crees volunteer-turned-staff-member Venetia Higgins shares her experience at the Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon.

Arriving at the Manu Learning Centre – crees’ hub in the Manu Biosphere Reserve – was a surreal moment after undertaking such an epic journey. From being picked up in the ancient, dusty city of Cusco, we crossed the breathtaking Andean highlands and travelled down through the magical cloud forest, before boarding a motorized canoe that chugged down the meandering Madre de Dios River for an hour.

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The first thing you notice on arrival at the MLC is just how remote you are within one of the most biodiverse places in the world. The resident sloth, Gavin, hangs out of his favourite tree and welcomes you into his beautiful humble abode. New sights and sounds overwhelm the senses – from the soft drone of brightly coloured hummingbirds jumping from flower to flower, to the constant racket of Dusky Tittie Monkeys competing for attention above you. It took me a while to realize why this felt so surreal – no traffic, no construction work, no urban hubbub.

That evening we all sat down in the candle-lit communal dining room to feast on home-grown produce from the MLC’s own biogarden (part of crees’ sustainable project). This was a highly memorable way to meet everyone – researchers, local crees staff, volunteers, interns and fellow tourists – and learn about the human history of Manu, the challenges this environment is facing, and how crees is tackling these. It sparked a lot of excitement for the following day’s itinerary.

You certainly don’t need to bring an alarm clock to the rainforest. You are rudely awoken by the troop of Dusky Tittie monkeys who make sure you’re wide awake at the crack of dawn. Only Gavin can impressively snooze through their calls, trust me. However, an early morning trip down to the clay lick with the researchers is on offer, to observe and monitor endangered blue-headed macaws. You are totally silent and concealed under a camouflaged hide, and just as you begin to regret getting up at the crack of dawn, the sun rises, and a flock of these stunning birds fly directly overhead to the clay lick. These birds are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red list – heavily affected by deforestation and human disturbance, so it’s incredibly important to monitor and understand their behavioural patterns. It wasn’t even 8am and I felt I had learnt so much.


My favourite part of the day was an explorative trek through multiple forest types. It’s not difficult to miss certain species like squirrel monkeys that ambush you with berries. But you have to train your eyes and ears to spot the hidden treasures – from tentatively following puma tracks to spotting the glistening eyes of amphibians watching you from the foliage. crees’ Herps monitoring project entails trying to discover as many species as possible on these treks to bring back to the MLC to be identified, weighed and measured, in order to help understand how they are using regenerating rainforest. For example, I remember very nearly treading on an adorable twist-necked turtle who was bathing in a puddle on the transect. I felt I had a real connection with him and christened him Tobias. I carefully placed Tobias in my species bag to bring back to the MLC.


As part of our explorative trek through the forest we also had the opportunity to check up on all the camera traps (terrestrial and arboreal) dotted around the reserve. These are critical in understanding the importance of regenerating rainforest for mammal species. So far, more than 40 large mammal species have been recorded including 13 individual jaguar! Going through the footage of previous camera traps that evening was so exciting – all sorts of cryptic and secretive species have been discovered.

On visiting crees you gain an invaluable insight and understanding into the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest. The projects mentioned above are just three of the many long-term monitoring and short-term directed research projects crees undertake and educate you on. Undoubtedly, this was the most memorable and awe-inspiring trip I’ve been on. I’ll be back!

Our Peru Wildlife: Pristine Amazon and enchanted Galápagos and Peru Birdlife: Machu Picchu to pristine Amazon holidays include stays at the Manu Learning Centre.

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