Jaguar – Panthera onca. My favorite still shot I ever got of him!

By Sean M. McHugh

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to spend time in tropical rainforest protecting the rare and elusive mammals that call these forest home. Over the past three summer seasons (2016, 2017, and 2018) I have conducted mammal research at Sani Isla in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. My work started in May of 2016 with Operation Wallacea (Opwall); through Opwall I conducted the first baseline large mammal studies within the Sani reserve. We were attempting to produce hard scientific evidence of the mammals present, along with other flora and fauna that occupy these tropical lowland forests. Different study methods were used to survey the high diversity of rainforest mammals, including remote camera traps, diurnal primate surveys, and mammal “track” transects. These surveys allowed me to gain a better understanding of which animals were and were not present in this rainforest ecosystem. Across numerous research seasons, Opwall and I started to build a strong relationship with the Sani Community, strengthening the impact of our project and its conservation effectiveness. Rare and iconic Amazonian species have been detected in Sani: Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, Margay, Bush Dog, Short-Eared Dog, Tayra, White-Lipped Peccary, Collard Peccary, Lowland Tapir, Brocket Deer, Giant Anteater, Giant Armadillo, Giant Otter, and eight species of primate. In the past year, I was able to create the first visual guide called “The Mammals of Sani Reserve” to further educate tourists and community members.  The intactness of Sani’s medium and large mammal guild seems to inspire anyone lucky enough to visit these jungles, its forest and animals help people to realize how much there is still left to preserve.

Lowland Tapir – Tapirus terrestris

Puma – Puma concolor


Opwall research camp in Sani Lodge

During the past year, I was able to build a new developing relationship with Rainforest Partnership (RP) and its CEO Niyanta Spelman. Ironically, Niyanta and I finally met in person at Sani only few months ago, where we both run projects to protect the forest and its community. In the past few months, RP and I have been working on new project ideas, looking to create additional studies on the mammals at RP’s two Peruvian sites accompanied by the data I have already collected at Sani. Starting in September I will be working in the RP’s Colibri cloud forest site in central Peru. Here, I will be using proven research methods to sample the area’s medium and large sized mammals. It is imperative we perform baseline studies on these relatively unknown tropical montane forest habitats and its poorly studied mammal communities. Our study will involve camera traps across multiple conservation concession areas (CCA) that could gain a higher layer of protection by providing scientific findings to regional governments. The likelihood of increased protection should occur if we successfully detect low-density target species, such as Andean or Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus).  Please follow Rainforest Partnership and our cloud forest journey on social media or their blog to keep up to date on project details and new footage!

A great Team, Niyanta Spelman (CEO -Rainforest Partnership), Giovanny Siquihua ( General Manager -Sani Lodge), Fredy Herrera (Country Manager -Opwall), and Sean McHugh (Research Scientist -Opwall).

Operation Wallacea Team at Sani Lodge. Summer, 2018.

Aubrey, Sophia Wood, Eadin O’Mahoney, Niyanta, Geovanny, Freddy, and Sean.


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