Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Uncategorized

“Restoring forests for bats” and beyond: NASBR 2018

Blogpost by Elene Haave Audet, Restoration & Rewilding Research Field Assistant

This October, I ventured out of the sanctity of the jungle to present at the 48thNorth American Symposium on Bat Research (NASBR) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Over 300 researchers from across the globe gathered to share bat stories, communicate their research, and further our understanding of this hugely diverse mammalian group. Because of its location, the conference offered many opportunities to discuss the conservation of bats in the tropics, presenting a great opportunity to share Osa Conservation’s work on surveying bats in the restoration plots.

The Osa Bat Family, Priscila Chaverri, Gloriana Chaverri, Beatriz Lopez, Elene Haave Audet and Doris Audet, at NASBR. Photo: Elene Haave Audet

It was very exciting to see our Restoration and Rewilding efforts so well received by a bat-savvy audience. Researchers were curious to hear about the ways in which Osa Conservation is “restoring forests for bats”. This project is focussed on attracting bats to areas that are actively being restored, for example by planting flowering trees like the balsa, and installing two-meter-tall bat boxes, all with the aim of restoring bat diversity whilst the forest is regenerating.

Micronycteris microstis bats are feeling at home in this bat box, installed by Dr. Chaverri’s team at Osa Conservation. Photo: Elene Haave Audet

Excitingly, the bats of the Osa Peninsula were able to reach the audience in Puerto Vallarta beyond the scope of the restoration project, by researchers conducting work at and around the Osa Verde BioStation. Beatriz Lopez, from the University of Florida, discussed gathering bat echolocation calls on the Osa Peninsula to document species diversity, and Dr. Doris Audet from the University of Alberta, shared her research on bat exploratory behavior in the field. The conference was also a wonderful opportunity to discuss advances in bat research in Costa Rica with Dr. Gloriana Chaverri from the University of Costa Rica, who has planted deep roots of bat research on the peninsula over the course of her career. 

The presence of bat research on the Osa Peninsula, and Osa Conservation’s important contributions to supporting that research, was very well represented at NASBR 2018. The Osa Verde Biostation is truly a gem for bat diversity, with over 50 recorded species of bats to date, and sharing Osa Conservation’s involvement in conserving and restoring habitats for bats ensures that those contributions are recognized and appreciated by the bat community at large. 

Elene, identifying a bat by measuring its forearm, as part of the diversity surveys in the restoration plots. Photo: Elene Haave Audet

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Uncategorized

Variety is the spice of life: Monitoring the wildlife in our ecological restoration and rewilding plots

Blogpost by Alice Connell, Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant

Alice monitoring the effectiveness of log piles in attracting amphibian and reptile species to the restoration and rewilding plots. Photo: Sophie Blow

My work is never the same from one day to the next on the Restoration and Rewilding Program, which encompasses many diverse projects that require frequent monitoring. There is plenty to do, I always arrive at lunch hungry and satisfied after mornings of hard work. I want to give you an insight into my first month of being a Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant.

We are employing a variety of approaches and techniques across the rewilding plots in order to “rewild” an array of animals to return to recently reforested abandoned grassland. Our idea is that as the overall species diversity increases, inter- and intra-species interactions within the regenerating areas will begin to re-establish. With some patience and continuous monitoring, we the aim to demonstrate a restored harmonic ecosystem functioning of the Osa Peninsula, and its associated key ecosystem services.

A medium bird box installed to offer shelter for birds. Photo: Alice Connell

One project in the restoration plots is the installation of nesting and roosting boxes to attract birds and bats. To accommodate a variety of species, there are 5 bird box designs, each differing in dimension of the entry hole and the box itself. The frugivorous species belonging to both birds and bats play a vital role in increasing the rate of seed rain, and consequently, the rate of seed dispersal and reforestation.

One day of my week is dedicated to surveying the wonderfully diverse bats that are choosing to use the rewilding plots. The morning’s duty involves erecting mist nets in preparation for the evening’s bat survey. Come the evening time, the team heads back out into the field to open the nets. When the clock strikes six, the monitoring begins, and the excitement of the possibility of catching a new species record ripples through the team.

The species, Micronycteris hirsuta, was recently caught for the first time in one of the rewilding plots. Photo: Alice Connell

The following morning, decaying log piles and epiphytes (such as bromeliads) are translocated to the rewilding plots to increase microhabitat availability, in an effort to rewild amphibians and reptiles. Such microhabitats occur naturally in the primary forests, usually providing refuge for different invertebrates, such as centipedes and millipedes, and for amphibians and reptiles, such as leaf-litter frogs and sun-basking lizards. It is always a pleasure to find a fer-de-lance coiled peacefully within a log pile in a rewilding plot. While the log pile project is relatively new, we have already observed a rapid return and colonization of several amphibian and reptile species within a short period of time, which is highly encouraging.

Undeniably, a huge effort, in terms of time and determination, is required to create a biodiverse and ecologically restored forest ecosystem. Fortunately, the team of highly-motivated and enthusiastic people that constitute the Restoration and Rewilding Program indicates a promising future for Osa’s forests.

A Northern Cat Eyed Snake coiled peacefully within a log pile in a rewilding plot. Photo: Alice Connell

Community Outreach, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Sustainable agriculture

Into the wild: Revealing the secrets of wild vanilla

Blogpost by Charlotte Watteyn, doctoral researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Costa Rica, collaborating with Osa Conservation

If you think about vanilla, you immediately start to imagine delicious ice creams, cakes and other yummy sweets. But where does this vanilla come from? Well, it is extracted from the fruits (beans or pods) of orchid vines, producing an intense aroma resulting from a complex of molecules. These orchids belong to the genus Vanilla (Orchidaceae), a diverse group of climbing hemi-epiphytes growing around trees with their aerial roots. The genus contains over 100 species and is pantropic, meaning that they are present all around the tropics. However, the aromatic vanilla species, the ones that produce the lovely smelling pods, are native to the Neotropics.

Overview of the 5 different vanilla species growing in our study region ACOSA (Area de Conservacion Osa). Photo: Adam Karremans

Nevertheless, when you buy vanilla and take a further look at the country of origin, you will probably read “Madagascar.” But Madagascar does not fall within vanilla’s native growing regions, so only the introduced species that was brought over from Mexico a long time ago, Vanilla planifolia, is cultivated in Madgascar. Vanilla cultivators in Madagascar have to pollinate flowers by hand, because natural pollinators are absent, and use intensive production systems. Furthermore, the market chain involves several intermediaries that keep prices artificially high by holding back large quantities, explaining the currently high market prices. As a result, we realized there is a need for innovation in vanilla cultivation.

We want to determine the possibility of contributing to a more sustainable vanilla provision through a joint land sparing and land sharing approach (SPASHA), ensuring the conservation of wild vanilla populations while cultivating the economically interesting ones in a sustainable agroforestry system. There are several wild vanilla species, known as crop wild relatives (CWR), growing in the lowland tropical rainforests of the Neotropics, with presence of pods (that smell very nice!), indicating natural pollination. However, there is very little known about the distribution, biology and ecology of both the orchids and their pollinators. We are interested in determining the potential to cultivate wild vanilla and therefore create an alternative income source for local communities.

Left: The beautiful flower of Vanilla trigonocarpa. Middle: Fruits (green beans) of Vanilla hartii, the result from natural pollination, a mysterious process that we will study in more detail during the coming year. Right: Flower buttons of Vanilla hartii. All three species are native to the lowland tropical rainforests of Costa Rica and are growing within our study region ACOSA. Photos: Charlotte Watteyn & Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya

As part of the study, we made experimental plots, where we planted four aromatic vanilla CWR—V. hartii, V. odorata, V. pompona and V. trigonocarpa—in both reforestation areas and organic cacao plantations. One of the plots is located at Osa Conservation’s Osa Verde Agroecological Farm. We will measure growth and survival rate over time, as well as production and pollination processes during later stages.

We will be monitoring the vanilla’s success over the next few months and keep you updated with the first results of this exciting (and delicious) research!


The planting team at Osa Verde (Marvin, Johan, José, Ruth and Charlotte). We planted 120 vanilla plants, 30 plants of each of the four species, in our experimental plot within a 3-year old reforestation area with a mix of native tree species that act as tutor trees. Photos: Charlotte Watteyn and Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research

Restoration’s exciting night life

Blog Post by Elène Haave Audet, Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant


Elène holding a Noctilio leporinus, the Greater bulldog bat, which fishes from streams. Photo: Doris Audet

For many of us, the creatures of the tropical forest that dare venture at night remain elusive and mysterious beings, their ways of life foreign to us daytime dwellers. Among these enigmatic animals are bats, the group of mammals with the second largest number of species in the world, whose charismatic presence in the tropics will not go un-noticed to the keen nocturnal observer.

Like many sensitive animals, bats are particularly special as a group, since many species require natural areas that have not been disturbed by human activity to find food and places to live. Thus, the presence of many different bat species can provide information about the health of an area. For this reason, Osa Conservation has started sampling the diversity of bats in areas that are being actively restored into forest, after years of use by humans. Overtime, the presence of different types of bats in these areas will help determine the success of restoration.

Vampyrodes caracciolli, the Great striped-faced bat, the second of two new fruit eating bats on the OC property, enjoying a well- deserved fig. Photo: Hilary Brumberg

After seeing the restoration plots for the first time this May, I was convinced that the bat diversity in these areas would not be exciting: that is, I expected to find very little diversity, since the restoration areas are in their infancy and have very little forest cover.

Was I ever wrong! The bat life in the restoration plots is teaming with diversity. After four months of sampling, we have recorded 24 different species of bats, ranging from those that eat insects, fruits, nectar, fish, and yes, even blood. To add to this excitement, two species of fruit eating bats recorded in the restoration areas had not been previously detected on the Osa Conservation property!

Why, then, has the bat nightlife been much more exciting than anticipated? Although the restoration areas have very few trees, the surrounding areas are lush with tropical forest, providing ideal habitat for these endearing creatures. This is very encouraging news for restoration initiatives, as connecting the surrounding forests with restored habitats will continue to support the diverse lifestyles of our nocturnal friends, so they may continue hunting insects, fishing bats, and snacking on figs.

Now every night of sampling is an adventure, and I cannot wait to see what other bats we will encounter in these deceptively rich areas!

Chiroderma villosum, the Hairy big-eyed bat, one of two new fruit eating bats encountered on OC property, posing handsomely. Photo: Elene Haave Audet


Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Keeping Up with our Vanilla Conservation

Blog Post written by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, Research Field Assistant Biodiversity & Conservation

I love vanilla! But did you ever wonder where it comes from? From the vanilla bean. But not from a tree; it comes from an orchid, which grows up the tree as a vine.

However, it is not that simple. Each flower opens for only 24 hours and must be pollinated within 8-12 hours. If pollination does not occur the flower wilts, drops from the vine, and no pods are produced. The vanilla bean’s pollen is covered by a little septum (called the rostellum) that separates the anthers (male features), and stigma (female features). This means the some creature to go in and break this septum; a pollinator. It also means that vanilla conservation is a tedious and difficult task. 

Vanilla Plant

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya


(The history of vanilla, and more about pollination and conservation, can be found here)

Costa Rica has approximately 12 species of vanilla, at least four of which are found around the Osa Conservation’s biological station and adjacent landscapes. Only two species are grown to produce commercial vanilla: V. planifolia and V. madagascariensis. Because the natural pollinators are unknown, pollination is performed by hand, and low levels of genetic diversity are expected in cultivated plants.  

camera trap for vanilla

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya

Many Vanilla species are threatened in the wild. Here at Osa Conservation, we want to understand the ecology of wild vanilla, and gain a better understanding of their habitat preference, and reproductive strategies. We want to know where they like to live, who their pollinators are, and who disperses their seeds. This could help us to develop proper conservation strategies, and allow us to test profitability for commercial production in areas such as secondary forests, restoration plots and fruit gardens.

Vanilla pollination

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya

To do so, we have been using wildlife camera traps to monitor the flowers and beans, and have spent hours directly watching the flowers. So far, a population of Vanilla hartii was found flowering, and after a few long hours of observation and camera trapping, the little Stripe-throated hermit hummingbird was observed visiting their flowers; a potential pollinator or a nectar thief?

Our work will continue until we can really discover the secrets behind wild vanilla in the Osa Peninsula.

Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research

Agalychnis spurelli : A personal excerpt by Andres Jimenez

This blog piece was taken and translated directly from Osa Conservation’s Wetland Program Coordinator, Andres Jimenez, and his very own personal blog.


While I wait here for the fog on my camera to evaporate, and while the few clean clothes I have left are drying, and while none of my shoes are fully covered in mud, here I am dedicating myself to editing photos and writing this blog! Little did I imagine (although one always has hopes) that on a rainy night…wait…let me correct myself – during the deluge, where for a few moments I envisioned myself constructing a small boat in order to begin having to collect two of each kinds of species like Noah himself – I would come across an explosive reproductive session of these wondrous red-eyed frogs in the middle of the day!

Agalychnis spurelli - the gliding tree frog.

Agalychnis spurelli – the gliding tree frog.

The previous night I walked something like 6 hours with a great report of local creatures including: two vipers, one anteater, an armadillo, and countless horned spiders, but then again this experience also left me (as my misfortune would have it) with a camera lens completely and utterly fogged – an issue that will become ever so relevant when I later arrive to the focal point of the swamp in this mentioned tale. Anyways, I don’t want to distract you all with the tales of my night-time adventures, lets get directly to the frog; or better said, the avalanche of frogs. Agalychnis spurrelli, also known as the gliding tree frog, is a beautiful and rare frog that, prior to this tale, I had only managed to see in the wild twice in my life. This particular tree frog is about 40 mm by 70 mm, that is to say it has some 7 cm from its mouth to its anus, which in reality is quite large for a frog species. For those who are not so familiar in the ways of amphibians, that measurement is for this frog’s body size, the legs, that are often rather much larger and longer, are not included in this measurement. This frog species tends to live on the canopy of a tree, and it often moves as though walking on a tightrope, placing one hand in front of itself, followed closely by his feet: a feature I would like to add this is very popular on all TV channels.

It’s very likely that you have before seen, or perhaps are aware of, some of the cousins to this wondrous frog – maybe you have even caught glimpses of them on TV. Agalychnis spurrelli cousin frog has a red body, red eyes and specks of colors running around it side. Clearly our Agalychnis spurrelli and its cousin are very spectacular creatures, and I would imagine that this often results in people  wondering what the thought process behind their given common names is, being that the names are so unique as the frog themselves. According to many biologist, and as it was reported by Savage 2002, this “gliding tree frog” has the capacity to jump in a “parachute” style giving rise to it’s common name. You see, after the frog jumps, it positions it’s body with a 45 degree angle, maintains both it’s legs straight, outwards and parallel to the ground, and this enables the frog during it’s descent, (or in some cases ascent) to use it’s suckers, more commonly referred to as it’s digits (that are extremely sticky) and anchor itself to the vegetation in one spectacular and graceful jump; it goes without saying that the jumps can be very wide, and inclusively the frog is furthermore capable in using it’s webbed digits to execute large spins in the air.

Enough with side notes and distractions – back to the main story at hand: at my arrival to the earlier mentioned swamp, where my colleagues already prepared their photography equipment for shots of the area, what called my attention at that movement was the strange movement in the trees that was on the other side of a marshy swamp. Sheer curiosity willed me to pull my binoculars expecting to observe a bird, but to my great fortune (finally!) I couldn’t have been more wrong. The movement in the branches continued, and it was low and high, far and wide, it was thousands and thousands of frogs that were jumping from tree to tree, branch to branch, in a spectacular display that made this self-proclaimed amphibian lover go running through a swamp with little precaution for the vipers near my feet…I know what you’re thinking…I’m not exaggerating.

An explosive reproductive session.

An explosive reproductive session.

At this point I took out my camera, prepared the camera lens, hung the camera strap around my person, and jumped into the swamp. A swamp -like the majorities of open water – is stagnant water covered in vegetation…so sometimes they are deep…and other times they are not…the point is it can often be hard to tell. But in any case, here I was in the water, and I begun to approach the frogs little by little, inch by inch, I was more nervous than I thought I would be, that’s for sure. With one wrong movement, I could jeopardize my hopes of this anticipated photo. I approached a little bite more, and at this point the water was creeping into my boots, and starting to rise quickly (at this moment I had to remind myself that this was my last clean pair of pants….err…my last cleanest pair of pants….). With the water officially up to my waist I suddenly recalled… my camera lenses I realized was completely fogged up! Clearly the previous nights adventure had cost me dearly! Only some 20 photos after initiating my photographic campaign came through, and my camera decided to not recuperate from the previous nights tryst. The irony! One photo would be produced foggy, I’d clean the lenses, take anther photo, and it would be foggier than the first! I’d change to another lens I had, still foggy. I’d clean the lens once more, everything seemingly according to plan…and then the inner camera would fog up…it was a nightmare ! I wasn’t able to capture a single worthwhile photo during the whole moment.

When I had given up on everything a ray of sun emerged; and I’m not being metaphorical. There was a sliver of light permeating through the forest – I was swift to head in it’s direction and there, finally, I was able to detach the len and allow them to dry in the light. After a few long, torturous, and endless few minutes (that I of course spent enviously looking on to the frogs jumping in bliss) one of the lenses finally decided to cooperate – my hopes were answered…. or were they? The sun quickly disappeared once more and now the problem was another: there was no light; it was totally dark, and how was I to capture this moment without the right amount of light? Those of us who have taken photos within the forest without sun know that pictures will come out totally dark. But I was fortunate in one thing, there was a bat biologist, Melkin, who offered to let me borrow his flash and once readied onto my camera I once more jumped into the swamp.

In the process of being lugged around - a lazy male is carried by a female to the site of her choosing to deposit her eggs.

In the process of being lugged around – a lazy male is carried by a female to the site of her choosing to deposit her eggs.

We return then to the swamp: behind the lenses of my camera an Agalychnis spurelli walks through the leaves carrying a male on her back. These frogs prefer to reproduce at night in ephemeral puddles off water, like swamps, that have some foliage to cover the water. They only reproduce during the rainy season, where the males look for a perch to call out to the females on. In the majority of the cases the swamps tend to have several couples, that after their initial courtships ritual, will situation themselves on a leaf. Following the females deposit of egg on said leaf, a male will then fertilize said eggs. What is particular about these frogs is that, generally speaking, before they deposit their eggs on to the leaf, the male will embrace the female, (the male is about twice her size) and then the female will carry her partner to the site of her choosing for depositing her eggs. As you will see from my photos, the loafer males are so huge that they even apparel to be asleep while the poor female lugs him around doing all the work! Well then, now that we are clear on the basic of reproduction of this species we ask: what set apart this morning from all the others? The serious response: thousands of frogs reproducing at once in the same place at the same time, in the day. What many will deem “and explosive reproductive session” that occurred in the middle of the day! Imagine how much it must have rained for these creatures, who primarily reproduce at night, would willingly decide to reproduce during the plain light of the day! A great moment to have to pulls one’s camera and take an image that is worthwhile, right? The previous night it had rained so much that the ambient condition for these frogs was so perfect that the previous nights frog orgy lasted well into the morning of the following day. We biologist arrived, as my mother would have said, with milk and bread, just in time to take a few photos of the previous nights partners. I leave you with photos and history. Now you know: next time that you are in the low parts of the Caribbean or the Pacific and you should have rainfall to rival that of the deluge, take a camera, and looks for a swamp in which to enjoy the great reproductive explosion of amphibians (if you’re lucky).


“If you would like to see more of Andre’s photos please click on the following link to check out his personal blog about his wondrous adventures with the Agalychnis spurelli .”

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Marine Conservation

We Arrive, the Aliens!

Written by: Luis Alberto Williams Fallas

Translated by: Florencia Franzini

We find ourselves in the middle of a project titled “Conservation and Management of Marine and Forest Resources in the National Terraba Sierpe Wetlands.” Our associates are APREMMA: a local community of fishermen and piangüeros working out of the Ajuntaderas area, a small community off the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This newly formed group is looking for a method to develop a healthy relationship between their community and efforts to conserve the local wetlands.

APREMAA, like many of the local communities throughout the country of Costa Rica, still maintain a great level of distrust for external organizations, interpreting their work as being “urban,” and having “first world” aspirations in their investigations, projects, studies, and diagnostics.

Is there a stranger in the photo? OC staff during an interview with locals throughout an APREMAA diagnostic.

Is there a stranger in the photo?
OC staff during an interview with locals throughout an APREMAA diagnostic.

For some it may be hard to reach the conclusion as to why a local community might be unwilling to work with outsiders, but we must first take a look at the whole picture before making this sort of judgement. Take this example into account: Imagine that a UFO landed in front of your home – If that image seems weird, I would agree, but take the time to actually imagine this scenario. The Alien comes out of his craft, and somehow you manage to partially communicate with one another; You speak two different languages, but you are able to come to some sort of communal understanding. The alien wants to know about your life, and how life works on your planet. You go ahead and share all of your problems with the alien: war, famine, misogyny, everything. To you, at first, it seems only natural that an Alien who lands in front of your house might have the resources to help alleviate all of these issues, right? The Alien offers to perform investigations that will help detect where these problems are stemming from through the use of discussion and workshops.  You willingly share your knowledge with the Alien about your society, and take notes on all of the workshops and meetings throughout. After analyzing all the information you have given them the Alien decides to publish his findings in an intergalactic science magazine, and then gets in his shuttle and goes home. The issue with this scenario is that you are still left with all the problems you originally described, and worse off, you are also left with the hopes that you once had to solve your problems with the Alien. You are essentially left high and dry, and at that moment you think to yourself, “I shall not again open my doors to another alien.”

This example, though ironic, reflects the work that a lot of NGO’s have done in the past with foreign communities, and for that matter, work they will continue to do as well. This metaphorical scenario reflects how we as NGO’s are viewed by these local populations, who have come to harbor so much distrust and resentment to outside coalitions. And to be fair, this resentment may be very well justified. NGO’s have become accustomed to disrespecting communities by extracting the woes of locals and thusly empowering themselves off this information as if it were gold. NGO’s operate only as “distant observers,” as alien who would rather impose external knowledge. The truth is that NPO’s are undoubtedly guilty of these actions – sometimes without the intent, and other times on purpose, but this is the reality of their situation.

It is with this in mind that we who are working on this “Conservation and Management of Marine and Forest Resources in the National Terraba Sierpe Wetlands” project are attempting to incorporate ourselves into another type of work asides from the general extraction of knowledge. We aspire to work backwards from the usual scenario, and to work from the bottom-up. On one side we want to desperately understand the needs of the community that we are working within, all the while at the same time helping realize the aspirations of these existing needs. We believe that the needs of a community cannot just be recorded, they must also be solved in order for this exchange to be truly beneficial.

With this being said, we have outlined some of the internal dynamics that have already been reached between ourselves and APREMMA:

  • Working through resentment by having creating many long work sessions (5 – 6 hours) where (aside from exhaustion) there has been an expressed enthusiasm to understand and resolve the problems of the community
  • Their have been creation of work teams between the associates who have had conflicts with one another. They have united through their differences in order to have the best supervision in their work
  • In each work session we have seen the confidence of all the board members, and the means that they are taking upon themselves and the group in order to succeed. There has been horizontal unity between the community groups and us. There is recognition between both groups of bing co-workers
  • For our part, a fundamental part of our work has been the transparency and sincerity of our organization. Our goal is not just to study the community, but also to work with the community as collaboration.
  • We have also been dedicated to bringing with us to every session the issues generated in prior visits. By bringing the information we’ve obtained from prior sessions (some with solutions, and some without,)we promote the idea that this kind of work requires constant collaboration between ourselves and the community.
  • We have been empathetic in regards to the enhancement of kowlege and capabilities not just of the group, but of the individuals within the community as well

Out relationship with the members of APREMAA may be new, but we are already looking to turn the general distrust and resistance of outsiders into a situation of cordiality, open dialogue, trust , and cooperation in order to continue building real knowledge. We arrived from the outside, from far away, like aliens – but we are trying to incorporate ourselves to this local lifestyle and culture with the hope of becoming more human in the process.

Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Marine Conservation

Now You See Me – Now You Don’t!

Written by: Juan Carlos Cruz Diaz
Edited by: Florencia Franzini

One of the most charismatic animals of the rainforest is definitely the river otter. These animals, related to the weasel family, live in large family near rivers and streams where they form social groups of up to fifteen individuals.

Otter in the Piro River, Photo Credit: Manuel Sánchez.

Otter in the Piro River, Photo Credit: Manuel Sánchez.

River otters can also be found in bodies of water that lie close to rivers, such as estuaries and beaches with rock formations. They are active from early hours of the day and until the evening, spending most of their time swimming in search of food and socializing . But if they are so active, why are they so hard to see?

Otters have an extraordinary sense of hearing and sight, so when any noise or movement are detected by their senses, they quickly hide, protecting themselves from a potential predator.

For us, river otters are very important because they are indicators of the health of rivers. The animals that form their diet ( crustaceans, snails and fish ) need a very good quality of water to survive, so if otters are present in a river we can therefore be sure the water is of a good quality.

For this reason, Osa Conservation has a program for monitoring otter populations in the Piro and Coyunda river – rivers that are both within the Osa National Wildlife Refuge. However since these animals are so elusive, and it is rarely possible to see them , how can we the study them?

Fortunately otters, much as other terrestrial mammals, leave their signs of presence on the ground even though we do not see them in person. This includes markings like such as footprints or their feces, and they would be found in areas adjacent to rivers and beaches where otters frequent.


Otter tracks on Piro River.

Otter tracks on Piro River.

Otter droppings atop a rock by the Coyunda River.

Once a month we walk upstream from both rivers looking for for tracks and feces, recording useful data such as the location of the sample, vegetation cover, proximity to water bodies, and position. All this is done in order to use the information for relative abundance but also to learn about preferences for resting, burrow construction sites, habitat use, and in general what areas are most important to them.

Tracks are perhaps the most common signs, however feces are also important, but not easy to find. Otters use their feces as methods to mark their territory so they do not defecate directly into the water, but on logs or rocks along rivers, so these are some places where we have to search extensively.

Droppings left behind by an Otter atop a rock by the  Coyunda River. A pen is placed for size reference.

Droppings left behind by an Otter atop a rock by the Coyunda River. A pen is placed for size reference.

Knowing more and more of the river otters and what are the most important areas for them , their diet and social organization we can make better conservation actions, especially knowing how important they are for the ecosystem and as indicators of their health.

Otter resting on a log along the Piro River.  Photo Credit: Juan Carlos Cruz.

Otter resting on a log along the Piro River. Photo Credit: Juan Carlos Cruz.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

An exchange of knowledge for conservation, part 2: Agustín takes a trip to Colombia!

This two-part series chronicles the efforts of Osa Conservation and Amazon Conservation Team to learn from one another’s conservation strategies through staff visits to each other’s field sites and the ensuing exchange of knowledge and experience.


My first time in the Amazon

by Agustín Mendoza, Land Stewardship and Maintenance, Osa Conservation


Agustín (right, tan shirt) talks about native seed collection and forest restoration.

I arrived on the Osa Peninsula well over 39 years ago; since I was young I worked the land with my father, through him learning the best techniques to do so. Although I was very young, I had always expressed an interest as to how little by little the forest around me was disappearing, and along with it all the wildlife. Back in those days, there were no laws to prevent the indiscriminate lumber trade in the Osa.


At the age of 23 I left the Osa Peninsula for the first time for three of the longest years of my life. I had to return because I could never acclimate myself to living in a world so different to that which I had grown up in. I also returned with my young children in hopes of giving them the experience of growing up in nature that I myself had received as a small child. It was during my return to the Osa that I met Manuel Ramirez and Adrian Forsyth who contracted me to begin working with them: they were looking for someone to help them protect the Osa wildlife and to work on reforestation projects on the peninsula. With this job I took advantage of the opportunity to bring my children into the forest and educate them about the importance of the animals and wildlife around them, much as I had learned as a small child.  It was a learning experience for my children as much as it was for me; as I continued working on these projects, I also begun learning about native trees and about their seeds, about reforestation, and about general conservation issues. Later Osa Conservation would contract me where my wildlife experience would be of much value to the organization. I also was given the chance to learn a lot by working with Osa Conservation; for example, about the importance of relationships with scientist, students, and volunteers, and how important their impact and work with the forest is. This opportunity helped me to grow as a person, and also opened many doors for me that I would not have had otherwise.


Thanks to one of these encounters through Osa, I recently had the luxury of traveling to Colombia to give a presentation about reforestation and native tree seed collection. I was greeted by Wilmar and Jairo, collaborators with our organization Amazon Conservation Team. With them I traveled down an Amazon river to the indigenous community of Guitara. In truth, I was originally rather scared of making the journey; the boat ride, the river; all of these things were completely unknown to me, and outside of my native Osa made me nervous. In the end I cannot complain, I was greeted by the indigenous community with an incredible response – they were truly special and humble humans with whom I was able to share unique experiences, stories, history, and culture. At the end of my journey I came to the realization that although I had traveled to Colombia with the idea of teaching the community of Guitara a bit of what I knew, I came out learning so much more than I could have hoped to teach them.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

An exchange of knowledge for conservation, part 1: Wilmar travels to the Osa!

This two-part series chronicles the efforts of Osa Conservation and Amazon Conservation Team to learn from one another’s conservation strategies through staff visits to each other’s field sites and the ensuing exchange of knowledge and experience.


My trip to Costa Rica and the Osa Peninsula

by Wilmar Diaz Bahamón, Field Projects Manager, ACT Colombia


Agustin shows Wilmar and ACT how to climb trees to collect native seeds in the forest.

I was born in the countryside. As a child I explored my small town walking for hours in the bush following ant trails, playing in fish streams and climbing trees to pick wild fruit like guavas, uvillas, guamas and sapodilla. When I was 10 years old, my parents decided to move to the city — I was in shock — I missed my time as an explorer looking for animal and plant species. Upon completing high school, I enrolled at the University of the Amazon and majored in Agro-ecological Engineering. While in college, I reconnected with my childhood and I wanted to learn as much as possible about the wild, be it through research, seminars, workshops or through exchanges with others (which , in my opinion, is the best way to grow and learn).


When I finished my studies in 2006, I started working with communities; but whenever there was a call for proposals, scholarships, or an opportunity to participate in national and international level workshops, I applied. I deepened my knowledge and started doing coursework for my Master’s in Agroforestry.


In May 2010, I was hired by ACT-Colombia. ACT was implementing the Landscape Conservation Project with indigenous and rural communities in the buffer zone of Alto Fragua Indi Wasi National Park in the Belen de los Andaquíes and San José del Fragua communities in Caquetá. Day after day I learned from the local people and began to really understand the land where I grew up. ACT gave me the opportunity to grow as a professional and as a person. In June 2013 I was invited to go to Costa Rica to give a presentation at a conference organized by the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in San José. There, Liliana Madrigal, Co-founder of Amazon Conservation Team, suggested that I travel to Puerto Jimenez to learn from the experience of Osa Conservation and exchange knowledge that I could apply upon my return to Caquetá. I did not hesitate, and readily agreed.


I traveled from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez on a small plane. I did not take my eyes off the window admiring the majestic forests that were connected from the sea to the mountains. When we landed in Puerto Jiménez, Dennis Vasquez of Osa Conservation was waiting for me. Dennis drove us for 40 minutes to Cerro Osa where I met Agustin. Agustin is a local expert who was to share his knowledge about seed collection techniques and show me the OC grounds. I was reminded of my childhood days when I climbed trees to pick fruit, but this time I was going to do it using another technique.


Agustin was my guide for a week walking in the forest for hours. I was amazed to see how many young people voluntarily contributed to protecting turtles, planting trees, and doing research in the area; I was impressed to see foreigners visiting Cerro Osa for the purpose of planting trees and enjoying the beauty of the forest. Time went by very fast but we took advantage of the night hours to share stories with Agustin, and in return to answer his questions and concerns. He was curious to know about the Colombian Amazon, it’s people, their culture, their ways of life — I wanted Agustin to come with me so I could reciprocate the experience and show him my territory and to have him live the same experience I was having in Osa, but I felt helpless because it was not up to me to make that happen.


Upon my return to Colombia, I talked to Carolina Gil, Director of ACT- Colombia about the experience, and I proposed we invite Agustin so he could visit the indigenous communities, to exchange knowledge and share his expertise in the techniques used to collect seeds. The proposal was approved and Agustin packed his bags, overcame the fear of traveling and in October 2013 he came to Colombia, where he stayed for 10 days. During his trip he toured Bogota and Florencia, Caquetá and rode on a high speed Amazonian boat in order to get to the remote villages of the Huitotos and Coreguajes Indians. There he would share his knowledge with the communities and ACT’s technical staff. Agustin was the center of attention for his abilities, and for being from “another country.” Agustin was intrigued at the ways communities lived, for example, he did not understand why before climbing a tree, the Indians put a handful of green powder in their mouth; we explained that it was pulverized coca leaf — an ancient indigenous practice.


Soon, it was time for Agustin to return to Costa Rica, but before leaving, he was showered with gifts – baskets, necklaces and everyone wanted a photo with him. “Agustin, the man who shared with us another way to climb trees — we used to scratch our chest and belly when we climbed like monkeys; Agustin, with his ropes and other equipment showed us a more practical, simple and comfortable way to climb much higher without the risk of skinning ourselves so much” said Elias in his “maloka” or sacred meeting place for indigenous people while they were conducting the evaluation of the workshop.


I believe that these exchanges are invaluable, the travel to other countries, experiencing different cultures, meeting people, seeing the way communities live, opens our minds, makes us grow as people and as professionals. The exchanges allow us to share knowledge and continue contributing to the conservation and development of our countries. Thanks to all who made ​​this possible – these are life stories that fill us with knowledge, joy and love for what we do.

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