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My volunteer experience at Lalo Loor dry forest is very different than my time at El Pahuma, the rain forest, or what it will be like in the Galapagos. Lalo Loor Forest is located about 2 km from Tabagua. It’s a new, unique concept where large landowners allow the Ecuadorian government to use their land for conservation, but technically still own in. Lalo Loor was one of the first of these public-private partnerships and probably one of the more successful ones. Lalo Loor’s owner has branded the area as a ‘research’ area, and to be fair, the dry forest, is a pretty unique ecosystem but since I am the only volunteer and they don’t want to completely isolate me, I will split my time working at the reserve and then helping out a former Peace Corps volunteer with various community projects. I will still stay at the reserve as that is really the only place in town for visitors. [No hotel or guest houses in Tabuga]. The volunteer house is a bamboo and palm frond creation that can house up to 25 at a time. It doesn’t have electricity or running water. No heat. No air. No indoor plumbing, not hot water. When there are more volunteers, there is a cook too. When there is only 1–no cook, but I do get to go to Perdenales to shop for my breakfast and weekend food. I get to eat lunch and dinner in town. In the forest, I monitor animal behavior, go for hikes, search out birds, snakes, and insects. I am also helping to construct a staircase on one of the closed trails. I call it La Escalera de Michelle.
It gets dark about 5:30 pm…maybe a little earlier at the house due to its location in the forest. From about 6p-9p, I read by candlelight. [i found a Spanish language copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s slow going, but I am making my way through it, and its improving my Spanish language skills.] It also gets light about 5:30am. I wake up a bit earlier than that due to the howler monkeys that start their screaming about 4. Thank god for the siesta.
The following is the text of a press release I created for La Ceiba foundation work in the dry forest of Ecuador. I spent approximately one month in the wet forest, dry forest, and Galapagos Islands of Ecuador doing plant and animal research for La Ceiba. In part to the research I collected, La Ceiba was able to convince the Ecuadorian government to add additional protected lands.
The Bosque Seco Lalo Loor [BSLL] protects over 250 hectares of transitional semi-deciduous lowland tropical forest. The forest supports a large population of Mantled howler monkey. The reserve is located in a dry area of Ecuador’s coast where it receives a little over 1000 mm of rain each year, nearly all of it falling between January and May. For the rest of the year, the forest receives almost no rain at all.
The monkeys eat a diet of mostly leaves, but they will eat fruit if it is available… Leaves are a good source of carbon, but they lack nitrogen; therefore the diet is not especially nutritious due to the high concentration of leaves. As a result, the monkeys live a fairly sedentary lifestyle compared to other tropical monkeys.
La Ceiba Foundation is collecting data for demography, range, and feeding habits of the monkey population. A group consists of 2 people. Each group will have binoculars, watch, compass, trail map, and a data sheet. Each group will work a separate area of the trail for four hours once in the morning and once at night. Once a monkey is encountered the group will stop and a collect data for 30 minutes.
Other notable plants and animals in the forest include:
- Howler Monkey
- White front capuchin monkey
- chestnut mandibled toucan
- choco toucan
- Ecuadoran Trogan
- Grey back hawk
- Hook-billed kite
- Palamandibled Aracari
- Red Mask Parakeet
- Boa Constrictor
- Blue Morpho Butterfly
- Helicopter Damselflies
- and several species of orchids