Here’s the set of reoccurring characters with ASA and at Finca las Piedras, in the order in which I met them. I’ll keep adding to this as my time here continues.
Erik’s the Academic Coordinator of this joint, which means he puts together the Intern Program, planning and overseeing the interns’ daily activities, and working with our volunteers. He’s from the Bay Area and went to Tulane both for his bachelor’s and master’s—two great cities if you ask me. He’s an avid birder, so you know he’s a weird dude. Before coming to Peru, he’d pursued a variety of research endeavors: as a research assistant in Australia, a stream surveyor in Colorado, and most recently an internship at Archebold Research Station in Florida.
Joe exemplifies the “naturalist” part of our shared job title of Resident Naturalist. I don’t think anyone here has come close to trumping his knowledge of taxonomy and identification. After getting his Bachelor’s at UC Long Beach, he’s held a variety of positions in research and science education, including as a lab technician in a marine medical supplier, as the science outreach coordinator for a YMCA, and a research assistant/tour guide at a butterfly garden in Monteverde, Costa Rica (the same one that Bio FSP visits, go figure!). He spends his spare time here sketching the many critters in container and cages in our room, and heading out on almost-daily night walks around the stream.
Alli is a visiting researcher pursuing her Master’s at Texas A&M, who is studying primate distribution and behavior. Don’t tell her I said it, but she’s better at finding mammalian life in the forest than anyone else I have ever met. She found 4 species of monkey here…on her very first day. In total, she’s identified 6 species here, and I’ll get into which ones some other day. Besides her passion for cute monkeys, she has plenty of other diverse interests: cute dogs and cute snakes, of course. I still can’t quite keep track of all her pets, but it’s in the ballpark of 5 dogs, 3 cats, 2 snakes (which she had to give away before coming here….), a tortoise, and a hedgehog. Puts my collection to shame.
Geoff co-founded ASA with his wife, Johana, in 2016. He’s been conducting research in Madre de Dios for a while now, starting in 2010 with his dissertation work, studying Lepidoptera (moth and butterfly) diversity as part of his PhD at Florida State (which boasts the largest Lepidoptera collection in the world). After finishing his degree, however, Geoff decided that strictly academic research isn’t the most efficient route towards conservation—you can’t preserve biodiversity just by understanding the ecological systems, you need to understand the people and local economies as well. Cooperation between Amazon and people, both local and visiting, was one of the founding goals of ASA, and is what Geoff is pursuing. Of note: also a Rick and Morty fan.
Johana is from Lima, but went to UMass Lowell for her Master’s in Community Social Psychology. Most of her career experience has been in education and NGO management, which has provided a well-needed compliment to the research backgrounds of most of the ASA staff. She also acts as the station mom, cleaning up after our constant mess, bringing us food and treats, and helping organize social events. Johana also brings in groups of Peruvian university students to the station, many of whom have never been exposed to their country’s beautiful rainforests before. Great to have someone in charge who’s very familiar with the nation.
José is the colorful guy who is here to cook our meals, but he also brings a hell of a lot more to the table. His meals are amazing— chicken with castaña sauce; guané, a traditional dish of chicken, yellow rice, egg, olives and spices wrapped in a leaf; causa aka amazon sushi, which has tuna fish, mayo, and avocado; and so much more great stuff. Because his English sucks and my Spanish is perhaps worse, all of our communication is limited to 2 or 3 inside jokes that we have. At least I’ve taught him enough English so that he can ask, “What’s kickin’ homie?” Also his favorite rum is José Cuervo, which is fitting considering that his last name is Cueva.
Gjoberto is the OG of Finca de las Piedras. He met Geoff and Johana a couple of years back and started working for ASA right when they were founded. He helps with a lot of the construction, agriculture, and upkeep of the station, and is such a nice guy. Unfortunately like my relationship with José….my Spanish isn’t good enough to talk much with him. But that doesn’t stop him from excitedly telling me that he saw some big bird that was (black?) and (in that tree maybe?) during (this morning….no wait yesterday morning).
ASA has had a set of summer interns who stay between 1 and 3 months here at Finca. Each of them takes on an independent project, ranging from setting up and monitoring drift fences to determine reptile and amphibian diversity, to building and mounting nest boxes for macaws and other birds. All cool stuff!