3 February 2018

The South American Bushdog

During a mammal monitoring excursion to the aguajal (flooded palm tree swamp) we accidentally encountered a group of South American Bush Dogs! With short tails and bear-like face, this group of 5 individuals were surrounding a pond of water, where they appeared to be waiting for something. Unfortunately, these dogs discovered our presence after five minutes despite our attempts to hide among the vegetation, and ventured away from the pond and into the deeper inaccessible (to us) areas of the swamp. While we were recording their peculiar behavior on our monitoring sheet, we noticed something surfacing from the pool of water the bush dogs had surrounded. After various attempts to get a good glimpse of this surfacing creature, we finally saw what this mysterious animal was…..a capybara! But what was it doing there? We jotted down some observations regarding the capybara and began to head back to camp.

Pictures taken with volunteer GoPro (Thank you Evan Woody!) and may not have high resolution, but provide enough distinguishing features of the bush dog

Excited, yet confused, we decided to do some research on the South American Bush Dog. We found that these rare canines are semi-aquatic and have adapted to a life near water. Evidence of this includes their elongate, mustelid-like (mustelids being weasels, otter, or mongooses) bodies and webbing between their toes. Can you guess what part of their diet includes? If you guessed medium to large sized rodents such as capybara, would be correct! We can hypothesize that these bush dogs were stalking the capybara in the water, just waiting to make their move. Did we save a capybara’s life? Or did we prevent the bush dogs was snatching up a delicious meal? You decide…

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3 February 2018

The Island

Small pool, home to tadpoles and small fish

This month we explored a small island located in front of Panthera. We did not expect to find very much evidence of wildlife since the island is quite isolated. The east part of the island was armed with spiny palm trees and vines, while the west side was more representative of the primary rainforest we have back at Panthera. It was amazing to see the surmounting evidence of life on this small portion of land! Footprints of Capybara, agouti, armadillo, caimans, and even a jaguar were observed on the beach and forest floor. The extremely low river level exposed a large segment of the river bed, extending the beach of the island. The side of the island with the largest beach reveals pool of water filled with tadpoles, and capybara trails, aw well as wide spaces of dry, cracked earth. These sandy surfaces looked closer to the desert than rainforest.

Dry Riverbed 

Beep Beep! Capybara foot traffic! The mud provides a great way for us to track wildlife before it dries.

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23 July 2017


Volunteers taking a break from pulling the boat.

We have mentioned the significance of Lake 2’s biodiversity in one of our previous blogs. While a small boat was placed at the lake, its size could only hold two people. Our goal for this month was to pull out our larger boat from Lake 1 and transport it to Lake 2. Since the thickness of our path between the two lakes was pretty minimal, it would be pretty difficult to pull the boat. Volunteers worked countless hours to clean the trail just wide enough for the width of the boat to pass through. This was the time where most volunteers really acquired efficient and safe machete skills. Once the trail was cleaned, but hardest task began; the pulling of the boat. Weighing in at a minimum of five hundred kilograms, volunteers managed to pull the boat approximately two and a half kilometers on rugged terrain in a single day. We have never seen such dedication, strength, and focus on their faces that day. The larger boat was placed in the water, ready to be navigated at Lake 2.

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23 June 2017

In the last week of May, Panthera Sanctuary faced a setback. On a Monday morning following a storm, both of our boats disappeared. It remains unclear as to how this occurred but the fact remained that they were no longer in our possession. Since the sanctuary is located only 35 kilometers from the Bolivian border, we decided to rent a water taxi to take us to the border control. During this time another storm had hit. As we finally arrived in the pouring rain to the border control along the Madre de Dios river, the guards gave us the bad news that no boats with our description had made it to the border. One thing was clear: we were probably never going to see our boats ever again.
Fortunately, we were able to put together some resources and purchase a small but sturdy fiberglass boat. While it may not be a large fancy tourist boat, it seats up to eight individuals and has proven to be more durable than our previous wooden and aluminum boat. Hand-made right in town, the bland boat along with its second-hand outboard motor made its way back downriver to the sanctuary. While the boat was purchased due to an unfortunate event, it gave our volunteers currently at Panthera the opportunity to paint and personalize the characterless boat. One volunteer was an art teacher and led the way in design and painted letters. In addition to the paint job, a small varnished floor of wooden planks was also constructed.  After everything was done, we had ourselves a spiffy little speedboat! While this new boat will suffice for now, we hope to be able to purchase another boat in the future.

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14 May 2017

Coffee Party!



Top right: raw bean after extraction and drying process

Top left: toasting raw beans in pan (notice bean color changes)

Bottom right: toasted beans put through coffee grinder

Bottom left: ground coffee from the toasted beans

*For coffee plant images, refer to January Blog


This month was an explosion in coffee production! In order to harvest the coffee, volunteers helped pick the ripe red coffee cherries from the trees. After all the fruit was collected, it was dumped into a large bucket of shallow water where it sat for 24 hours. Since the coffee bean is the seed of the fruit, we must extract it from its encasing. Soaking the fruits in water softens the flesh, allowing the seed removal process to be quicker and more efficient. After all the beans were isolated, they were set out on a flat surface and left in the sun. During the course of a few days, the drying process of the beans was routinely checked on by the volunteers. Once the beans had completely dried, they were brought inside. They now were ready to be toasted over fire. While the beans were toasting, we explained how raw coffee beans are essentially both odorless and tasteless before they are cooked. Within ten minutes, the familiar aroma of coffee began to fill the room. When the beans had toasted, they were ground up and stored in an air-tight container. Those who participated in the activity were finally able to taste the coffee they had made from start to finish!

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14 April 2017

Mammal Corridor


Mammal Corridor is the name of one particular activity that must be completed at least once a week with volunteers. This activity involves gathering fruits from overproducing trees in our garden and distributing them in designated forest areas for the animals. There are a total of four designated areas; two terrestrial and two arboreal sites. The ground sites are left with green bananas, plantains, and ripe orange papaya nicely sliced and placed by the volunteers. Terrestrial mammals such as peccaries and tapirs are our most frequent visitors based on both footprints and game camera footage. In attracting herbivorous mammals such as those previously listed, we also indirectly lure predatory mammals including jaguars, pumas, and other smaller felines.

These two sites are quite effective in attracting ground dwelling animals, but what about those who spend most if not all their time above ground? Since most have adapted to life in the trees, they seldom leave the comfort of the trees and vines unless its necessary. However, they risk being preyed upon by those animals having the greater advantage on the forest floor. As a result, we have constructed two tree platforms held by rope, allowing them to be raised and lowered to any desired level. The same kinds of fruits are left on the tree platforms as the ground sites, the only difference being the bananas and plantains being more yellow in color. Various monkey species make their appearance, although nonmammalian animals including toucans, aracaris, macaws, and numerous parrots dine on our sweet fruits. 

Why do we set out food for these animals? Aren’t they able to feed themselves? Yes. They are 100% capable of finding their own food without our help. Our purpose of leaving out food is to coax them onto Panthera’s property. Outside our borders lie individuals who kill all kinds of wildlife for their meat, skin or feathers, offspring to be sold in the illegal pet trade, for sport, or simply out of fear. More animals who choose to forage on our terrain not only ensures them a place free of poaching, but a greater chance for our volunteers to spot wildlife as well.

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10 March 2017

Artificial Bullet Ant Nest

 In an attempt to study the nest structure and behavioral patterns of Bullet Ants, we constructed a hand-made glass terrarium that would be used as our official ant nest. After the glass case was assembled, it was filled by volunteers with buckets of various soil types. These different layers were deliberately added to mimic the composition of the forest floor. Next, we located a Bullet Ant nest within the forest and transferred the individuals from their original nest to the artificial one we had constructed. The Bullet Ants accepted their new home in the glass case and have constructed their intricate tunnels which we are fortunately able to view. We hope to construct an additional glass terrarium that will be connected to the artificial nest by a tube. The new terrarium will be used as a foraging ground for the ants. This would be a safer and easier way for us to feed them while also stimulating and maintaining their hunting instincts.

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1 February 2017


As the frequency of rain increased, so did our chances of finding frogs and snakes. We were able to spot and catch at least 1 snake each during our snake and frog monitoring. A variety of frogs were also collected, due to the many pools of water created by the rain where these amphibians chose to congregate. Since our monitoring takes place at night, we put any snakes or frogs we found in their own enclosures and identify them the next day. We use an identification key to figure out the exact species of an animal while also teaching volunteers how to use it.

On an excursion through the forest, we decided to take one of our less explored paths. This day we unexpectedly came across an abandoned gold mining site. The site is of particular interest to us because gold mining is illegal unless it is done on land that has received authorization. We took pictures of the gold mined area and searched for other places where more mined areas could be. We were unable to find any others.

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1 January 2017

Notice how much more ground is visible in the bottom picture than the top. The large green

bushlike plants are the invasive kudzu we have begun to eliminate.


 Many plants in the agroforestal system, like this coffee, have begun to produce fruit which we recollect.


This month we focused more on our agroforestal system, since plant growth increases during the rainy season. The volunteers helped us eliminate kudzu, an invasive plant species that was taking both sun and nutrients away from our other plants. We combed through every square-inch of the garden and took an inventory of all our plants. This enabled us to create an agroforestal plot now made available for future use. Now that we knew how much extra space we had in the garden, we were able to collect and plant other useful fruits such as pineapple, star fruit, mango, sugarcane, and several palm tree fruits. The volunteers played a significant role in the addition of over 100 new plants!

We went around Lake 1 to gather orchids and bromeliads to bring them back to Panthera and plant them behind the swamp. Both orchids and bromeliads are epiphyte plants, meaning they can grow and live on other plants. While most orchids lack smell, we have managed to find 2 different species whose flowers omit a beautiful, sweet smelling fragrance. Found in areas near the orchids, bromeliads are capable of supporting their own aquatic ecosystem. Small creatures including frogs, crabs, and salamanders reside in these plants because it provides them with a permanent water source especially during the jungle’s dry period. Our goal in planting orchids and bromeliads behind the swamp is to expand both plant an animal diversity within Panthera’s land. The more biodiversity within Panthera, the more protected they will be from negative human impact from tree logging, goldmining, and hunting.

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1 December 2016

Since September, our efforts to find high terrace rainforest had proven to be quite complex. The difficulty of navigating through the aguajal behind Lake 2 took up large amounts of time and forced us to retreat various times back to Panthera due to limited daylight hours. However, we decided to set up a campsite and spend the night at Lake 2 so we could extend our length of expedition time. After spending a couple hours crossing a kilometer of flooded aguajal, we finally reached dry land which was immediately followed by a steep incline. This 20-25 meter incline indicated the apparent change in elevation from the aguajal to the crest of the high terrace rainforest. This forest contained different species of plants than those in lowland, a strong smell of animal life accompanied by numerous amounts of their trails, and permanent water sources. These quiet streams and small pools of water trickling down the hill were cold, clean, and crisp. Our goal for the future is to camp in this high terrace rainforest so we may explore more of the area. We hope to find both flora and fauna residing exclusively in high terrace, as well as more permanent water sources.


Alexandra Lopez



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