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 NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY TEAM 

focus. f-stop. macro. telephoto. filter. histogram. pixel.

Using digital photography as a scientific and conservation tool in Amazonian Peru

Team Objectives

The Nature Photography Team, coordinated by our partners Untamed Photography, with headquarters in the cities of Puerto Maldonado and Cusco, is tasked with using multiple forms of digital image and video technology to answer biological research questions, to develop material that helps biologists and others correctly identify the multitude of forest species, to document the activities and results of Fauna Forever's many projects, and generally to help showcase via the internet and traditional media outlets the need for wildlife protection and Amazon rainforest conservation using enigmatic imagery. The photography professionals and biologists that lead this nature photography program in the Peruvian Amazon have opened their doors to those amateur photographers and videographers from around the world who have the basic equipment, passion, and sense of adventure required to contribute in a meaningful way to this initiative.

Our volunteer Jaren (from USA) focusing in on a small insect, while supervised by professional wildlife photographer Mark Fernley. Photo: Mas Mong Mo

Activity 1: Wildlife Photo Guides

The staggering diversity in form and colour both within and between species in the Peruvian Amazon means that correct identification of wildlife to species level can be problematic. Most existing published guides to the species of this region only contain one or two drawings or photographs of a species, and may rely on textual descriptions for other colour morphs. Some taxonomic groups have no field guides whatsoever. Our ambitious and long-term aim is to document (with high definition macro techniques) the diversity of colour morphs and body shapes for numerous taxa in the Madre de Dios and Cusco region of the Peruvian rainforest, with an emphasis on amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, moths, dung-beetles, mushroom-eating beetles, grasshoppers, ants, stink bugs, and snails. Close contact with taxonomists will ensure quality identification of live specimens. Our photography volunteers and interns use their own camera equipment in combination with that of our partner organisation (such as white-boxes, black-boxes, flashes, and tripods), to capture the required imagery. Training in all aspects of the photographic process, including editing, is provided by our professional photographer staff.

A Smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus) having its portrait taken in a white-box. She will feature in the

reptile photo guide. Photo: Mark Fernley

An Assassin bug nymph, a voracious predator of small insects. Photo: Chris Kirkby

A wildlife research coordinator holding a Royal ground snake (Liophis reginae). Photo: Tom Ambrose

Activity 2: Photography-based biological research

Photography techniques are now commonly used to study wildlife and ecological processes, due to the fact that images and video allow for more detailed and repeatable examination of wildlife encounters and thus more accurate identification of species themselves and their behaviours. The types of photography-based research that volunteers and interns will be involved with include: (1) Wildlife abundance and home range size estimation, using camera traps placed in a grid to determine relative abundance levels, area occupancy rates and home range size of identifiable individuals (such as jaguar and other spotted cats that have unique coat patterns); (2) Predation and herbivory studies, capturing imagery and video evidence of predation and herbivory events on focal species. In the case of predation, we are interested in understanding which species feed upon caterpillars (of butterfly and moths), grasshoppers, termites, ants, and certain types of beetle. For herbivory, evidence is required on which insects consume the leaves of seedlings and flowers of multiple focal plant species, and imagery of the mammal species that consume the fruit of Brazil nut trees, Astrocaryum palms, and Dipteryx trees; (3) Pollination studies, with imagery showing what types of insect and bird pollinators (butterflies, moths, hummingbirds) visit certain species of flower, are required in order to identify key-stone pollinators for these flowering plants. Temporary capture of some insects may be required in order to take high-definition macro images; (4) Mirror stimulation study, which involves the recording of bevaviours expressed by mammals and birds when they see a reflection of themselves in a large mirror.

Activity 3: Documenting wildlife research

The wildlife research teams, that study birds, mammals, amphibians, etc.) frequently need photos and videos of their focal taxa in order to help document their activities and biological discoveries. This activity for the nature photography team entails following the wildlife research teams around the forest as they undertake their studies and taking representative images and video of their activities. Some formal video interviews of members of the wildlife research teams may be required at times. Occasionally, the community development team, the medicinal plant research team, and the green business development team also require specific imagery, which may require the photography team to travel to a local community.

A Typical Day

This team's activities are so varied that in truth there isn't a typical day per se, except to say that cameras are usually at the ready by about 7 am and are cleaned and packed away by about 9 pm, several hundred images can be taken in a day, and anywhere between 1 and 10 km of forest trail may have been walked. The only times when the photography team is at rest is when it is raining heavily, or they are sitting tight in a blind or hide waiting for a specific species of animal or bird to come by. The team works closely with many of the other program teams that Fauna Forever manages, so some days will be spent accompanying them on their research outings. Like other teams, Saturday afternoons and all day on Sunday are set aside for relaxation and personal exploration of the local area.

The best way to monitor Giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) populations in an ox-bow lake, is to take detailed, telephoto images of them, as each individual has unique marks on them that can be used to distinguish themselves from others. Photo: Juan Carlos Huayllapuma

Camera trap footage of a pair of White-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari) at a salt-rich clay lick deep in the lowland rainforest area of Tambopata, Peru. Video: Chris Kirkby

Volunteer and Intern Participation Fees

1 week     -  US$ 650

2 weeks   -  US$ 1000​

3 weeks   -  US$ 1400

1 month   -  US$ 1600

6 weeks   -  US$ 2200

2 months -  US$ 2900

Included

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.

Dates

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 airline Latam.

Non-profit Fee Breakdown

Transfers 4% 

Accommodation 18%

Meals 14%

Equipment  4%

Repairs 4% 

Communication 18%

Staff 14%

Profit  0%

Recommended Reading

Book - Manual

Published Articles

Svendsen (1973) Mirror image stimulation applied to field behavior studies. Ecology 54(3): 623-627.

Wallace (2003) Camera trapping for jaguar (Panthera onca) in the Tuichi Valley, Bolivia. Mastozoología Neotropical 10(1): 133-139.

Prior (2008) Mirror-induced behavior in the magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of self-recognition. PLoS Biology 6(8): e202.

Anderson (1989) Responses of capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) to different conditions of mirror-image stimulation. Primates 30(4): 581-587.

Tobler (2013) Estimating jaguar densities with camera traps: Problems with current designs and recommendations for future studies. Biological Conservation 159: 109–118.

 

Close-up and macro photography: Its art and fieldcraft techniques.

By: Robert Thompson

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