An Inspirational Visitor to Inspire the Next Generation of Conservation Biologists!!

I am passionate about education and teaching children about the natural world and the joys it can bring. At Michael Drayton Junior where I teach, we also want the children to have memorable experiences and when Year 6 started a topic on Rainforests, I knew who would be a brilliant inspiration to them! I wanted them to see the career possibilities they may have if they were passionate about natural history and to also meet a real life explorer and scientist!

I am lucky enough to have met conservation biologist, Andy Whitworth, about 4 years ago when I became involved in a project he was doing with Bushnell trail cams in an innovative project to set them high in the trees in the Peruvian rainforest!

Andy has done a lot of work in south-eastern Peru in an area of the Manu Biosphere Reserve, one of the most acclaimed bio-diverse places on the planet. The majority of his field work is situated in the lowland rainforest, a hot and humid environment with regular temperature of 30ºC plus and humidity levels of over 90%.

His main field site, for the last few years, has been the Manu Learning Center (operated by Crees for The Crees Foundation) sits on the banks of the fast flowing waters of the upper Madre de Dios (Mother of God) river. An incredible site, with stunning views of the mountains in the distance to the west and lowland forest cover to the east.

Andy has carried out incredible research using Bushnell trail cameras up in the canopies of the rain forest, documenting all the animals and birds that use this part of the rainforest. More about his work can be seen HERE

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The pupils all got to see some videos of Andy at work, to get them exited and inspired!…

Andy catches one of the most dangerous snakes in the world!!!

Andy started by giving a talk to the whole of year 6. It was incredible to hear about the work he does and the environments he works in. He showed the pupils some wonderful trail cam clips of really rare species, such as the Harpy Eagle, Crested Eagle. He has also been part of some truly exciting research on the Siri Cassowary and Andean bear. He has captured footage never captured before…

The expedition, led by biologists from the University of Glasgow as well as the University of Exeter, used 22 camera traps to capture the footage, and the Sira Currasow wasn’t their only big find. The team also captured the first hard evidence that Andean spectacled bears live in the Sira Communal Reserve, established in 2001 to protect the unique biodiversity of the isolated Cerros del Sira range.

The Andean spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is listed as a vulnerable threatened species on the IUCN Red List, and the closest it’s previously been known to inhabit is some 100 kilometers (62 miles) away. The biologists say that represents an increase in the bear’s range of up to 540,000 hectares (1.33 million acres), enough habitat for around 325 adults.

The hidden cameras also captured 30 species of mammals including jaguars, giant anteaters, Brazilian tapirs and pumas, plus 145 species of birds, 41 species of amphibians, 10 species of lizards and 7 species of snakes. Two of the lizards and three of the frogs are believed to be new species unknown to science.

“The results of our expedition and these incredible videos highlight the importance of the Sira Communal Reserve in maintaining biodiversity in the region,” Dr. Chris Beirne of the University of Exeter said in a statement. (Taken from an article by Mongabay)

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Andy then visited each class for a question and answer session. The pupils had come up with some fantastic questions for him. Here are a selection of the questions some of the pupils had prepared….

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Whilst in the classrooms, Andy showed the pupils the hammock he uses, some spears and, most exciting… a botfly that was extracted from his head over Christmas! He had preserved it in a bottle of alcohol …. certainly something the kids won’t forget!

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Andy was a bit of a celebrity in school, with pupils asking for his autograph!!!…

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Andy made a big impression on the pupils and I had one parent comment, saying their daughter was so inspired, she wants to volunteer at the Crees Foundation when she is 17! We will all be following Andy’s next project and keeping up to date with his work.