minimum. Blackwater river systems are of course not free of mosquitoes and they will be around, but you will not be “eaten alive” or whatever other wild exaggerations you may have heard.
Flat tropical rainforest and river systems.
Weather expected during expedition
The Amazon basin has a sub-tropical climate and the expedition takes place in the middle of the dry season when temperatures can reach highs of 39ºC (average 30°C). This period is free from the regular rainstorms that occur in the wet season and is a good time of year to be in the forest.
Base camp is a large, very comfortable riverside wooden jungle lodge / research station with twin rooms, showers and toilets.
Up to 12 team members + 1 local biologist + 1 expedition leader.
Skills & prerequisites required
None. You don't need to be a scientist or have any special qualifications - everyone can take part and there are no age limits whatsoever.
Fitness level required
Ability to walk about 5-15 km per day in mostly flat rainforest terrain. Please also note that observations at the macaw clay lick require very little strenuous effort, but the ability to sit for up to five hours.
Team assembly point
Aims & objectives
(1) Determine patterns of occurrence and species abundance of peccary, deer, puma and jaguar in relation to the proximity of known mineral clay licks.
(2) Produce a comprehensive map of all mineral clay licks in the Las Piedras concession area.
(3) Identify key prey items in the diets of puma, jaguar and ocelot and their current population status.
(4) Identify the individual cat species seen on camera traps at mineral clay licks and trails to elucidate their population dynamics.
(5) Identify and record the other various mammal populations seen during transects.
(6) Determine patterns of activity and behaviour at a parrot and macaw mineral clay lick.
Increasing economic development is putting a strain on the natural resources of the Peruvian Amazon. Unsustainable forms of farming, logging and tourism are on the rise, especially along the Tambopata river, an area renowned for its biodiversity. The river Piedras represents an adjacent river system, connecting Tambopata and Manu with little human presence compared to Tambopata. While timber extraction has always been intertwined with the history of the region, it has reached an all-new destructive level lately on the Las Piedras, impacting macaw population as ironwood trees, which macaws nest in, are cut down. Even so, the area is recognised as being one of the best-conserved remaining regions of the Amazon basin with a large portion of the area under various protection regimes and with vast areas of unbroken canopy. As such it represents an ideal site for ecological studies with limited but slowly increasing human influence.
The rainforest is home to a huge array of animal and bird species and we may encounter the following species:
At the mammal colpa:
Jaguar, puma, brocket deer, collared peccary, white-lipped peccary, brown agouti, green agouchy, Southern Amazonian red squirrel, Spix’s guan, razor-billed curassow.
At the macaw colpa:
Red-and-green macaw, scarlet macaw, mealy parrot, yellow-crowned parrot, and several parakeet species. The highly endangered blue-headed macaw can also be seen at the study site.
On the transect trails - day:
Monk saki monkey, red howler monkey, black spider monkey, white-lipped peccary, white- and brown-fronted capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkey, saddleback tamarin.
On the transect trails - night:
Night monkey, kinkajou, olingo, paca, ocelot, common opossum, armadillo spp.
Other species present include:
Giant river otter, giant armadillo, spectacled caiman, harpy eagle, giant anteater, tapir, jaguarundi, black caiman, crested eagle, capybara.
On some days you may have an early start, whilst on others you may be on a night shift at the clay lick. Usually you undertake one shift per day on one of the monitoring activities, lasting between four to seven hours. Additional tasks can be undertaken by those willing to do more, but afternoons and evenings are generally rest, recovery or data entry time. A cook will prepare our meals at base camp where you will return to eat, rest and have a shower.
Peru is located on the Pacific coast of South America and is the third largest country on the continent. Two-thirds of Peruvian territory is located within the Amazon basin. The expedition base camp is within the department of Madre de Dios, internationally known as “the Biodiversity Capital of the World”. The department already contains two large national parks covering over half of its 78,000 km² area – Manu and the vast Bahuaja-Sonene (Tambopata) area. The Rio Piedras is located between the two.
In terms of biological diversity, the research area is amongst the richest in the world. The area’s ecosystems hold several world records in flora and fauna species numbers and are recognised as one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots. Research conducted over the last 20 years in the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park has shown that it harbours more species of birds (587), butterflies (1,230) and many other animal taxa than any other location of comparable size.
It has recently also been identified as the largest uninhabited and untouched rainforest wilderness on Earth, covering about 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of undisturbed and unhunted habitat (the nearest rival, the island of New Guinea has about 100,000 hectares of uninhabited tropical forest habitat). The area is also home to a number of landmark animals listed in the IUCN's Red Data Book. Amongst them the giant river otter, giant armadillo, giant anteater, ocelot, jaguarundi, jaguar, harpy eagle, crested eagle, spectacled caiman, and black caiman. Over 150 different species of tree can be found within 100 m2 alone, and the WWF and IUCN have identified the area as a 'Centre of Plant Diversity'.
For this expedition, Biosphere Expeditions is partnered with the Las Piedras Biodiversity Research Station, which has conducted conservation-related expeditions and research projects throughout the Madre de Dios region, with a primary focus on the unprotected and crucial Las Piedras River watershed. Through them we are involved with the local community by creating jobs for local people and building capacity through training & asset creation.
And finally (almost)
Our expeditions are not about playing the primitive, neither are we a military style 'boot-camp'. Our expedition leader and the local scientist will be by your side and we believe strongly that we get the best out of our expedition teams by making them comfortable, safe and well fed. You won’t be living in the lap of luxury, but we will do our best to make you feel comfortable and at home in your working environment, as this is the key to a well-balanced and successful expedition.
And finally (briefing)
For even more details such as activities, staff, accommodation, the assembly point and how to get there, and lots more, please access the expedition briefing by providing your full name and e-mail.
Biosphere Expeditions will never share these details with anyone.
Sign up to this expedition now
Results & achievements
Biosphere Expeditions has been active in the Peruvian Amazon since 2001. In the years since then, Biosphere Expeditions has helped local communities, through its research and publication of technical reports based on hard data as well as running the research expeditions themselves, (a) avert the threat of a dam construction project, which was threatening a biodiversity hotspot in the Madre de Dios region, (b) make arguments for the continued protection of the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Community Regional Conservation Area in the face of pressures and illegal land conversion by cancerous cacao plantations in the Loreto region and (c) establish a private reserve and co-funded the foundation of a research station that now provides local employment and produces a steady research and conservation output. Finally, our guidelines for boat behaviour at clay licks in the Tambopata Reserve have been incorporated into local management plans. Guidelines are needed because unsustainable forms of farming, logging and tourism are threatening the natural habitat in the Peruvian Amazon.
Scientific reports and publications for this expedition are on the reports & publications page. As far as we are aware, Biosphere Expeditions is the only organisation in the world that has a direct and transparent link between the work done by citizen scientists and an expedition report. Each expedition year is matched by an expedition report for that year, which deals with the two main areas that expedition participants contribute to: funding and data collection. Chapter 1 of each report, written by Biosphere Expeditions, reviews the expedition logistics and publishes an expedition budget, which shows in a clear and transparent way income and expenditure for each expedition and the percentage of income spent on the project. Chapter 2 onwards, written by the expedition scientist, shows who collected what data, how they were analysed, what the conclusions were, as well as the conservation recommendations and actions flowing from this, and what future expeditions should do. In this way, each expedition comes full circle for its participants.
Awards & accolades
> more awards & accolades
The sound of parrots in the forest
Jaguars clashing in the forest (starts about half-way through the recording)
Read the background story to this recording here.
|Lore of the jungle
View article 1.22 Mb
|It's a jungle out there
View article 7.46 Mb
|Jaguar journey: battle of the titans
meeting jaguars face-to-face on expedition
|How volunteers can help with big cat conservation
View article 5.75 Mb
|The rare twitch project
View article 1.52 Mb
|Deep in the Peruvian Amazon
in Lonely Planet "Code Green" handbook 2006
View entry 1.43 Mb
|Parrots in Peru
Vew article 907.78 Kb
|Discovering clay licks
View article 918.93 Kb
View article 1.47 Mb
|Zu Sechzehnt Lehm lecken
View article 501.27 Kb
|Das peruanische Dschungelbuch
View article 719.08 Kb
View article 1.00 Mb
"Biosphere Expeditions makes research and conservation projects a reality in countries where funding for such projects is hard to obtain. Our research in the Amazon rainforest of Peru is no exception. Without Biosphere there would be no chance of organising such a large-scale worthwhile research project to volunteer in South America."
Emma Hume & Juan Julio Durand, Las Piedras Research Station, Peru.
"My name is Aldo Ramirez Mejia. I am 21 years old and from the local community at Lake Sandoval. While I finish my studies in Puerto Maldonado, I work with the Tambopata Macaw Project studying macaws and claylicks, which is supported by Biosphere Expeditions. Traditionally, my family has fished, farmed and hunted, but thanks to Biosphere Expeditions and its ecotourism and conservation opportunities, I have been able to dedicate my time to my interest with the local wildlife with which I grew up, rather than hunting it. Thank you very much."
Aldo Ramirez Mejia, Lake Sandoval community, Peru.
"Biosphere Expeditions provides a unique and valuable opportunity to monitor different taxa of wildlife including primates, birds and our endangered species of felines such as jaguar, puma, ocelot and margay through transect census, camera traps deployment and more, all of this at the Tahuayo River basin, one of the richest areas in the Amazon in terms of diversity of species. I'm very excited about this collaboration for people to volunteer in Peru, as it will enable me to perform many research and conservation activities, which would be impossible without the help from Biosphere Expeditions and its teams of volunteers."
Alfredo Dosantos Santillán, Tahuayo River Amazon Research Center, Peru.
"Just a quick note to thank you so much for the opportunity to take part in Biosphere Expeditions' work in the Peruvian Amazon - it was truly an eye-opening, wonderful experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. Great company, great leader and scientist, and a really special location.”
Katherine Marshall, 43, Australia.
"All the very best to everyone at base camp. It’s been a wonderful experience and we miss the jungle and all the lovely people we met already."
Tine van Bortel & Barney Eden, 35 & 37, Belgium & UK.
"It was so wonderful to spend time with you. Really enjoyed the experience. Definitely hope to see you in the future, somewhere in this big, happy world."
Eva Ho, 40, USA.
Feedback from team members about their experiences and reasons for coming (on/from various expeditions).
“Just a big thank you to everyone involved in making this the trip of a lifetime.”
Phil Bannister, 45.
“The expedition has been among the greatest experiences of my life.”
Peter Bird, 63.
“I enjoyed the expedition immensely and loved my experience as a volunteer in South America. This place is truly a paradise and I hope all our assistance will help to preserve this habitat. Thanks for a very memorable trip!”
Wendy Wood, 41.
“I spent a wonderful time here in the rainforest and I’m so thankful to everybody who helped to make it so perfect! Thank you!”
Eveline Häusler, 31.
“An excellent trip, which exceeded all expectations.”
Charlie MacLaughlan, 41.
“Thank you very much for this amazing experience. I will absolutely come on another expedition with Biosphere Expeditions.”
Jany Dredge, 30.
“A wonderful time, truly pleasurable company and the experience of a lifetime in combination with a worthwhile cause.”
Deanna Steele, 35.
“I really liked the diversity of surveys that we could work on and the freedom to choose our daily activities. It was incredible to be able to go out on surveys one-on-one with a local guide.”
Melissa Craddock, 48.
“This expedition was absolutely amazing….the scientists and staff were really passionate about the expedition.”
Johannes Goerg, 30.
“I feel it was a professional, safe, well-organised expedition with top leader, scientists and accommodation. The place is amazing.”
“Another excellent expedition. A great experience.”
Bob Hussey, 48.
“A great expedition. I really feel I’ve learnt a lot in the last two weeks and had the chance to experience the beauty and wildlife of the rainforest. Thank you to everyone involved.”
Katie Bunting, 33.
“A great expedition which was well organised……had a fantastic time. Thanks to all.”
Janice Thompson, 33.
Expedition diary / blog
See what's gone on during past expeditions via the expedition diary and blog.
Frequently asked questions
What's the accommodation like and how do I get to the assembly point?
A description of the accommodation and some pictures are in the . All participants organise their own travel to the assembly point, which is an easy to find place in-country, and exact instructions on how to get there at what time are in the . > more
Is it just young people roughing it, i.e. will it be for me or am I too old/young/unfit?
A common misconception is that conservation expeditions are full of youngsters roughing it and boozing. With Biosphere Expeditions nothing could be further from the truth! Our typical participant is in his/her mid-30s to late 70s (average age 42.3, spread six months to 87 years). It is rare to have fewer than five nationalities, typically from Europe, North America and Australasia, on the expedition, all united by the common interest in wildlife, wilderness and conservation. If you would like details who is already signed up, then just get in touch. > more
Do I need special skills or fitness?
Apart from the ability to communicate in English and a diving qualification for our diving expeditions, there are no special skills (biological or otherwise) required to join our expeditions, and there are no age limits whatsoever. If you have special needs, please contact us to find out about the suitability of the experience of your choice. > more
How good does my English have to be?
If, with the help of a dictionary and a little patience, you can understand what we are talking about here, then don't worry - you'll be fine.
Will I be safe?
Yes. Although we are not in the business of controlling nature and expect you to take some responsibilities, safety is our top priority. Our three key watchwords are ‘safety, science, satisfaction’ - in that order. We always have emergency procedures and backup systems in place. Biosphere Expeditions has an excellent safety record with no serious accidents, long-lasting injuries or let alone deaths since its foundation in 1999. > more
Can people under 18 attend?
Yes, because there are no (upper or lower) age restrictions. With their parents' consent they can also come by themselves.
How do I sign up and when do I pay?
Signing up is easy: Use the and pay a deposit of £300; the full balance will be due four weeks before the start of the expedition. If you don't want to sign up online, you can also download paper forms to fax or snail-mail.
What's included and what's not included?
Once you have made it to the assembly point and we’re on our way, we pay for everything apart from the obvious such as personal souvenirs, luxury drinks, phone calls home, etc. (and in many places we go to there's no need for money anyway ;). Travel arrangements to the assembly point are for you to make and pay for. Additional costs may include passport, visa and airport fees, your personal gear and preparations, and travel insurance, but not much more. There are certainly no hidden fees from our end.
Where does my money go?
On average at least two-thirds of your contribution will benefit the project directly and locally, the rest will go towards administrative back-up, as well as researching and setting up new expeditions. Within six to twelve months after your expedition you will receive an expedition report with full details on how your expedition contribution was spent on running the expedition and supporting its research work. We can put as much as two-thirds into the project, because we are a non-profit/charitable research and conservation organisation, not a large scale tourism business, which means that we can keep expensive overhead costs to a minimum. We also do very little advertising and costly marketing, concentrating instead on press, media and research publication work. > more
> more FAQs and detailed answers in text and video format are on the FAQ page