Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During the spring of my junior year I studied in Ecuador as part of a non-SLU conservation biology program. With support from the CIIS Enrichment Grant, I traveled to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (Tiputini) in the heart of the Amazon basin of Ecuador. My experience at Tiputini exposed me to the spectacular biodiversity, unique culture, and controversial resource issues of the tropics.
The journey to Tiputini consisted of a ten thousand foot descent by plane from Quito to Coca, two hours by boat, two hours by truck and another two hours by the boat. The trip was far from boring: we passed through two militarized petro-company-run checkpoints; we drove pass several photo-prohibited areas filled with evidence of environmental exploitation; and we caught glimpses of endemic tropical wildlife.
At the biodiversity station, I spent time with a handful of professional biologists and a few other biology students. My most valuable experiences however, were with the indigenous guides employed at the station. Each of the guides had an incredible knowledge of tropical ecology; medicinal and edible plants of the rainforest, animal behavior and more.
The first day at the station I went on a short walk with one of the station's Kichwa guides named Jose. The forest was dripping with life and filled with mysterious sounds. We reached a sweet, musky smell and Jose silently indicated for us to stop. Suddenly, a large white-collared peccary bolted off in the opposite direction. Farther down the trail we saw the footprints and feces of the aggressive and territorial animal. We were able to tract other animals by smell as well. Jose quickly led us through the forest as we followed scents of elusive monkey species. Over the course of the day, we saw four monkey species- Capuchin, Squirrel, Saki, and Wooly.
Throughout the week, there was ample time to help out and explore in the field; I saw an Andean tapir wading in the river, and a small coral snake on the path; I watched as an unidentified ground snake engulfed a gecko; I assisted with a very successful, ongoing camera-trapping project; I watched macaws sour over the forest canopy from a thirty-eight meter observation tower; I monitored feeding habits of Capuchin monkeys; and I helped collect and document poison frogs of the Dendrobates genus. Although there were few research projects occurring, I learned a tremendous amount from my time with the guides in the rainforest.
My learning experience was not limited to the field. During conversations with the station's employees and the small group of international scientists, I learned an incredible amount about the relationship between petroleum companies, indigenous groups and conservationists.
During my ten days at Tiputini, I was exposed to the monumental diversity of a primary tropical rainforest. I can now begin to understand the complexity and importance of these ecosystems. I can reflect upon this exposure to petroleum exploitation and raise awareness of the realities of its negative impact on indigenous cultures and native biota.
I applied for a Travel Enrichment Grant so that I could have a unique, extraordinary experience that was beyond my financial reach. I am incredibly thankful for the CIIS-Feinstein Grant that made this trip possible. I believe that my experience in the Amazon basin has helped me become a more thoughtful biologist, activist, and person.