Volunteering at the zoo seems like it would be one of those fun, easy ways for teenagers to do their community service. But volunteering at the L.A. Zoo is a very serious commitment, requiring extensive training and a whole lot of hours over a two-year period. So it attracts the best and brightest of L.A. teens—and of that best and brightest, a particularly impressive group of eight were chosen to do a two-week program at the Tambopata Research Center in Peru. They spent their time doing hands-on research with Earthwatch scientist Dr. Don Brightsmith, who’s studying macaws in the Peruvian Amazon.
Two of these young people are locals: Alex Chen, who attends Arcadia High School, where he is also in the marching band, on the tennis team and a member of Future Business Leaders of America (and he plans to go to medical school); and Daniella Camarillo, who attends Crescenta Valley High School, aspires to be a veterinarian, and previously spent a summer working in a veterinary hospital in Mexico. Alex and Daniella each wrote a short piece for Hometown Pasadena about their experience this summer in the Peruvian jungle on behalf of GLAZA, the nonprofit that supports the L.A. Zoo. Let’s just say they had a much more exciting summer than we did.
Climbing Trees with Johny
By Alex Chen
“Tu listo,” Johny said to me after I had worked for hours on end crouching and standing on a pair of feet cradles, pulling on a pair of jumars and hugging a rope between my legs with other metal tools clanging and dangling from my harness … on a fake rope. Johny, living conveniently near the Tambopata Research Center (TRC) in Peru, is able to work with staff and researchers as the resident expert in tree climbing. Come to think of it, Johny and I have many similarities: friendly, fun-loving personality, inability to communicate with each other, and now, we both know how to climb! From the beginning of the trip, I was looking forward to excitement, new learning experiences, and bonding with my teammates. When Johny first approached me early in the trip, he gestured to me, asking if I wanted to learn how to climb. Climbing trees is essential for the Tambopata Macaw Project, which makes Johny’s job very valuable. A main part of the project is hanging up macaw nest boxes for birds looking for a home. But in order to hang a nest, the team has to accomplish multiple tasks first. Using a slingshot, they have to fire a fishing line with a weight over the preferred branch (this alone wasn’t easy). Then they have to run a series of different ropes over that branch. The nest box will be pulled up using those ropes and secured to the tree. Researchers are then able to observe these beautiful birds and collect data! After days of staring in awe as Johny made his way up and down different trees (while I was working on my Spanish), he said, “Tu listo” (“You’re ready”). The last morning, I was given an opportunity and climbed up an ironwood tree near the lodge—and I knew instantly why Johny loves his work.
My Priceless Peruvian Journey
By Daniella Camarillo
I will never forget my amazing two-week experience working for not only the Earthwatch Institute but also the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association in the Peruvian Amazon researching macaws. The pristine, virgin landscape of the Peruvian rainforest just took my breath away. Dipping my body into the Tambopata River, fully dressed in my black sweatpants and dark grey T-shirt, I slowly inched my way from the slippery, rocky shoreline of the port that led to the Tambopata Research Center. In the company of Alex Chen, another volunteer who also had the honor to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime scientific adventure, we both swam in the caiman-, piranha- and electric eel-infested red waters of the flowing river. The cold, murky water embraced my strong swimmer’s body and quietly urged me to swim freely in its gushing delightfulness. I felt at home, feeling the cool touch of the river bouncing around me as I swam away from my cheering peers and into deeper water to reach a white, rocky island in the middle of the river. I amazed my curious peers with my fast speed in the water, even with the extra weight of my traveling clothes, as I quickly made my way to the rugged island. Sitting on the tiny island, I looked around my soaking wet self at the picture-perfect untamed jungle surrounding me. I could feel the mighty power of nature as the lush green vegetation peered out from the muddy cliffs, secretly hiding the unexpected encounters I would have with the native wildlife and people that would change my life forever.