‘You can't argue for the protection of an area without knowing what is there.’
At first glance, sending a troop of 25 Field Museum scientists armed with camera traps and drones far into the unexplored depths of Medio Putumayo-Algodón, Peru feels disruptive and disconcerting. The area, accessible only by helicopter, is inhabited by nine indigenous groups and a lot of unmolested wilderness; why do we have to go in and start tramping about?
But as it turns out, the area is under – wait for it – threat from illegal mining and logging, as well as a proposed road. The people who live there would prefer that not to happen, and the goal of the museum is to help them. And in fact, over the last 17 years the museum’s rapid inventory program, like the one in Peru, has helped governments establish 18 new protected areas in South America totaling 26.5 million acres.
"You can't argue for the protection of an area without knowing what is there," says Corine Vriesendorp, Director of The Field Museum's rapid inventory program.
The team spent 17 days conducting the quick biological and social inventory of the area. They set up 14 camera traps and used a drone for birds-eye footage of the rainforest.
"No scientists have ever explored this area, let alone document it with cameras and drones," notes Jon Markel, The Field Museum's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist. "These images are the first time this remote wilderness and the species that call it home are being recorded for science."
The biodiversity they documented is incredible. They recorded 1,820 plant, fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal species, including 19 previously unknown species. The cameras revealed ocelots, giant armadillos, currassows, giant anteaters, tapirs, peccaries, and pacas among many other creatures.
"We discovered an intact forest inhabited by indigenous people for centuries and teeming with wildlife," says Vriesendorp. "We want it to survive and thrive long after our cameras are gone."
You can see more of the animal "selfies" and drone footage at The Field Museum's Facebook page.