For many in the Ceiba Tropical Conservation Semester program, visiting the most biodiverse place on the planet has been a dream. As students who aspire to be conservationists or are committed to conservation, having the opportunity to spend 2 weeks in the Amazon at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station allowed us the opportunity to witness firsthand the ecological interactions between species we had heard about all our lives, while also learning about the complexity and intricacy of trying to conserve such a remarkable place.
Some of the most exciting sightings were tarantulas on our daily walk to the dining area, juvenile Pink River Dolphins, guacamayas, aracaris, the Smokey Jungle Frog, the beautiful Ceiba tree, caimans, White-collared Peccaries, and at least 8 different monkey species.
We got to carry out research projects in small groups. My group decided to study manakin leks, little fluffy birds that congregate in the understory waiting for females to come by so they can perform their courtship displays and convince them they are suitable partners. They were super cute. This project gave us the opportunity to walk in the forest every day and get really gross and sweaty, walking (nearly crawling) underneath shrubs, getting bitten up by Azteca ants, and getting scratched up by thorny plants. As exhausting as our project was, I learned a ton, and it was an experience I am super grateful for.
Of all the knowledge we gained at Tiputini, some of the most valuable to me was the consciousness that was raised concerning oil companies’ presence in the Amazon and the ways it has not only disrupted the forest and it’s biodiversity, but also the indigenous people who have dwelled in the forest for generations. This story, and the continued colonization of people in the Americas, is not new, but it still broke my heart to recognize the role we play in colonizing peoples through consumerism. The Waorani were an uncontacted people before oil companies arrived in Yasuní National Park and began drilling for oil in the 1990s. Since then, our way of living has been forced on them, leading to a dependency on the market economy and subsequent wars amongst their people.
Conversations about conservation cannot exist without involving those who have been interacting with the lands and forests we seek to conserve. Conservation is as much a social science as it is about biology, ecology and biodiversity.