frogs. snakes. toads. caecilians. lizards. tortoises. turtles. caiman

Volunteer and Internship Opportunities
* All training provided *
Understanding the diversity, distribution, population dynamics, and optimal conservation strategies of forest-dwelling amphibians and reptiles in Amazonian Peru

Team Objectives

The Herpetofauna Research Team, with headquarters in the city of Puerto Maldonado, is tasked with developing baseline datasets on the diversity and abundance of 120 species of amphibians and reptiles at numerous field sites across the Madre de Dios region of Amazonian Peru, and to monitor changes in these variables over time scales ranging from months to decades. By undertaking sampling throughout the year, in dry and wet seasons; across various habitat types, including floodplain and terra firme forest; and in contrasting land-use categories, such as reserves and national parks, native community forests, ecotourism concessions, Brazil nut forests, timber extraction zones, and forests associated with agriculture and cattle ranching; and also by collating climate data at each study site, the team is able to determine the relative importance of each variable, understand the patterns and trends in diversity and abundance in time and space, and ultimately predict the current and future conservation status of herps across the entire landscape.

A young Smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus)

Photo: Gordon Dimmig

A male Giant monkey frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor)

Photo: Jason Kopp

Methods Used and Skills Taught

The herpetofauna sampling methods that our volunteers and interns learn and implement under the leadership and supervision of our professional herpetofauna research coordinators, include line transects, quadrat plot counts, pitfall traps, intensive searches of waterways and swamps, and PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tagging. All methods require skilled handling of species (training provided) and precise measurement of numerous physical characteristics. Data analysis and visualisation programs that we use and teach, include R, SPSS, Distance, Mark, Estimates, and QGIS. Each field site has 11-33 line transects, 100-200 quadrat plots, 8-12 pitfall traps, and 1-3 river, stream or lake sampling routes, all within 4 km of each research camp. Each week, sampling is undertaken Monday to midday on Saturday, after which team members are free to relax and explore the local area. Click here for precise details of sampling protocols.

A Typical Day

Research days are split into morning, afternoon, and nocturnal sampling sessions. On each research day, typically two sessions are completed, for a total of around 7 hrs of active field time and data input per day. On most morning sessions, sampling begins at 9:00 am, after breakfast, with checking pitfall traps, followed by either line transect and quadrat plot sampling. On returning to the field station after 2 hours of fieldwork, the team will process the herp species captured (identification, weighing, measuring, and tagging in some cases) before returning them to the point of capture. After lunch, which is served at 1 pm, team members can relax for a couple of hours, and will then input data from the morning sample session into the laptop. At around 5 pm the team will check the pitfall traps once again and quickly process and return the captured species. After dinner, whcih is served at 7 pm, the team will ready itself for the main nocturnal sampling sessions. This takes place from around 8.30 pm until 11 pm or midnight. This session could include line transects, quadrat plots, or going out in the boat or canoe to sample sections of a nearby river or oxbow lake. Saturday mornings are usually set aside for habitat monitoring, which is undertaken within modified Gentry plots, or catching up on any missed sampling sessions from the previous week.

Plica umbra (Photo: Ian Markham)

The herpetofauna research team catch a Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus).

Video: Lucy Dablin/Fauna Forever

Chris Ketola (our herpetofauna team coordinator) and his intern (Ella Davey from the UK) measuring a Dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus). Video: Chris Ketola/Fauna Forever

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Volunteer and Intern Participation Fees


All meals (veg options available) and lodging (shared rooms), scheduled transfers, field training and supervision, research permits, research activities, local Sunday expeditions.

Not included

Flights, non-scheduled transfers, clothes washing, rubber boots, rain poncho, personal medical issues.

1 week     -  US$ 500

2 weeks   -  US$ 900​

3 weeks   -  US$ 1200

1 month   -  US$ 1600

6 weeks   -  US$ 2200

2 months -  US$ 2850

3 months​ -  US$ 4100


Any time of year. We recommend successful applicants arrive in the city of Puerto Maldonado (PEM) on either a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday if at all possible. The city is served by daily flights from Lima (LIM) and Cusco (CUZ) via the airlines Latam and Avianca.

Non-profit Fee Breakdown

Transfers 4% 

Accommodation 18%

Meals 14%

Equipment  4%

Repairs 4% 

Communication 18%

Staff 14%

Profit  0%

Recommended Reading

Field Guides

Reptiles and Amphibians of the Amazon. By: ​Richard D. Bartlett et al. (2003)

Published Articles

Duellman (1988) Patterns of species diversity in anuran amphibians in the

American tropics. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 75(1)79-104.

Herron (1991) Growth rates of black caiman Melanosuchus niger and

spectacled caiman Caiman crocodilus, and the recruitment of breeders in

hunted caiman populations. Biological Conservation 55(1): 103-113.

Doan (2002) Microgeographic variation in species composition of the
herpetofaunal communities of the Tambopata Region, Peru. Biotropica 34(1):

Doan (2003) Which methods are most effective for surveying rain forest

herpetofauna? Journal of Herpetology 37(1): 72–81.

Doan (2004) Extreme weather events and the vertical microhabitat of rain

forest anurans. Journal of Herpetology 38(3): 422–425.

Ribeiro-Junior (2008) Evaluating the effectiveness of herpetofaunal sampling

techniques across a gradient of habitat change in a tropical forest

landscape. Journal of Herpetology 42(4): 733–749.

von May (2008) Current state of conservation knowledge on threatened

amphibian species in Peru. Tropical Conservation Science 1(4): 376-396.

von May (2008) Species diversity and conservation status of amphibians in

Madre de Dios, southern Peru. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 4(1):


Santos et al. (2009) Amazonian amphibian diversity is primarily derived from

late Miocene Andean lineages. PLoS Biology 7(3).


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