Sophie’s South America trip was a truly unforgettable experience

Sophie Webster with one of the members of the Esa Eja tribe.

Sophie Webster with one of the members of the Esa Eja tribe.

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A university student’s amazing experience in South America has increased her passion for wildlife conservation.

After signing up for one of the volunteering options in Peru provided by the Projects Abroad company, Sophie Webster spent five weeks at the Taricaya Ecological Reserve this summer. This is located within the Amazon Rainforest.

Sophie and the other volunteers travelled two hours by canoe down the river to get to the reserve area.

Sophie and the other volunteers travelled two hours by canoe down the river to get to the reserve area.

Most of her time was spent helping out at an animal rescue centre.

One of its most successful projects is the re-habilitation of black-faced spider monkeys, which are endangered in this area. They are taken in from circuses and zoos, among other places, and introduced to the troop already at the centre.

After a period of months, they are released into the 476-hectare reserve and either join a semi-wild troop or form their own.

Another of the activities she got involved with was a bird banding programme. Nets are set up and the ones caught have a small metal or plastic band attached to their leg, designed not to hurt them, so that they can be identified.

Female jaguar Preciosa is one of the long-term residents at the rescue centre.

Female jaguar Preciosa is one of the long-term residents at the rescue centre.

Details such as sex, estimated age and wing span are noted before they are released. The data is sent to the Peru Government at the end of each month and if these birds are later found injured or caught at the same place or elsewhere, a comparison can be made to help conservationists and ornithologists build up useful information about habitats and migrations.

Sophie took part in a project where teams patrol a river beach searching for turtle egg nests. Eggs are taken to stop them being poached for food or to sell on as pets and once they hatch at the centre, where the eggs are placed into an identical nest on a fake beach, the young turtles are taken back to the same beach and released.

She also assisted with some jungle activities such as trail clearing and setting up special cameras.

The 19-year-old, whose family home is in Hartburn, said: “It was a very surreal experience living and working in the biggest rainforest in the world. You are constantly dwarfed by the humongous trees and vines, with monkeys and birds in the canopy above chattering away.

“The team at Taricaya, with the help of volunteers who come from all parts of the world, do an outstanding job and it was great to see how happy the animals are in the reserve.

“I had such an amazing time and I learned so much. If you wanted to know more about a particular subject, the experts would sit down with you and put together a presentation and then get you to practice it to help you remember what had been said.

“I got to see four of the black-faced spider monkeys out in the reserve and it was fascinating observing their behaviour. They are fitted with GPS collars, so the team can monitor them if they go out of the reserve area.

“One of the long-term residents at the rescue centre is Preciosa, a female jaguar. Kept in bad conditions, she was eventually confiscated and taken to Taricaya in 2004 malnourished.

“She cannot be released as she is too used to humans, but she lives happily in a large enclosure with everything she needs.

“I also got to meet some of the members of the Esa Eja tribe, which had broken off from the main tribe due to restrictions on movement through the reserves and settlement areas.

“Taricaya helped them set up a small farm on the river banks and showed them how to grow crops and raise animals such as chickens and pigs.”

Sophie needed to raise £3,500 to fund the costs involved with the trip and as well as a contribution from her paid employment, there were a number of donations from individuals and businesses.

Earlier this month, she started a four-year wildlife conservation degree at Liverpool John Moores University. It includes a year for work placement/placements and she is hoping to go to a few different locations during the 12 months.

She added: “It was such a big step for me and I’m so proud that I made the decision to go out to Peru because it was a fantastic experience and I have gained a great deal of useful knowledge about wild animals.

“It really has confirmed that I want to have a career in wildlife conservation.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who supported me. I wish they could have seen for themselves the amazing work that is carried out at the rescue centre.”

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