The Final Expedition: Successes and Travails


Zoe Whittall

December 21, 2023

Earlier this week, we wrote about RP herpetologist Pablo Venegas and the team’s final expedition in the Tropical Andes. The expedition was set for 12 days of research in the Bosque de Protección de Pagaibamba, a patch of cloud forest in an inter-Andean valley in Peru, in two areas: first, Pagaibamba, and then, on the other side of the mountain, the Pacific slope of the forest.

However, things did not go entirely according to plan.

“It’s the beginning of the rainy season, and it rained all day for each of the 12 days we spent in the field. It was very wet and very cold - we also had strong winds mixed with the rain, so it was difficult,” Pablo began.

“We had sent Santiago ahead, into the Pacific Slope, to prepare our camp for that leg of the research trip. However, after making the necessary camp preparations, Santiago was threatened and forced to abandon the place.”

“What do you mean, threatened?” I asked Pablo.

“It was a group of land dealers, people who have a criminal band in Chiclayo city and trade in protected land. They said that we could not stay there and threatened Santiago, so he had to leave the camp.”

The plan to explore the Pacific Slope, an area still largely unstudied by researchers, had to be given up.

The news was not all bad, however.

“We were still able to explore Pagaibamba, which is the other side of the mountain, and we found many frogs and some very important reptiles there. Overall, it was a very good trip,” Pablo said.

Pablo and the team found five species of Pristimantis frogs in total. Three of them had never been found in this area before, having been first discovered in Cañaris or Cutervo.

One of the new Pristimantis frogs

Centrolene sp., the glass frog discovered by Pablo and the team in Pagaibamba.

They also found a species of glass frog new to the area, which was found in Cutervo as well.

“It is important for these species, which are threatened, to have more than one location where they live. All of the forests between Cañaris, Cutervo, and Pagaibamba are very small, so it's good for the species to be found in more spaces.”

This is especially true considering the many urgent threats that these forests face.

“I was in Pagaibamba in 2008. When I returned on this trip, half of the forest was burned," Pablo said.

The burning happened around four years ago, and the result is that the habitat for these threatened species in Pagaibamba has been cut in half. The fact that they can be found in a variety of different forested areas between Pagaibamba, Cañaris, and Cutervo is therefore a good thing, because they have a wider range of habitat.

Now that the team has found these new species of Pristimantis frogs here, the next step is to name and describe them so that they can be formally classified.

“I hope that they will be given vulnerable, or, for some, even critical, endangered status. I hope they make it on the red list so that the protected forests will be seen as vital for the preservation of these species, because all of them are endemic to this restricted range of distribution.”

As well as finding the frog and reptile species they were looking for, Pablo and the team were visited by other species in camp. For example, their next door neighbors in the campsite were a family of hummingbirds, a mother and her three chicks.

Also spotted near the campsite was the Pepsis wasp, also known as a Tarantula Hawk, “just doing Pepsis wasp things,” Pablo laughed.

Despite the rainy weather and the threats, the final RP expedition of 2023 was a great success! We are all looking forward to many more successful research expeditions and discoveries in the future, and will share them with you in 2024.

(Photos by Herman Chavez and Pablo Venegas.)