We understand that gaining meaningful fieldwork experience in the area of wildlife research, especially in the tropics, can be very challenging for aspiring biologists, ecologists and nature conservation professionals. For many people, exposure to fieldwork and research techniques often starts off at college or university and is subsequently developed via all manner of volunteering opportunities on the weekends or during the holidays until a level of competency is reached that will allow them to design and implement their own funded projects or to sway potential employers for quality paid positions in the environment sector in their home countries or internationally.
Our Field Course Internship program provides participants with an immersive learning experience, undertaken while living in a biodiverse tropical landscape alongside working conservation biologists, and is focused on deepening people's theoretical knowledge and the practical skills required to study wildlife ecology in a rigorous and scientific fashion. Our courses (which are outlined below) are designed in 2-week segments and are led by professional biologists and conservationists who have been working with wildlife for many years, in some cases decades. Participants consist of undergraduates and recent graduates in the environmental sciences, individuals in the process of a career change, some high school students wanting to learn and experience what biological fieldwork really entails, as well as some amateur naturalists who are keen on learning new things about a new set of species in a new environment.
Furthermore, in order to gain a placement with us as a Skilled Research Intern, we may require applicants to take and pass a set of field course segments beforehand (unless they are able to provide a CV, reference letters, and or recognised permits or qualifications showing their level of competency and expertise in the field methods we use), as this ensures they will be ready to take on the responsibilities associated with helping our team of research coordinators with their important wildlife monitoring and conservation tasks in a semi-independent fashion. The course segments required to attain automatic status as a Skilled Research Intern, and the benefits this brings, include at least intermediate, advanced, and master level, in that order, i.e. an investment of at least 6 weeks.
Taxonomic focus of field courses
Our field courses are focused on teaching the research methods we use to study four vertebrate groups: birds, herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles), bats and other mammals. For each taxonomic group, we offer 2-week course segments starting at an introductory level and working up through intermediate and advanced levels to the final master level. Applicants can opt to start at either the introductory or intermediate level (depending on experience), but can't jump straight into the advanced or master level course segments. Each of these segments is outlined below.
Introductory courses (2 weeks)
The introductory courses will provide participants with information and knowledge to help them identify and understand the ecology of the common families, genus and species that we study and will teach them the basics of the sampling methodologies and step-by-step protocols that we use to assess diversity, population density or abundance, and community structure. Upon the successful completion of this introductory course segment, participants will possess a general understanding of how best to go about identifying an animal, be it visually or via auditory cues and sign; the theory behind the sampling and analytical methodologies we use; and some of the practical skills required to understand the ecology of their selected taxonomic group. Participants in this course should not expect to handle live animals, as this requires more training (see intermediate course below). Time spent in theory classes: 40%. Time spent in practical field sessions: 60%. Certificate provided: Yes, on completion of field-based skills assessment.
Intermediate courses (2 weeks)
The intermediate course provides participants with more hands-on sampling experience, including animal handling and direct collection of morphological data under close supervision, as well as more detail and depth to the theoretical knowledge segments. Participants will learn how to correctly enter data into paper or digital datasheets (especially with regards to the use of codes) and how to effectively use relevant guides, taxonomic keys and associated literature to efficiently identify species in the field to a 50% level of accuracy. Upon the successful completion of this course segment participants will have gained an intermediate level of practical sampling and data review experience in addition to possessing the skills needed to begin making good decisions from a species identification perspective. Some database management processes will also be introduced here.
Advanced courses (2 weeks)
The advanced courses provide participants with the added knowledge and skills required to fully understand each aspect of the field methods and protocols that we implement, and the confidence for them to undertake these protocols with limited over-the-shoulder supervision from our instructors and research coordinators. Participants will be allowed to collect all relevant forms of data from live specimens or during field surveys with team coordinators checking their results to ensure data quality and consistency. Safely extracting live animals from their temporarily-trapped status will be expected. Species identification skills will rise, allowing participants to identify upwards of 75% of the species they observe. Participants will also have a good grounding in the database management techniques we use to ensure data is ready for analysis.
Master courses (2 weeks)
The master course significantly refines the knowledge and skills that have already been learned during the previous course segments. As with the Advanced course, participants will fully understand the methods and protocols we use to such a degree that they are even able to teach these to others, they will be able to spot and rectify mistakes in the data collection or data transcribing process, and will have the ability to identify species with a level of confidence in the 90% region. Upon the successful completion of this final course segment, which will involve a rigorous but fair assessment of their knowledge and abilities, participants will be able to undertake our wildlife research methods with virtually no supervision and thus will have the confidence and skills needed to become a Skilled Research Intern or indeed to design and implement their own research programs using similar field methodologies in other parts of the world.
At the end of each two-week course segment, participants will be assessed on their knowledge and research skills and given a graded certificate. Assessments tend to be a combination of multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, and specific field skills relating to themes such as species ecology, specimen handling techniques, data collection, data entry, site knowledge, teamwork, and health and safety considerations. Participants will be given the chance to directly interact with the course instructors and research coordinators providing these grades, thereby encouraging greater personal and professional growth opportunities.
Courses are taught by our team of research coordinators who come from a variety of academic and ethnic backgrounds, and all have many years of wildlife research experience under their belt. Their diverse backgrounds give them a wealth of valuable experience which they are eager to share with course participants. Although our team may come from different parts of the world, they all share a passion to help protect the Amazon rainforest and share their knowledge with aspiring biologists, ecologists and conservationists. Our team have a long history of helping course participants gain much-needed field experience and to build up their levels of confidence and competency in the scientific process, such that they have the ability to design and develop their own projects. Indeed, some course graduates have been chosen in the past to work for Fauna Forever.
Field Course Interns are required to pay a fee for enrollment in this program. This fee covers the costs of their time with us including all travel, food, lodging and research permit expenses from arrival in the city of Puerto Maldonado. Without these fees, we would not be able to provide these learning opportunities for aspiring biologists, ecologists and conservationists. Fauna Forever is a registered Peruvian non-profit organisation and any surplus funding is directly reinvested in our research, community development and scholarship programs.