Ecology is the focus of student trip to Amazon

Published: 27 December 2006 at 10:15

Anglia Ruskin University students help to encourage ‘viable and sustainable’ ecotourism in the rainforest.

A group of nine undergraduate students from Anglia Ruskin University is looking for funding to support an independent student expedition to the Amazon rainforest during summer 2007.

The trip to the Pavacachi Reserve in Ecuador, planned in conjunction with the Anglia Ruskin Wildlife Society and Exploration Society, has been carefully chosen as it offers diverse opportunities for exploration and research, as well as a unique and valuable learning experience for all those involved.  The group members are passionate in their wish to contribute to the conservation of tropical rainforests while, on a smaller scale, supporting the local community.  By studying man and nature within the fascinating and biodiverse environment of the Amazon, the team hopes to look at ways in which the community can work symbiotically with nature to build a sustainable, economically stable and eco-friendly future.

The reserve is run and managed by the indigenous (Kichwa) community of Pavacachi who support themselves by subsistence farming, fishing and controlled hunting. As international companies cut ever deeper into the rainforest in search of oil, all forest communities are under pressure to integrate themselves with the outside world and its economy.  The Pavacachi community wish to achieve this by implementing ecotourism in the reserve and are currently in the process of preparing for this.

Due to its remoteness and pristine condition, the area is also a perfect location for scientific research.  Research has already revealed the exceptional biodiversity of the area and recorded around 450 species of bird, 13 species of primate and key species of large mammals such as tapir, jaguar and giant river otters.

Kat Powell, a member of the expedition and student of Wildlife Biology at Anglia Ruskin University, previously visited Pavacachi with British conservation organisation, Global Vision International. She spent twelvemonths over two years in South America working as a volunteer in various research stations and getting to know several indigenous communities in the lowland Amazon of Ecuador and Peru. Speaking about the forthcoming trip, she said:

“Although my degree is essentially biological, my interests are rooted in the interaction of nature and wildlife conservation efforts and with the wellbeing of indigenous and local non-indigenous peoples.”

“I have been involved in supporting the Pavachachi community since meeting them in 2004, and particularly wish to help them develop their plans for a viable and sustainable ecotourism programme. The community is aware of the potential benefits that can arise from opening up the area to tourism and research both for themselves and for the forest in which they live.”

“This one community we will be working with is made up of one extended family which extends to around 60 members. Many of these are young children for whom the forest is their only home. It is the future of these children that is at stake and that we wish to ensure through our support. The community is not devoid of outside contact but the fact that it is kept to a minimum makes any time spent with them an amazing experience.”

“Meanwhile we will be conducting a scientific investigation of the use of clay licks. These are mud banks at which mammals and birds congregate to eat clay that is thought to aid in the digestion of unripe fruits. They are very sensitive areas and our research aims to indicate their importance to local wildlife species so that protective measures can be put in place against disruption through the development of new trail systems for the anticipated tourists.”

Kat, who is 21 years old and lives in Swavesey, was formerly a student at Oxford University studying for a Classics degree. She pulled out of the course because it was in her words ‘intangible’.

Dr Mark Kennedy, senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, added:

“Eight of the members of the expedition are studying life sciences at the University while one other is studying art. They have the additional expertise of a Cambridge University student who is studying anthropology. Together they make a formidable team and one that I am confident will succeed in their mission.  Some of the data they collect may contribute to their final year dissertation projects but this is not a primary motive for the expedition.”

“While the team is looking at the availability of grants to fund the trip it is expected that they will need help in terms of sponsorship support. It is my hope that people will come forward to help them with this important work.”

Senior lecturer Philip Pugh has worked closely with the student team. He said:

The full expedition line up includes eight life sciences students, one fine art student and a photography student. They are Kay Chandler, Max Counter, Ali Larkin, Pauliina Laurila, Rachael O’Neill, Nelson Ortiz, Kat Powell, Annie Szucs and Adam Collison.