Lucky Rains, Monkey Frogs, and a course in Pampa del Burro


Zoe Whittall

September 29, 2023

“August and September are the dry season in this area,” Pablo explained. “We were lucky when we started our field work because it rained for two days before. This meant that there were a lot of species of amphibians out near the biological station, and we could find many frogs to identify.”

It was early September, 2023, and Pablo Venegas, Rainforest Partnership herpetologist, was in the Amazonas Region of Peru leading ten students from the National University Toribio Rodríguez de Mendoza (UNTRM) on the fieldwork section of a 7-day research course. The group was in the ACP (Área de Conservación Privada) Pampa del Burro searching for amphibians and other species to identify, as well as training future herpetologists and ecologists. 

They started the course with two days of theory at the university before moving into the ACP area.

The ACP is a very unique ecological area. Located near the village of La Perla, it has a singular landscape; it is a low and very dense forest, and the soil is white sand, in which agricultural activity is nearly impossible. This white sand soil lends itself to a special ecosystem of dwarf forests and carpets of lichen and fungus, an environment which creates a haven for many unique animals like the spectacled bear, different species of tapirs, and endemic amphibian and bird species. 

Two years ago, a remote section of this special place was threatened by a group of people who came in to clear plots of land to sell for agricultural purposes. Such dense forests take years to grow back to their full potential and size, so, though the area was small, the destruction had a very negative impact on the wildlife and landscape. To protect the area, the people of La Perla called the authorities asking for help to safeguard this unique conservation area, and finally, after a year, the authorities ventured into La Perla to record the damage caused. They arrived in time to prevent further destruction; the agricultural efforts were abandoned, and the cleared areas brought under conservation once again.

The people of La Perla are now focused on protecting a larger expanse of the area, and in this, Pablo’s course could help. To prepare for this course, Pablo and his team repaired a small biological station in the ACP, making renovations to the floor and roof and adding in two toilets. This is a critical addition to research and conservation efforts in the ACP; in the future, the goal is to enable the biological station to be used by researchers, wildlife tourists focused on birding and herping (looking for amphibians and reptiles), and ecotourists to explore the area. Opening up the area to more visitors will help the people of La Perla to expand the ACP, receive an income, and protect a larger expanse of the land. This expansion is a critical opportunity in conserving the national protected area of Santuario Nacional Cordillera de Colán because of its location as a gateway into the protected area.

We are actively pursuing funding, and donations and grants for this project are vital to its success. Please let us know if you would like to be part of this exciting project!

The goal is that, with the restored research station, more researchers will be drawn to La Pampa del Burro, which in turn will enable more events like Pablo’s course to take place in the ACP.

The fieldwork section of the course took place at and around the restored station in the ACP, and included information on species identification, techniques for surveying amphibians in the field, inventories, and monitoring processes. It was a great success - thanks to the rains, many amphibians were found near the station and the students were able to ID, monitor, and record them. 

Pablo’s luck, beginning with the rain, held out in his search for species as well. He found  a monkey frog, Callimedusa duellmani, a very rare endemic species which he has been searching for for many years but never found until this course.  

“I had never found this frog before, but looked for it for many years, so that was really very lucky. I was very happy,” he said.

Duellman’s monkey frog, Callimedusa duellmani

During their last expedition in this area, in March of 2023, Pablo and his team discovered five species new to science. Over the five field days of this course, Pablo and the students saw the same new species they first discovered in March again. 

They also found Morales’ toad, Rhinella moralesi
And the Sumaco Marsupial frog, Gastrotheca testudinea

The students were put into two groups during the course, and at the end, each group presented information and graphics to share what they learned and the species they recorded.

“It was a really fun experience,” Pablo noted.

Pablo worked on an additional part of the course as well, which was to provide the community of La Perla with a poster of the local snakes for identification, something the community had specifically asked for. The poster and the course were both funded by CEPF, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

Overall, the course was a great success, and Pablo has high hopes that he will be able to run similar courses in the future.