Working with the Tambopata Macaw Project is physically and mentally demanding but it is also highly rewarding. The chance to live and work in this remote rainforest location is a wonderful learning experience for all those interested in biology and biological diversity.
The thousands of hours of observations that have been conducted over the years would not have been possible without the help of the many volunteers and assistants who have offered their time and energy for the cause of science and conservation. Volunteers are one of the most important aspects to the project. There are no qualification limitations, although most volunteers come from a biological or environmental background. All applicants are welcome, as we can find a role for almost any type of volunteer.
As this is an on-going project we accept volunteers throughout the year.
A brief description of the field work
Training information will be sent to the volunteers once they are accepted. Volunteers will be expected to have read this training material before they arrive in Peru.
The first 2 weeks are spent learning the parrot calls, the trail system, data entry and clay lick data collection. Clay lick monitoring is fairly easy work, although observers need to be able to visually identify birds. The blinds and beaches from where monitoring is conducted provide a good environment during quiet times to read and study. After early mornings, most monitoring is done alone. Clay lick monitoring is conducted in 3 to 6 hour shifts.
After the first 2 weeks, training begins on parrot censuses for observers who have shown they can identify basic calls. The aim of this work is to document the relative numbers of parrots of each species in the forest to determine how this changes throughout the year and among different years.
The last week of the month is spent studying tree phenology, looking at trees to see if they have any fruit or flower. We have over 1000 trees marked and each need to be checked for flowers or fruit. This team exercise normally takes several days to complete.
During the wet season (Nov – Mar) volunteers will learn how to climb using single rope techniques (SRT) using mechanical ascenders. This is done to check the macaw nests in the areas around Tambopata Research Center.
The daily work schedule often starts early with 4 AM trips to monitor the parrots at the clay lick or 5 AM nest climbs or walks to look for foraging parrots. Breakfast is at 7:30 AM followed by more activities from about 9 AM until lunch (about 1:30 PM). Then at about 3 PM you will usually be back out in the forest conducting parrot counts, climbing nests, looking foraging parrots, etc. As a result 10 – 12 hour days are fairly common. On rainy days we start later and usually spend the day working on data entry, cleaning and gear maintenance in the house.
General requirements: Self-disciplined, responsible, enthusiastic and patient. Tolerate insects and hot weather well, be able to get along well with others in remote field setting.
We have two different types of positions which are available year round.
General requirements for both positions: Volunteers should be self-disciplined, responsible, enthusiastic, and patient. You should also be able to tolerate moderate insect levels, and hot weather (85-90F/30-33C with high humidity). You must also be able to get along well with others in a remote field setting.
Position #1: Long term volunteer assistant (8 weeks minimum, 3 month stay preferred)
- Additional requirements: Good physical condition, able to carry a 40 lb (18 kg) pack over moderate terrain for up to 2 km, no fear of heights (Nov – Mar).
- Volunteer activities: Volunteers will participate in all activities mentioned above. You will be trained to identify all parrots by sight and sound, climb trees to check macaw nests (Nov – Mar), monitor the clay lick, conduct parrot censuses, locate foraging parrots and enter data.
Position # 2: Short term volunteer assistant (12 to 42 day stay preferred)
- Additional requirements: Average physical condition, able to walk 2 km over moderate terrain, good sense of observing animals, ability to stay seated for long periods of time, some background knowledge of birds in general.
- Volunteer activities: These assistants will be quickly trained to identify all the local parrots by sight and become experts at clay lick monitoring and macaw nest observation with video camera systems (Nov – Mar). Due to the short length of stay, volunteers will have only minimal involvement in activities requiring higher training levels like parrot censuses and tree climbing. Assistants will also help with data entry.
Facilities – Food and Accommodation
Project members eat with the lodge staff. Breakfast is usually around 7:30 AM. Lunch and the evening meal are generally Peruvian fare – chicken and rice. Lunch is around 13:30, after lodge guests have eaten, and dinner at 19:30. Food is prepared by the staff, although we wash up our own cutlery, and help clean the staff dining quarters. Tea and coffee are available all day, as is treated drinking water. Bottled water, beer, mixed drinks and soda (coke, sprite etc.) are available for purchase. Vegetarian meals are offered, but food diversity is lower. Flexibility is greatly appreciated.
Accommodation is in the researcher area in TRC. These are shared rooms with up to 2-3 people per room. Room walls are made from cane and offer no sound protection, so if you are a light sleeper, ear plugs are useful. Bathroom facilities are communal, with separate male and female facilities. There is running water, flush toilets and warm water showers.
Applicants should apply 4+ months before intended travel as we need to get volunteers on the research permits. Most of the work we do takes place in the Tambopata National Reserve, and our activities are closely monitored by the Peruvian government (SERNANP). If you do not provide your paperwork in time, your permit may not be ready and you may not be allowed to go up to the research site.
The Tambopata Macaw Project is a relatively low budget research program and unfortunately we are not able to cover the expenses of flights or other expenses incurred by volunteers. We recognise that our strength lies in supporting and maintaining long term Peruvian participants, and most funding that we receive goes towards that end.
Assistants should arrive in Puerto Maldonado on a Friday or a Tuesday as direct boats from Puerto Maldonado to Tambopata Research Center normally (but not always) leave on Saturday and Wednesday.
Air: Participants will need to fly from their home country to Lima (the capital of Peru) and then from Lima to Puerto Maldonado. Lima is served by a wide variety of airlines. The costs of the flight to Lima vary from season to season from airline to airline and country to country so we cannot give good advice on which airline is the cheapest. There are three airlines that currently fly from Lima to Puerto Maldonado: LAN (www.lan.com), Star Peru (www.starperu.com) and Taca/Avianca (https://www.avianca.com/us/en/). Lan is a larger and more reliable airline with more flights and usually charges more. You can book flights on Lan as part of your international itinerary or buy your flight directly over the web. Price differences can be substantial so check all options before buying.
Bus: The option now exists to take commercial bus service to Puerto Maldonado. However, the total trip is over 32 hours. If you plan to do this route, you can take a bus from Lima to Cusco (~22 hours and ~160 Soles). Cuzco is nice and it is worth spending a day or two here if you have the time. From Cusco you will need to take a different bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado (~10 hours over the Andes, ~60 Soles). One company that offers this service is Movil Tours (www.moviltours.com.pe).
Volunteers need to pay a daily fee according to the position and experience:
- Position #1: 20 USD/day
- Position #2: 40 USD/day
*A onetime processing fee of $30 will be added for all volunteers.
This rate covers food, non-bar beverages, unlimited tea and coffee, accommodation (bedding is provided by the company), transport to the lodge from Puerto Maldonado. Once a volunteer was accepted they will be sent an invoice by email from Texas A&M University. Upon receipt, the volunteer needs to pay 20% of the total cost of their stay. This non-refundable payment is required to holds the reservation for the researcher. The remaining 80% of the payment should be made at least two weeks before the assistant arrives at TRC. Arrangements can be made if assistants wish to pay in cash in Peru. However, prior permission from the coordinator is needed. Changes to the daily fee may apply according to availability and season. For the actual prices please contact the project coordinator: email@example.com
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How to apply
To apply please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org This email should contain the following:
- A letter of interest explaining why you are want to work on the project
- Your CV or resume
- Email addresses for at least 3 references
- The range of dates when you will be available and how long you can participate. For example you may say something like “any 20 day period between March and July 2015”.