This week, the Manu Learning Centre (MLC) welcomed 7 new volunteers to the Crees crew: an eclectic bunch ranging in age, nationality and programme length. Among the group we have people from New Zealand, England, Australia, Belgium, France, Canada and Turkey who will be working at our research base for between 2 to 10 weeks.
On their first day, all new volunteer groups are taken on a tropical ecology walk through the various levels of regenerating rainforest at the MLC. So how did this first experience of the tropical rainforest match the expectations set before leaving home?
Amelia, a 23 year old graduate from the UK, shares her impressions so far...
The first thing that struck Amelia was the vastness of the reserve, and its abundance of life.
“I was quite shocked actually. It was a real jungle. I knew the MLC was in regeneration and for me that’s not what a regenerating rainforest would look like. I was amazed at how much life there was - within about 100 metres we had stopped to see so many things, so much life.”
In the past, the rainforests of the MLC were logged and used as farmland. However, despite this complex history, our research has shown that 87% of all biodiversity has returned, offering a promising future to other regenerating forests.
As a linguistics graduate and first time conservation volunteer, this is Amelia’s first time working in a scientific environment. For this reason, it’s not just the diversity of species that is surprising her but also the amount of women who work and volunteer with Crees.
“I know it’s a stereotype but I thought there would be loads more men than women working in a research base, but it’s the other way round, and everyone is just being badass and dealing with the jungle. I love it!”
We were lucky enough, and extremely excited, to see three types of monkey on the group’s first day in the field - capuchin, woolly and squirrel monkeys - but despite such a big hitter of a first day, Amelia’s favourite moment so far has been her first butterfly survey... a true conservationist at heart!
“It was so cool to see Emma [a field staff member] catch the butterflies, then we all went through the book to ID them and then entered the data back at camp.”
“I didn’t realise the programmes would be so hands on, but although we’ve only been here one week I feel like we’re actually contributing to the work, which is exactly what I wanted.”
To her surprise (and relief), the surveys have been much more accessible than Amelia feared when anticipating what the work at Crees would be like when she was at home.
“I was petrified. I kept on swinging between ‘this is the coolest thing I’m ever going to do’ and ‘I can’t do it’,” she said. “When you’re at home ‘the wild’ can feel so far away, and it’s hard to feel engaged with it. But when you’re here and nature is all around you - it’s hard not to get excited about it.”
Sometimes the most rewarding experiences are those that are unexpected; when your perceptions of a place or yourself are challenged.
“People who know me would be surprised that I could do this,” Amelia said, “but maybe they’ll think, ‘if she can survive the jungle, I can do it too’, and they’ll be inspired to do something like this as well.”
“At this point, I’m just really excited to learn more. I’m really not a morning person, but I can’t wait to do Colpa [the MLC bird survey, which kicks off at 5:20am]. I’m amazed by the amount of birds you find here and really excited to learn how to recognise their calls.”
“I want to go home and say ‘I survived the jungle’, to talk about it with knowledge, to try and protect it and to visit more jungles across the world.
I’ve lost my fear of the jungle.”
Thanks to Amelia for sharing her experience of the MLC rainforest so far, and to the whole volunteer group who have just joined Crees. We’re excited to continuing working with you over the following weeks and months.