What We Do

Completing the Peruvian Palm Picture Project

Restoring Nature

Tent… check.
Water purifying tablets… check.
Rubber boots… check.
Measuring tapes and calipers… check, check.
Insect repellent… check, check, check.

As I prepare for another trip to the Peruvian Amazon, where San Diego Zoo Global has an ongoing project with the Maijuna indigenous people managing the fruit harvest of aguaje palms, I find myself getting super excited. Excited not only for my own work tracking the recovery of aguaje palm stands that had been damaged by people chopping down palms to reach the fruit, but for the work of one of our partners on the project.

Mark Bowler, San Diego Zoo Global postdoctoral research fellow, will be joining me in the Maijuna villages to collect camera traps he placed in palm trees a few months ago on his first trip to these villages. We are hoping the traps will show us exactly what species of animals are feasting on the vitamin-rich aguaje fruit.

From the work of other researchers, we know aguaje fruit is important to a wide variety of wildlife, ranging from tapirs and paca to howler monkeys and macaws, but we need to see which are involved in our project: whose food source and habitat are we saving by helping the Maijuna manage their aguaje?

Having a wildlife biologist, specifically a primatologist, like Mark on board helps round out our project team. Bryan Endress, Ph.D. and I, from the Applied Plant Ecology division, study the palms themselves. This entails mucking through swamps, counting and measuring palms large and small. Mike Gilmore, Ph.D., professor at George Mason University, uses his social science skills to understand the relationship of the Maijuna people to the forest and the aguaje palm swamps. But Mark knows wildlife, which is why San Diego Zoo Global is so interested in figuring out how to sustainably manage a common but very important plant like aguaje.

So, I am excited to go back to Peru in a couple of weeks and see what Mark has managed to capture in his cameras tucked in the palm tree canopies (hopefully some can be shared on our website!). I am also excited to get back into the Amazon myself (despite the need to drench myself in insect repellent) to see how the palm populations are recovering. Hopefully they are growing quickly and will soon be able to provide food for both people and the wildlife captured in Mark’s photographs.

Christa Horn, Research Coordinator, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research