Earthwatch sends thousands of volunteers into the field each year to help scientists conduct important environmental research projects around the world. We’re thrilled to support these scientists, some of whom have been collecting long-term data for decades, and today we’d like to share one of their stories with you.
Dr. Richard Bodmer has conducted research in the western Amazon Basin since 1984. Based on a historic riverboat
from the Rubber Boom era of the early 1900s, the work of Bodmer and his team spans not just years, but also species and landscapes.
Earthwatch volunteers navigating the waters of the Peruvian Amazon. © Mary Ellen Rowe, Earthwatch staff.
He may be going into his fourth season as Principal Investigator of the Amazon Riverboat Exploration Earthwatch project, but Dr. Richard Bodmer’s interest in biology stretches back as far as he can remember.
Born in England in 1960, Bodmer spent his youth in Chicago, where he began developing as a young biologist and took advantage of the Windy City’s cultural offerings by assisting on okapi research at the Brookfield Zoo.
After earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of Illinois, he returned to his native country to complete a Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Cambridge. There he had his first brush with Earthwatch, albeit indirectly, working toward his degree with Dr. Timothy Clutton-Brock, Principal Investigator of the Meerkats of the Kalahari research project.
With years of academia under his belt, Bodmer went on to conduct field research in the Ituri forests of the Congo, the rainforests of central Borneo, and throughout the tropics of the Americas. But it was the wildlife, habitats, and people of the Peruvian Amazon that won his heart once and for all.
For more than 16 years Bodmer has worked in the Lago Preto Conservation Area and the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve of Peru conducting research on monkeys, caimans, macaws and more. Over the years, he has hosted more than 400 students through field courses within the reserves. In 2006, Earthwatch was honored to begin supporting his research by sending teams of volunteers into the Amazon to help.
When he’s not exploring murky Amazonian waters on the Ayapua or trekking through Peru’s rainforest, Bodmer serves as Reader in Conservation Biology at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 publications on his research in the Amazon Basin, and has previously taught courses in Tropical Conservation at the University of Florida. He is also a member of several boards and groups related to his research subjects, including four IUCN Specialist Groups on peccaries, deer, tapirs, and primates.
Lined with rich rainforest and filled with an array of plants and animals, the great Amazon Basin is like no other place on Earth. The more than 35 species under study by Dr. Bodmer and his team represent just a tiny fraction of the life here – where biodiversity is among the highest on the planet.
In the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and the Lago Preto Conservation Area, Bodmer works to uncover the effects of conservation actions on a number of wildlife populations.
Pacaya-Samiria, one of the largest protected areas in Peru, spans more than 20,000 square kilometers. Within this tropical rainforest the waters of the Andes merge and form the origin of the Amazon, which begins its march toward the Atlantic. Many of the species in the reserve can be found nowhere else, including the dwindling Amazon manatee.
Venturing even deeper into Amazonia, the isolated Lago Preto Conservation Area is home to countless plants and animals. Though you’re unlikely to run into another human while trekking through the reserve’s forest trails, you may very well cross paths with peccaries, primates, sloths, armadillos, capybaras – the list goes on.
In both reserves, an array of colorful macaws and other beautiful birds spread their wings against the ceiling of green overhead, while giant otters, caimans, turtles and fish glide through silty waterways.
While the area teems with wildlife, the human population is among the lowest in all of South America. But the Cocama tribe has called the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve land home for centuries. Today, Cocama Indians still live off the land, hunting for meat, fishing Amazonian waters, and collecting the fruits of the forest.
Don’t just read about it – join Bodmer aboard the Ayapua and help him conduct research on these species and more!
Learn about the Amazon Riverboat Exploration expedition and sign up today. Join one (or both!) of the two summer teams, running from late August through September, and you’ll get a 20% discount!
|Working with Local Communities to Conserve their Homeland
Part of a floating Amazonian river village, © Mary Ellen Rowe.; Earthwatch and Dr. Bodmer partner with local communities in conservation efforts.
Fellow Scientists Reflect on the Work of a Peer
As a biologist, a field researcher, and a passionate human being, Dr. Richard Bodmer is truly extraordinary. Read what some of his peers have to say about this real-life adventurer:
“There are few people I know who have spent as much time in the field as Dr. Bodmer. Not only does he have experience on three continents, but his work in Peru has been going on for decades. He knows the Peruvian Amazon intimately, one muddy step at a time, and one river mile at a time.”
~ Dr. Kent H. Redford, Wildlife Conservation Society
“Dr. Bodmer has a passion for the Amazon, scientifically and culturally. He is very sensitive about the local people and wants to make sure that conservation does not harm their livelihoods, but rather that conservation helps them find a better life.”
~ Lorgio Verdi Olivares, National University of the Peruvian Amazon
“Bodmer’s track record speaks for itself. He has built an impressive research and training program over the years, which has been gradually expanding in scope and policy-relevance. This program is firmly grounded in its Peruvian and international partnerships, and has produced some exceptionally good science.”
~ Dr. Carlos Peres, wildlife biologist with more than 20 years of experience in the Brazilian Amazon
Some semi-permanent structures become parts
of river villages, as seen here. © Mary Ellen Rowe.
Dr. Bodmer is a firm believer in the need to involve local communities in the management of the Amazon Basin’s wildlife and habitats.
With the bushmeat trade playing a significant role in the rural Amazonian economy, past attempts to eliminate hunting altogether proved disastrously unsuccessful. In fact, overly strict protection of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve led to such bitterness between locals and reserve managers that in 1997, in retaliation for having their nets confiscated, fishermen attacked and killed a park guard and two biologists.
Since this devastating event, a new reserve administration began implementing a co-management policy, working alongside local community members to manage the reserve.
Instead of strictly forbidding locals to hunt on reserve land, areas protected against hunting were established next to hunting areas, in hopes of keeping hunting at sustainable levels and providing refuge for wildlife, while allowing the local bushmeat trade to continue in a responsible way.
But to better manage hunting in this reserve and others, it is crucial to have information on the impacts of hunting, current wildlife population levels, and which species are more vulnerable to over-hunting.
That’s where Bodmer and his team of researchers come in. Conducting research on a host of Amazonian wildlife, including macaws and other bird species, caimans, turtles, primates and a number of terrestrial and aquatic mammals, Bodmer’s long-term datasets provide crucial information to reserve managers working to conserve this precious area.
Learn more about the history of the Amazonian bushmeat trade, the management of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, and Dr. Bodmer’s views on wildlife conservation. (pdf)
Conservation and Research in Action: The Big Pay-Off
More than a decade has passed since the regime change at the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and the resulting policy of co-management between local communities, conservation staff, and government. In that time, illegal poaching has decreased dramatically and, thanks to the hard work of Dr. Bodmer and his team, we know that wildlife populations in the reserve are on the rise.
Comparisons of data from 1995 to information collected by Bodmer’s team in 2005 show increases in a number of key wildlife populations, from monkeys to otters. Going back into the field for his second season with Earthwatch volunteers in 2007, Bodmer was pleased to report that two years later, populations were faring even better.
Among the animals thriving under the new conservation strategy was the woolly monkey.
“This is an excellent sign for the conservation efforts of the reserve,” said Bodmer, “since woolly monkeys are very vulnerable to humans, especially bushmeat hunting. Ten years ago there were very few woolly monkeys in this area and their populations have recovered significantly.”
But Bodmer is also realizing that good news for one population may be bad news for another.
“The conservation actions of reducing hunting clearly are helping to increase the populations of large-bodied primates, but at the expense of small-bodied primates,” said Bodmer.
Other animals faring well compared to past years include the endangered Amazon manatee, the giant river otter, the pink river dolphin, various game bird species, the blue and gold macaw, the black caiman, and the red uakari monkey.
For some of these species, the population increase over just the past few years has been dramatic. Bodmer reports that while surveys in 2003 and 2004 recorded an average of only 1.5 manatees every two weeks, by 2006 the team was sighting eight individuals within the same timeframe.
“Both the manatee and the giant river otter are flagship species for the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve,” said Bodmer. “While their numbers are still low, the increasing trends in the populations are very positive.”
Read a full report on the results of Bodmer's 2006 research season (pdf).
Volunteers and researchers measuring a caiman before releasing it back to the river. © Ian & Jenine Langrish.
Woolly monkey in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. © Mark Bowler.
Fluke (tail-fin) of the famously pink Amazon River Dolphin, or Boto, as seen by a past Earthwatch Volunteer. © Mark Bowler.
Blue and gold macaws fly the Amazonian rainforest. © Mark Bowler.
Earthwatch Volunteers Join Bodmer and his Research Team aboard the Ayapua
Dr. Bodmer's research vessel, the Ayapua. © Malene Christensen.
To determine the full impacts of conservation and management within the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and the Lago Preto Conservation Area, more information is necessary. That’s why Dr. Richard Bodmer cherishes the support he receives from Earthwatch volunteers like you.
Earthwatch began supporting Bodmer’s research in 2006. That season, volunteers covered 754 kilometers of terrestrial transects, 265 kilometers of mammal transects on the rivers, 138 kilometers surveying caimans, and 98 kilometers surveying turtles. The teams also covered 280 points during macaw surveys and spent 168 hours conducting fish surveys.
“The volunteers were truly helpful in monitoring wildlife populations,” said Bodmer. “More data was collected than originally anticipated, and the amount of information exceeded our expectations.”
Earthwatch volunteers also helped Bodmer initiate new research methods, including mist-netting and surveys of wading birds.
As you read this, teams of Earthwatch volunteers are preparing for the experience of a lifetime onboard the Ayapua – a historic riverboat from the Rubber Boom of the early 1900s and the base of operations for the Amazon Riverboat Exploration expedition. Others are returning home to share their experiences with family, friends, and colleagues.
Red uakari monkey. © Mark Bowler
The lucky volunteers who joined Bodmer this past spring have plenty to gush about – here is a list of species spotted by just one team of Earthwatch volunteers:
Pink river dolphin
Giant river dolphin
Red uakari monkey
Monk saki monkey
Black spider monkey
Red brocket deer
Blue and yellow macaw
For 2010, all teams will travel to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, via the Ucayali, Maranon, and Samiria Rivers. Volunteers should be aware that the threatened uakari monkey, studied on previous expeditions to the Yavari River, does not inhabit this National Reserve. Other species of monkey however, such as the capuchin monkey and spider monkey, may be encountered.
“We are really impressed with the level of involvement and help that Earthwatch volunteers bring to the conservation and research of the Lago Preto and Samiria sites. It will be very important to have continued Earthwatch volunteers this summer who can help with the wide range of wildlife monitoring that we have planned, including the primates, macaws, caimans, turtles and fish.”
~ Dr. Richard Bodmer, Principal Investigator of the Amazon Riverboat Exploration research project.