Learning sustainability from the rainforest

February 24, 2010, Northeastern University

Learning sustainability from the rainforest
Biology major Zack Kennedy cared for monkeys in the Taricaya Ecological Reserve in Peru’s Amazonian rainforest.
(PhysOrg.com) -- Co-op in Peruvian ecological reserve teaches biology major some unforgettable lessons about caring for the environment at home.

If he wasn’t caring for endangered spider monkeys, junior biology major Zack Kennedy was securing turtle eggs against poachers during a co-op last fall in the Taricaya Ecological Reserve in Peru’s Amazonian rainforest.

The experiential learning opportunity, which also required him to grow his own food and live without electricity, sparked his interest in . It showed him that the forest is one — one in which each plant, animal and body of water is crucial to the health of the whole.

One of his projects involved rehabilitating spider monkeys that had been domesticated by owners who acquired them through the illegal pet-trading industry. The privately owned ecological reserve took possession of the monkeys from the local government, which had confiscated the animals from the owners. A few of the monkeys had rope burns on their bodies from being tied to trees; others were afraid to socialize with their primate friends.

He checked the animals for diseases, boosted their health by feeding them locally grown papaya, bananas, carrots and apples, and helped them become re-acclimated to their .

The reserve plans to release half a dozen spider monkeys back into the local forest by late April. By the end of his co-op, said Kennedy, “they were a lot bigger, there were no more scars around their chests and they were playing and being social with the other monkeys.”

Kennedy also collected turtle eggs and incubated them on private beaches so couldn’t get their hands on them. When they hatched, he marked them and released them into the wild. Over the years, the practice has paid off: an observational survey of the turtles in the spring of 2009 indicated that the turtles are thriving in the sweltering heat of the rainforest.

Kennedy lived a few hours outside of Puerto Maldonado, a city in Southeastern Peru, shacking up in a bungalow made of wood and mosquito netting. He pumped water from a nearby creek, ate homegrown pineapples, tomatoes and avocados, and raised mahogany trees, one of the most valuable — and endangered — tree species in the Amazon basin.

It didn’t take him long to get accustomed to the Amazonian lifestyle. “I felt at home within a few days,” he says. “We don’t necessarily need all the stuff that we have.”

The experience shaped his current outlook on the importance of sustainable living and inspired him to pursue a career in the field upon his graduation next year. “I bought a bicycle, I made furniture from old wood and I have plans to compost my own trash,” Kennedy says. “Little things like that add up.”

He credits Northeastern for connecting him with Projects Abroad, an organization that organizes overseas volunteer work. “I can’t thank Northeastern enough for giving me this opportunity,” he says. “I don’t know where else I would have been able to do this.”

Explore further: Island monkeys do not recognize big cat calls

Related Stories

Island monkeys do not recognize big cat calls

January 17, 2008

Monkeys living on an island without big cat predators do not show any particular alarm when recorded tiger growls are played to them, according to research by a UC Davis graduate student. The pig-tailed langurs do, however, ...

Can you rescue a rainforest? The answer may be yes

March 27, 2008

Half a century after most of Costa Rica's rainforests were cut down, researchers from the Boyce Thompson Institute took on a project that many thought was impossible - restoring a tropical rainforest ecosystem.

Recommended for you

'Zebra' tribal bodypaint cuts fly bites 10-fold: study

January 16, 2019

Traditional white-striped bodypainting practiced by indigenous communities mimics zebra stripes to reduce the number of potentially harmful horsefly bites a person receives by up to 10-fold, according to new research published ...

Big genome found in tiny forest defoliator

January 15, 2019

The European gypsy moth (EGM) is perhaps the country's most famous invasive insect—a nonnative species accidentally introduced to North America in the 1860s when a few escaped from a breeding experiment in suburban Boston. ...

Why haven't cancer cells undergone genetic meltdowns?

January 15, 2019

Cancer first develops as a single cell going rogue, with mutations that trigger aggressive growth at all costs to the health of the organism. But if cancer cells were accumulating harmful mutations faster than they could ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2010
Yeap, we don't need most of the stuff we have if we don't have snow!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.