Cocha Cashu: Training the Next Generation of Conservation Ecologists
“I never saw a bigger world than from a little tent in Cashu,” aptly stated one of our Cocha Cashu alumni, which are fondly referred to as “Cashu nuts.”
What makes our biological field research station at Cocha Cashu, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, so special is its ability to change lives. Our mission includes the goal of recruiting some of the best and brightest emerging young scientists, and sending them off on a life trajectory better suited and more motivated to tackle the problems of understanding and conserving Amazonian ecosystems.
Do you think you might be one of the select few who are up to this task? We invite you to come to our station and see for yourself. Cocha Cashu will introduce you to Amazonian ecology in a way nowhere else on Earth can. It is the ultimate “reference landscape,” meaning nature still functions the way it always has before humans starting paving the planet and putting up parking lots.
Here, you will find all that virtually untouched Amazonian nature has to offer. You will also find a few creature comforts that will make life easier in this remote location: food prepared for you and served in a cozy dining area (with views of monkeys and macaws), some office space to crunch your data (with views of giant otters and caiman), a small wooden platform to set up your tent (with views of an unrivaled ancient forest), and even showers (sorry, no views). You can expect a few bug bites, but you can also expect to experience nature as never before, and to share that experience with some passionate and knowledgeable colleagues.
This natural “temple” is an ideal place to deeply learn about nature: How it functions, how it evolved, and how we can conserve it. We are working hard to make our research station live up to its full potential. We secured funds to bring in two small groups of Peruvian college students.
With the help of some “Cashu nuts” that serve as guest instructors, we are teaching these students about the local ecology and how to develop their own research projects. When they leave, we hope they will have the tools to go out into the world, get their graduate degrees, do good conservation science, and find a job in the government, conservation organizations, or universities…and become ambassadors for Cocha Cashu and Amazonian conservation.
We’re also recruiting the best and the brightest students and scientists from around the world, and encouraging them to apply their expertise to understanding Amazonian ecology. We’ve developed a research roadmap, which provides guidance for the kinds of research questions best suited for our unique environment and steers research towards acquiring knowledge that can be applied to management of Amazon ecosystems and Manu National Park, where Cocha Cashu is located.
Next year we plan to launch a new program to recruit the next generation of conservation ecologists. Similar to our program for undergraduate Peruvian college students, this program will target international graduate students. These young scientists will apply with their own research proposals, which we will evaluate for scientific excellence and alignment with our mission. The winners will get an all-expense paid opportunity to conduct research at the station. Our hope is that these researchers will change Cashu and that Cashu will change them too.
To target an even younger version of the next generation of conservation ecologists, we’re reaching out to local schoolchildren, particularly the Matsigenka indigenous peoples that live in and around Manu National Park. They’re our neighbors and their stewardship will be needed for the continued protection and management of the park.
We’ve brought some of these students to the station, where they learned more about what we do, and we’ve gone to visit them in their schools and communities. We’ve worked with them to start a new project to monitor the quality of the streams and rivers upon which they depend, cultivating an enhanced sense of ownership of the future viability of their environment.
Soon, we will publish an illustrated children’s book, co-written by a Matsigenka community leader and one of our staff, that deals with their own perspectives on water conservation, fishing, and the iconic giant otter that shares these resources with them.
We hope that Cocha Cashu will have a major role to play in all these communities, from inside the park, to Peru, to the world at large. And that everyone who visits is touched by Cashu and sees a bigger world, where nature will continue to thrive.
By Ron Swaisgood, Ph.D.
Brown Chair/Director of Applied Animal Ecology
General Scientific Director, Cocha Cashu Biological Station