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Citizen Science at Tambopata Research Center in Peru

One of the great joys of covering travel in Latin America is that there are so many wild places to explore. You find jungles and mountains and rugged coasts that haven’t been tamed, places that are still dominated by animals, not people. So scientists who study flora and fauna are naturally drawn to this part of the world. If you want to try a bit of “citizen science,” you can join them at a place like Tambopata Research Center, adjoining Bahuaja Sonene National Park in the Peruvian Amazon.

Being a regular tourist in the Amazon region is certainly helpful from an eco-tourism standpoint. Your presence and your money both provide incentives to preserve the habitat of the plants and animals. The monkeys, pumas, and parrots would all thank you if they knew. If you want to dive in deeper though, you can participate instead of observing.

We recently posted a story from a writer of ours who visited all three of the jungle lodges from Rainforest Expeditions, a company that works in conjunction with local villages to immerse travelers in the real Amazon jungle. You can read about that here: An Amazon Rainforest Lodge Experience in Three Different Regions of Peru.

Their Tambopata Research Center is a functioning tourism operation with a comfortable lodge and good restaurant, but there’s a more serious side that really takes that word “research” to heart. While guests see a comfortable 28-room lodge, behind the scenes and in other buildings, there’s a lot of real science going on.

Citizen Science at Tambopata

The Tambopata Research Center is one of the most remote lodges in South America, surrounded by protected jungle and national reserves, in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Getting here requires some time and effort to reach—as in an hour by road and then two by boat after landing at Puerto Maldonado—so you’ll want to stick around for a while after arrival.

It’ll be worth the trip for sure. It’s one of the few places you can travel to where from July to September, you’ve got good odds of spotting a jaguar. This is the kind of place where scientists routinely discover new plants, animals, and insects that haven’t been classified before.

The research center dates back to 1989, when it was a more humble place. Since 2016, Rainforest Expeditions has been running the Wired Amazon Program, an ongoing project that stresses the importance of the Amazonian tropical forest “and the urgency of its conservation and preservation.”

Howler monkey near a Rainforest Expeditions lodge

Think of it as a way to get the word out by building deeper connections with the natural world, the citizen scientists from all over the world becoming personal ambassadors.

Here’s how our correspondent Heather described her experience there:

Guests are encouraged to engage in citizen science as participants in all studies. One evening I joined the moth team at their research spot, which is basically a white sheet with a bright light next to it. Their project is officially named Discovering New Species and they invite guests to participate in trapping moths.

If a guest discovers a new species, the team will contact them later and give them the opportunity to choose a name for the new species. I spent most of my time marveling at the intricate patterns on their wings and the iridescent rainbow of colors that they come in.

There are multiple citizen science projects going on at any one time, studying Macaws, harpies, primates or other sub-sections of this region teeming with wildlife. The research center uses mounted cameras triggered by motion detectors to track wild cats and other elusive creatures to see their movement patterns. They use drones to study trees in places that humans cant’ reach.

Participating in Real-life Science Projects

If you want to go beyond a short visit, Tambopata offers opportunities for longer stays. As I write this they have a volunteer program posted where visitors can join the 8 Primates Project. “You will acquire knowledge in primatology techniques, animal behavior and bioacoustics, using cutting-edge technologies and methods.”

Volunteers work alongside career scientists who are doing advanced research with the best tools available for watching, listening, and recording.

Citizen science tools at Tambopata

If you or your child is thinking about a career as a scientist, this would be a great way to get a feel for the work before plopping down a hundred grand or more for a university degree. Spending two months in the jungle would be great preparation for what it’s like to work in the field.

For more information on the Tambopata Research Center and their citizen science programs, head to the site run by Rainforest Expeditions.

See this related post on the blog: Staying in the Heart of the Peruvian Amazon.

Article by editor Timothy Scott. First photo by Heather Jasper, others by Rainforest Expeditions. 

Article by Timothy

Timothy Scott is the founder and editor of Luxury Latin America and has been covering the region as a travel journalist since the mid-2000s. He has visited each country we cover multiple times and is based in a UNESCO World Heritage city in central Mexico, where he owns a home. See contact information here.

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