Ecovolunteer at Panthera Sanctuary – Peru

One year ago, in August 2015, I decided to do something useful during my holidays, in connexion with nature and wildlife. That’s how I discovered Panthera Sanctuary in Peru.

As I’ve received a lot of request from people willing to go there, I’ve decided to write an article to reply to the main questions I’ve been asked.

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Why choosing Panthera Sanctuary ?

It took me a lot of time to take a decision (not so easy as it was a trip I planned to do alone).
I had to first choose the destination : Vietnam for the elephants, South Africa for the wildcats, Costa Rica for the biodiversity…
I could take 3 weeks only between august and september. Not the best season to go to Costa Rica. After some additional searches, Peru seemed to be a good option. And I could practice my Spanish.
That is how I discovered Panthera Sanctuary.

What attracted me the most was the size of the structure which is held by a Franco-Peruvian couple : Milena and Pierre-Julien. PJ also organizes survival training in the Amazon Forest which was quite reassuring !
I contacted them. They replied very quickly and answered to all my questions. And I jumped in !

 

Equipment ?

First, check that your vaccination are up-to-date. In addition, I get vaccinated against rabies because of the wild animals. I was already vaccinated against yellow fever. An advice : think about it early enough. Some vaccinations need several injections few weeks apart (rabies for example).

I also took an anti-malarial treatment (Malarone).

Regarding the drugs I took with me, the classical : antiemetics, antidiarrheal,  antihistamine, antibiotic… And the most important : insect repellent ! I bought  Insect Ecran zone infectée for clothes and skin. Very effective ! In the jungle it was very impressive : I was surrounded my insects but I never get bitten. But don’t forget any piece of skin ! The first day I forgot my ears and it was really unpleasant.

Regarding the outfit, I chose hiking pants, T-shirts and light long sleeved shirts. Boots to go to the jungle. That’s all. Don’t take too many clothes : you will have the opportunity to wash them when you get back to town every week-end.

Nothing very complicated to sum up.

 

How to get to the sanctuary ?

I was welcomed at the Puerto Maldonado airport by Milena. We took a rickshaw to the pier where Pierre-Julien with their son, Timéo, waited for us.

Panthera Sanctuary is located by the Madre de Dios river. Only one means of transport to go there : the motorized dugout canoe.

After the many planes I took to get to Puerto Maldonado – through Chicago, Dallas, Lima (to save some money) – one and half hour of dugout canoe was a really pleasure.

The nature appears progressively before your amazed eyes…

 

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What about the convenience ?

The convenience was a really good surprise :

A canteen room with a desk, a kitchen, a living room and a dining room.
As ornament, vivarium with snakes. I forgot to say : Pierre-Julien’s passion is snakes ! So if you don’t like them… just find another sanctuary !

 

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A bathroom with a bathroom sink and a shower with with running water ! The water is pumped from the river and flocculated before it goes out of the pipe. In the middle of the trees and closed by a mosquito net, taking a shower here is very pleasant. If you are modest, you may be disturbed by the monkeys that sometimes come to watch you !

Toilets. And I mean real toilets, the one you can sit on, with flush. Total luxury !

Bedrooms, spacious and with the essentials : bed with mosquito net, desk and chair (well, a piece of trunk but it does the job)

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Everything was built by Pierre-Julien and Milena’s father in the traditional way.

Nevertheless, useless to say that there is no WiFi. The only opportunity to contact your family is during the week-end when we go back to the city, at the hotel. But it’s nice to unplug sometimes.

 

 

Activities ?

They are diverse and depend on the period of the year.

Here are some examples of the things I’ve done during my 3 weeks stay on the camp : marking of the reserve, placing pitfalls, building the animal nursery, clearing the path with a machete (yeah!!!), building and cleaning vivarium… I also helped a 3 meter, 8 kg boa with shedding its skin. Unforgettable experience !

 

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Building the animal nursery

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Helping a boa with shedding its skin

And my favorite one : the walks during the night in the jungle. The volunteers from the other camp, Inkaterra, often joined us. It was nice to have company giving that I was the only volunteer of Panthera Sanctuary. Great opportunity to meet new people : Australian, English, Canadian, American, very cosmopolitan !

The goal of the walks was to catch snakes and frogs to take an inventory of the local fauna. Not easy with the only light of our headlamp. But we always came back with something. Most of the time frogs I have to admit. But we also caught a Cyclopes didactylus ant-eater. Almost blind and full of ticks, we healed it before release.

 

Fourmilier Cyclopes didactylus

Cyclopes didactylus ant-eater

The morning after, we determined the species of the snakes and frogs we caught thanks to identification keys : vertical or horizontal eyelid, number of ventral scales, smooth or rough dorsal scales… Someone asked the questions while another one, the snake or the frog on his hand, answered or tried to answer. A real treasure hunt ! Fascinating ! We sometimes believed we had discovered a new species.

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Phyllomedusa, emblematic frog

You can read the Panthera Sanctuary blog to see what the other volunteers did during their stay. They also speak of me as someone dexterous and smart, yes sir !

Is there animals on the camp ?

Milena and Pierre-Julien rescue animals quite often. Most of the time, monkeys use as pets… or food ! It usually requires long negotiations with the locals.

Pierre-Julien has built a trust relationship with the neighborhood. Now they call him first when they discover a snake on their garden, instead of  stabbing it with a machete. That is how he saved the 3 meters boa I help with its shedding.

Yes, Peruvians from this area are not aware of the preservation of their ecosystem. It’s a shame.

During my stay, there were on the camp : a capuchin monkey (Capuccino), a howler monkey (Coto or Choco-nut), a spider monkey (Calypso), a titi monkey (Turbo), a peccari (Captain pirate), a coati (Sausage) and 3 parrots. The names were given by Timeo, 5 years. This explains that…

 

Choco-noisette

Choco-noisette

Capuccino

Capuccino

Turbot

Turbot

Calypso

Calypso

Saucisse

Saucisse (sausage)

And obviously, snakes safely kept by Pierre-Julien in vivarium : boa constrictor, arboreal snakes, rainbow boa… And  the most impressive and dangerous of all : the bushmaster (Lachesis muta) captured with the help of Dr Zoltan Takacs, famous toxicologist – herpetologist and consultant on National Geographic Channel.

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Bushmaster

Anecdotes ?

I have 2 in mind :

  • One morning, I went to the toilets and there was no more paper (OK, it starts weirdly but let’s continue). I took the bag containing the last roll in my left hand and took it out with my right hand. And then I thought to myself : why is the bag so heavy when it should be empty ?…. I threw away the bag, yelling, and a huge tarantula came out of it ! The fear of my life… for the tarantula too !
  • During my last night on the camp, we walked in the jungle with the volunteers from Inkaterra. As we were many, 2 groups were constituted : one leaded by Pierre-Julien, the other one by a guide from Inkaterra.

I am with Pierre-Julien, closing the walk. All of a sudden, Pierre-Julien freezes : he has seen eyes twinkling in the night. He waits : if he sees 2 eyes it means predator and potentially panther ! We saw a footprint larger than my fist few days before

 

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Bingo ! there are 2 eyes, I see them too. “A panther, let’s go for it” says Pierre-Julien. Yes, of course, when you see a panther in the jungle by night you go straight to it ! We walk in a single file, we stay close, driven by the adrenaline. We finally join the other group who saw it too… But “it” was a deer !

 

 

So, ready to go ?
Should you have any further question, please leave a comment !

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