If you’re a Peruvian secondary school student and you’ve lived most of your life in the rain forest, what is your favorite dish? Here are a couple of clues: it’s not monkey, or fish. Still not sure? Well, turns out, chicken beats all—whether roasted, stir-fried, or in a sauce with rice. This is what we recently discovered during an after-dinner round of introductions following the arrival of thirteen 4th and 5th grade students and their two teachers from the village of Boca Manu (near the mouth of the Manu River) at our Cocha Cashu Biological Research Station in southeastern Peru. Most of these children originally come from the indigenous Matisengka community of Yomybato, deep inside Manu National Park, so we wouldn’t have been surprised to hear them dream of a meal of monkey with yucca!
The next morning the teenagers were organized into groups, then paddled canoes around the lake to do some bird watching and identification. There are no fewer than 528 bird species recorded at Cashu, so they had their work cut out for them! In the afternoon, they walked to a nearby stream to collect “leaf packs” (dried leaves in mesh bags) planted there a month previously. Having been colonized by macroinvertebrates in the meantime, the leaf packs provide a wonderful opportunity for the youngsters to become involved in a citizen science project. Students sorted the samples, identified the main invertebrate groups, and presented their results. They even found a couple of small fish and shrimps nestled among the leaves.
On the following day, after more birding—and admiring howler and spider monkeys—our resident photographer, Dano Grayson, guided the students in the tricky art of tree climbing. Later, the children went on an excursion to see a giant fig tree, known as the ‘Catedral’, where they were given a talk on basic tropical ecology. As they headed back, they encountered a tayra (imagine something like a giant weasel), an ornate hawk eagle, and yet more monkeys, including the delightful family of pygmy marmosets known to inhabit a tiny territory on Trail 6.
After a much-appreciated dinner of lasagna, the kids were given the opportunity to see their own macro photographs, taken that day, as part of a larger slide show which also included images of themselves in and around the Station. Dano showed them some of his own photos and videos, highlighting the wonders of the surrounding forest. The teachers had expressed interested in knowing scientific names, so they were presented with a list of all the species the birding groups had identified on the lake, as well as the other animal species they came across during their visit.
Sadly, that was the end of their stay; early the following morning the teenagers headed back to Boca Manu, no doubt to enjoy a tasty chicken stew at home. They appeared to enjoy their Cocha Cashu experience and plans are afoot to repeat the visit in the future. For our staff, it was a wonderful, albeit brief, opportunity to share life at the Station with local school children, the future caretakers and ambassadors of Manu National Park.
Jessica Groenendijk is an education and outreach coordinator at San Diego Zoo Global’s Cocha Cashu Biological Station in Peru. Read her previous blog, A New Family of Giants at Cocha Cashu. Roxana Arauco-Aliaga, a research manager/field coordinator at Cocha Cashu also contributed to this story.