I am Belinda, a second year student in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University
My trip was brilliant!
I went to do the vertebrates’ monitoring trip in Serra da Bodoquena National Park. This is an 8 day expedition into the National Park area to monitor bird and mammal species. I did four treks, spending four to five hours walking in the jungle to take note of all species we could see. The trails are about nine kilometres long and you walk in a group of about five or six. We had a book with all the animals, so we knew what we were looking for, or what we could expect to see. The treks are quite tough, you need to be physically fit. But the most difficult one is the first day as you don’t know where you are going. The rest of the days get a lot easier as you’re walking the same trail. We had to get up at 5 in the morning, which initially I thought would be awful, but it actually didn’t feel too bad. As the UK is five hours ahead, my body just felt that I was getting up at 10 am.
August is the winter in Brazil but we had good weather on the first day, so we managed to see a few animals. We then had some more stormy weather the following days and so the animals were not that active and weren’t as easy to spot. The jungle is very dense, and the trees are very high, that also impacts on the visibility. We saw some birds, monkeys and a small rodent similar to a capybara that we could not identify. On the last day we saw a tapir walking through the trees. That was amazing!
I went on this trip wanting to experience real monitoring and see some interesting things and I got all that
I went on this trip with the objective of having a real-life experience of wildlife monitoring. There are not many opportunities for proper fieldwork in the UK and even when you get a chance to do them they are just like a study or a lesson. This one felt very real and was in fact very real. I was not being told what to do. We had an initial training session where things were briefly explained. This involved being sent out in small groups into a section of forest behind a hotel where photos of animals had been placed, and we had to spot them and get used to the way we recorded information about the animal (how many, where it was etc.). However, when I was in the field, I was the researcher and I had to learn how to do the work myself. I was not just watching someone else doing it. It was great to experience that and be given those responsibilities. I went on this trip wanting to experience real monitoring and see some interesting things and I got all that.
I travelled around Bonito before I went on the monitoring trip and I saw an anteater and a lot of macaws and toucans around town as well as another tapir. I also went snorkelling in one of the crystal-clear rivers. This was incredible; there were so many fish and I was in the water for almost an hour floating downstream.
The only low point was that the other people in the monitoring trip did not speak particularly good English, with only one person speaking English fluently. I knew a little bit of Portuguese before I went but I could not understand the Brazilian accent very well. It was sometimes quite difficult to communicate with them, and at the start of the trip I was worried about how that would affect me. However, despite my initial worries, there was never a problem and people were always very helpful and inclusive. Many times, when they were going to sit down for a meal and have a conversation, the rest of the group made sure I was there even if I couldn’t participate
There were probably too many high points to mention! I really enjoyed the treks and walking through the jungle. We were monitoring mammals and birds and would write those down; but that didn’t stop us from looking at all other interesting things: insects, plants and anything else of interest. Seeing the tapir on the last day was definitely a highlight. It is a big mammal and it just appeared in front of us walking through the trees. The farm itself was a great experience. It is quite isolated from any town and when we first arrived there I thought I was not going to enjoy it. However, when the day of leaving arrived, I was actually quite sad and I didn’t want to leave.
The hostel I stayed in when I was in town was a great place. They are very well set up and offer breakfast free and paid meals throughout the day so I never had to worry about finding something to eat, especially in the evenings. They were aware right from the start that I was travelling on my own and also that I didn’t speak much Portuguese and so they are very helpful. They answered any query I had and helped me book onto all my trips out.
It is brilliant to find a trip like this where I could go and experience real field work. The Brazilians really couldn’t understand why I was so amazed by the experience and the wildlife, but I was fascinated by it all.
I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a hands-on, independent experience of fieldwork.