Rainforest expeditions and Earthwatch as funding partners for macaw (Ara spp.) research in southeastern Peru
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Ecotourism has been touted as an effective way to conserve natural areas by providing employment for local people and generating income for conservation. However, ecotourism can also effectively support scientific research. In addition, working with paying volunteers can provide funding and manpower for research projects. In this paper I examine the effectiveness of ecotourism and volunteers as mechanisms to facilitate conservation research through a case study of the Tambopata Macaw Project, an ongoing macaw and parrot ecology research project in southeastern Peru. Over the past 7 years the project has worked closely with Rainforest Expeditions, a for-profit ecotourism company, and the Earthwatch Institute, an NGO that uses volunteers to fund scientific research. Rainforest Expeditions hosted the project at their lodge, the Tambopata Research Center, and provided the project with about $40,000 per year worth of salaries, donations, transportation, food, lodging, and logistics. Since 2001, Earthwatch has provided 328 volunteers and ∼$18,000 per year in research funding. The logistics of using volunteer-based funding and working in an ecotourism lodge posed unique challenges. I draw on these challenges to provide lists of criteria for researchers considering working with volunteer groups and ecotourism companies to help ensure that the researcher, the project, and the ecotourism company are suited to this type of collaboration. The combination of ecotourism and volunteer groups has great potential and should be considered for research projects using labor intensive methods to conduct long term monitoring and basic natural history studies of charismatic species like macaws and parrots.
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