Research Update #1: Learning to love Leoncitos

Locally known as ‘Leoncitos‘, pygmy marmosets are completely adorable.  Fact.


They are also the whole reason I’m visiting Peru, spending the next few months at Tahuayo lodge, deep in the Amazon jungle.   This project has been six months in the planning, but finally, I’m collecting real data.  Even if I do spend more time watching trees and waiting for them to turn up than actually recording anything.

Week 1 stats
Hours spent watching empty trees: 12
5 minute trials completed: 11
Tourist boats stumbling upon trials: 2
Predators crashing the party: 2
Lost paddles: 1
Storms evaded: 3
Insect bites: uncountable


Lazing in the sun living up to his namesake: leoncitos, little lions

Despite the intrinsic nature of the jungle (spikey and bitey) and monkey-related frustrations I cannot help but fall in love with this species.  The longer I observe them the more aspects of their lives I glimpse: sitting patiently, eyes stalking a butterfly like a cat ready to pounce; snoozing and sunbathing on vines; playing with one another and tumbling along branches. Yes, most of the time they do just nibble at trees, feeding on the sap from within but occasionally, it gets a little more interesting.

Pygmy marmoset 2 (2)

Adult marmoset emitting a trill call.  They dig the holes in the tree using specially adapted teeth before drinking the sap from within.

I could watch them forever.  Fortunately.  Eight weeks to go.


The floodwaters are rising

I haven’t set foot on dry land in almost two weeks. My dreams of trading in running through English meadows for gentle jogs along jungle trails have proven thoroughly unattainable.  It is highly unlikely my trainers will even be removed from the bottom of my rucksack until I return home.

But there’s bigger things to worry about: like just how fast the waters are rising.

I’ll concede, it is the wet season in Peru right now. However, the water level is already 2m higher than usual at this time of year!  My temporary home might be built on stilts but the, for want of a better phrase, ‘high tide mark’ around my room is at least half a metre too high for comfort. Apparently the occupant of the room when it did flood loved getting out of bed and having fish nibble on his feet.  I could not disagree with the thought more.


Perhaps it’s just bad planning (or in this case the stifling programme of my MSc) but fieldwork and flooding seem to go hand in hand.  Fourteen months ago it was El Niño storms wreaking havoc across Paraguay, now it’s glacial melt in the Andes making its way through the Amazon basin.  Climate change is out to get me and there are some striking similarities:


Well I guess this is home

Three planes, one temporarily misplaced item of luggage and a four hour boat ride later I’m finally here: Tahuayo lodge, aka “home” for the next three months.  Nestled deep in the Amazon it rises out of the Tahuayo river on stilts, all palm roofs and wooden panelling, authentic and yet, surprisingly luxurious.  Friendly faces greet us and our bags magically transport themselves to the dining room, where we are introduced to our guides and given a tour.  There’s WiFi in the computer room, a newly built dining room and bar, a reading room and, my favourite, the hammock room.


The hammock room, where I pretend I’m writing my essay but really I’m hiding in a book / snoozing

Perhaps this place would be less surprising if I was a tourist paying the full rate for a week-long tour (though I must add here, it most certainly wouldn’t be a disappointment), however as a researcher my expectations have been exceeded in positively astronomical terms.  My room, complete with a four post double bed, is not only larger than the room I was renting back in the UK but also has its very own en-suite.  That first night, I slept soundly.


I’ve never slept in a four-poster bed before – this is beyond awesome!

Upon waking, I could have imagined myself back in a hotel in London.  That is, aside from the spider making itself at home on my pillow, barely 15cm from my face.  After a quick discussion with one of the staff, who assured me that despite being the size of my palm he was in fact a house spider and would not kill me, I decided he could stay.

Outside the lodge is another story entirely, a complete separate world.  Jungle.  Let the adventures begin!