By Cristina López-Málaga
I am a young Peruvian biologist interested in working with ungulates. Nowadays I am doing my undergraduate thesis project on feeding ecology of mountain tapir in the Northern Andes of Peru. Two years ago I was seeking on the web for internships that involve tapir’s ecology and conservation studies, and I found the Pró-Tapir project. The next year I had the opportunity to participate in the 6th Tapir Symposium in Campo Grande, Brazil and that is how I met Cristina and Jardel, both team members of an incredible tapir project led by Andressa Gatti, one of the most recognized researchers in tapir ecology. Andressa offered me to participate in one of Pró-Tapir field expeditions in the Atlantic Forest in Espirito Santo- Brasil, in order to gain experience in the study of tapirs in the wild. I felt very confident about the idea of doing and internship with a high qualified team like Pro-Tapir and I promised to myself that I would definitely return to Brazil in 2015.
After receiving an invitation from Andressa, in May of 2015 my promise came true and I went to Espirito Santo to join the Pró-Tapir team on their two weeks field trip. I would definitely say that working with Pró-Tapir team was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had in my life. The field work included camera traps installation according to a very rigorous design, collection of fecal samples (for genetics and feeding ecology studies), and application of FIT methodology to estimate tapir density with foodprints. Furthermore, we performed night surveys that allowed us to observe and count the tapir that live in this area.
Our basecamp was a farm located next to conservation areas (private initiatives and federal). I was really surprised when I realized that tapirs can live not only in pristine areas, but also they can use fragmented areas with crops for activities such as feeding and resting. This cleared up my mind on how the monitoring of target species should be done in a fragmented landscape such as Espirito Santo. I consider this one of the most valuable learnings of this internship because in my country tapir ecology studies are concentrated in conservation areas, usually excluding fragmented landscapes.
This internship gave the opportunity to meet amazing colleges that now are also my Brazilian favorite friends. Since the first day I felt like home, so thank you all for sharing your knowledge and experiences being so friendly in all moment with me. I will never forget the incredible food hahaha and the painting sessions at night. Special thanks to Cristina, Jardel, Paula, Joana, Morgana and Andressa. You are always welcome in Peru.