“Normal” life on the mammal team in the jungle

Whenever I tell someone that I just spent a month in the Peruvian jungle their first response is. Wow! And their second, what were you doing there?! Well I reply, “Doing volunteer research for a non-profit conservation agency called Fauna Forever.” “Oh cool,” they reply with dissatisfied looks on their faces as they still don’t really understand. “So what did you do?” The easy, cop-out answer is that it varies. But fear not! Your curiosity will not kill you nor the cat, as I will do my best do answer your plea!

So if there was a typical day in the jungle what would it look like?

  • 5:20am- Wake up and head to a breakfast
  • 6am- Head out to do a mammal transect (see below)
  • 9am- Find monkeys and follow them
  • 1pm- Lunch followed by a siesta
  • 2pm- Siesta= naps, journaling, laundry, etc.
  • 3pm- Variable: 2nd monkey follow, data entry, camera trap checking, trail work
  • 5:30pm- Pre-dinner night walk (if we had the energy and desire)
  • 7pm- Dinner
  • 8pm- Post-dinner night walk or boat (if we had the energy and desire)
  • 10pm- Bed

What does a mammal transect involve?

Walking very slowly, as quietly as possible, while looking around at the forest. And by slow I mean REALLY SLOW. Like a tortoise, racing a snail, on a hot August day in St. Louis. And tortoises eat snails, so by a race I mean walking over and eating a snack. But to give a more scientific answer, the goal is to walk at a rate of one kilometer an hour.

You’d think that this slow pace would be lovely and relaxing. And it can be, for staying quiet and trying to see as many mammals as possible. But when you’re hot and sticky and there are swarms of mosquitos out and you still have to walk for 3 hours it can be quite tiring.

We walk in a line, following the leader but keeping some space (about 3 meters) between each other so we can hear noises of potential animals above our footsteps. If we do see a mammal we identify the species, noting the time it was seen and the closest trail marker. Then we measure how far the observer was from the initial sighting as well as the creatures distance perpendicular to the trail. We also record if we just saw it, heard it, only saw tracks, number of animals in the group, and any other notes.

During transects I saw

  • Saw: white capuchins, a dwarf squirrel, red squirrels, spider monkeys, sphyxes gwan,
  • Found tracks: peccary, jaguar, puma, ocelot, tapir, agouti,
  • Heard: Dusky titi monkeys, tamarins
Jaguar track with my compass ruler for size reference

Jaguar track with my compass ruler for size reference


A very clear jaguar print

What is a monkey follow?

A monkey follow is pretty much exactly how it sounds. The mammal/monkey team goes out in search of a group of monkeys. Once found, we take a GPS point noting the species and approximate number in the group. Then we turn on a GPS track and attempt to follow them around, keeping them in sight. We also attempt to pin down the exact number of individuals in a group. Then every 10 minutes we record how many individuals we can see and whether they are adults, juveniles, or infants, at what height they are at, and what they are doing (feeding, foraging, moving, resting, socializing, etc.). We also tag trees out of which they are eating the fruit. We also estimate how diffuse the group is and note if they are making alarm calls as well as if there are any other species of monkey in the area, next tree, or same tree. We also note the habitat the group is in.

  • Longest follow: 3.25 hours
  • Shortest follow: 0 hours (no monkeys found)
  • Largest follow: 50+ squirrel monkeys with capuchins
  • Smallest follow: 1 spider monkey that sat in a tree the whole time
  • Favorite follow: probably the 50+ squirrel monkey follow just because there was so many of them and it was so fun, but almost every follow there are moments that I really love
A brown capuchin feeding on fruit

A brown capuchin feeding on fruit

What is a night walk?

Walking at night through the jungle… being very sneaky and quiet and trying to see anything and everything. You use eye shine (the reflection in the back of animals’ eyes that you can see if you hold a flashlight next to your eyes or simply wear a headlamp) to help find the creatures in the dark. It is pretty challenging to tell the difference between spiders/moths and frogs/snakes, but I got way better at it by the end. My first night walk I found no frogs and the last one I found at least 5!

Rocking my headlamp on a night walk and finding an adorable mouse opposum

Rocking my headlamp on a night walk and finding an adorable mouse opposum

What is a night boat?

Basically the same thing as a night walk, but on the lake on the boat. They typically to be a bit more relaxed that night walks and included time to look at the stars. We also tend to be even more focused on finding snakes and frogs and may catch some to take pictures of them the next day.

I love the atmosphere on the lake at night

I love the atmosphere on the lake at night


About Meg LaFollette

I studied abroad in Fiji for 5 months in 2012 and absolutely fell in love with traveling! I went to New Zealand right after and then Peru this summer. When not traveling (and sometimes during) I love healthy, environmentally conscious living. Animals, biology, horses, and behavior are other passions of mine.
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4 Responses to “Normal” life on the mammal team in the jungle

  1. Elise Moser says:

    Thanks for this post! I am obsessed with “day-in-the-life” posts so I’m glad you posted your average daily schedule. It sounds like you had a really great time!

  2. Jean says:

    A wonderfully descriptive post!

  3. Jenny K. says:

    Did you end up seeing any actual jaguars during your trip?

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