Written by and Photos Courtesy of Saadia Khan
I recently joined a research dissertation programme through Operation Wallacea, which are an organisation that run a series of biological and conservation programmes in remote locations across the world with specific wildlife conservation aims in mind. My time in Peru involved working with ecologists, scientists, academics and postgraduate researchers that specialised in various wildlife and projects. I spent 6 weeks this summer in the Peruvian Amazon taking part in independent research on the Peruvian River Dolphins.
The Pink and Grey River Dolphins are two of the world’s most endangered cetaceans and are endemic in Amazonian riverine environments in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, which is the largest protected area in Peru. They are important indicator species for the general health of surrounding aquatic habitats and can quickly indicate the condition of these aquatic systems. Some of the major threats these mammals are facing outside of this reserve are due to incidental mortality, which include encounters with fisheries, collisions with boats, purposeful killing and vast dilapidation of their habitat. These same pressures have affected the Asian species the Baiji, which was recently declared functionally extinct. The Peruvian Pink and Grey River Dolphins were previously listed by the ICUN as “vulnerable” but are now considered “data-deficient” due to the limited amount of current information available on their threats, ecology and population numbers and trends. The aims and main objectives of my specific dissertation study were to estimate the distribution and abundance of both the Pink and Grey Peruvian River Dolphins species, to study the patterns of habitat use and behaviour of both dolphin species and to evaluate the differences between the habitat and behaviour of both dolphin species. By joining OpWall, the research and data I collected this summer will help in providing the vital and essential information needed in monitoring their numbers and will help in the future conservation and management for the species survival.
After learning how to identify the two dolphin species, group composition, behaviours, age and habitats correctly, I got to take out university and school research assistants out on surveys independently. This made my experience very enjoyable and will benefit me greatly in the future. During my time in Peru I also completed an ‘Amazonian Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Course’, which introduced me to the wildlife I may be encountering during my research here and the many survey techniques I would need to apply during my data collection. Additionally, I learned about the numerous sustainable management techniques employed within the Amazon with the help of OpWall’s expertise.
The research I undertook in the Amazon not only helped me in gaining valuable field experience working with scientists and academics within conservation, but will also assist me in completing my university research dissertation. I learned so much not only about dolphins but many other species and wildlife by taking park in various other surveys in my spare time. This helped me to understand the abundance of biodiversity in this part of the Amazon and the importance in protecting it.
Being surrounded by all types of people from all around the world with different backgrounds who harvest the same passion and interests as you is just a beautiful thing. Hearing everyone’s journey and why they were taking part in OpWall was fascinating and heart-warming. The OpWall staff were always happy, approachable and there to help – no matter the situation! I can definitely walk away from this expedition with not only friends that will remain in my life forever but also taking part in a once in a lifetime experience and I hope that one day I can be a part of the OpWall family. If you are hesitant to book – please don’t be! The OpWall staff are always there to help and support you all the way; from the academic research to fundraising ideas and everything in-between. You will absolutely not regret it!