Peru Part II: A change of scenery

First three weeks in Boca Pariamanu

After spending a week on the couch in Puerto Maldonado enjoying the effects of a virus called Chikungunya, I am the last volunteer to be transferred to the forest community of Boca Pariamanu. Only 2.5 hours upstream from Maldonado’s harbor, this community is based where the Pariamanu river enters Las Piedras. When one thinks of a jungle community in South America, images of strange herbal rituals and naked dancing usually pop up. But to see that, you’ll have to visit the uncontacted tribes, hidden away far from humanity below the thick canopy. Boca is very much like a regular village, but without any roads, and houses above the ground to keep out any wild animals. Nobody in Boca seems to have heard of these strange people called ‘vegetarians’, so my first meal is a bit of improvising.
My job is now different from what I did at LPAC. Here I am working with Mark, a wildlife photographer from England with a love for coca leaves. I sleep on an empty Brazil nut drying platform, which quickly gets dubbed ‘The Nut Hut’. Mark is working on an identification guide for reptiles and amphibians in the Madre de Dios region. I am still skeptical when it comes to handling herpetofauna and going out at night; I thought the night was for sleeping? Slowly but surely, I start to get the hang of the job. The morning is where I get my workout of carrying a gasoline generator and a large wooden table to the Nut Hut, where we photograph species that we caught last night in a white box to avoid background distraction (find these pictures on facebook.com/untamedwildlife). I notice myself getting more and more comfortable with both my camera and the animals we’re handling. In the afternoon, we usually release the animals and take their pictures in their natural habitat. Most of the photos in this blog are from those times. As night falls, and everyone goes to sleep, we venture out into the woods to find new animals and bring them back with us.
After only a week in Boca, I encounter the most fearful animal yet; a young Fer-de-Lance pit viper. Strangely enough, this is the only dangerously venomous snake I’ve encountered during my time in Peru. Photographing this creature is highly exciting. Just a few days later, I have another amazing experience when I catch my first snake. As Mark is very ill (on his birthday) I am out early with Fauna’s mammal team to survey the area when we stumble upon something unexpected. A beautiful rainbow boa, relaxing in the middle of the trail. I have not seen a boa before and have absolutely no idea whether this is a dangerous animal. After being assured that this one is in fact not venomous, I’m urged by the entire mammal team to catch it. After all, there’s no way that they’re picking it up! And since the boa is starting to crawl away, I’ll have to move fast. Even though the snake does not seem to like me very much, I manage to not get chewed on and safely get him in the bag. In spite of Mark’s illness he seems to be happy with his birthday present.

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A katydid mimicking a leaf.
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Even the trees can hurt you!

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The black-headed calico snake (Oxyrhopus melanogenys), a friendly animal that will lift any mistrust in reptiles.
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The pineapple snake, Liophis reginae. We had two, but one was an escape master and disappeared.
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Coming right at you.
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Phyllomedusa tomopterna, or the barred monkey frog.
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A juvenile South American lancehead (Bothrops atrox), also called Fer-de-Lance.
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Young lanceheads hunt by attracting prey by waggling their yellow tail as a lure.
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A cicada tower.
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Imantodes cenchoa, the common blunt-headed tree snake.
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A beautiful Phyllomedusa camba.
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This katydid mimics a dead leaf.
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A shedding katydid.
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A cotton candy-like caterpillar.
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The one and only Boa constrictor, the red-tailed boa.
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A portrait of the Western leaf lizard (Stenocercus fimbriatus).

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