Vicky Armstrong took part in Frontier’s Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation project in January 2013 and completed an EdExcel accredited BTEC Certificate in Tropical Habitat Conservation. One year on her experience has helped Vicky achieve her goal of starting a PhD in Applied Animal Welfare. Here she talks to us just after she returned from Costa Rica about why she chose to complete a BTEC and what it was like gaining a qualification abroad.
I’ve been studying zoology and conservation sciences for 8 years, and hoping to start my PhD in March 2014. I chose to take part in Frontier’s Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation project to gain some experience in the field in the meantime.
My main interest is big cat ex-situ conservation, and looking at how to promote better welfare for captive animals to improve zoo breeding programmes. Whilst on the project I achieved a BTEC Certificate in Tropical Habitat Conservation as a way to gain experience in researching in-situ conservation.
The trip consisted of trails, primate surveys (where we counted and observed a troop of squirrel monkeys), otter scat collections, early morning (2am) turtle patrols on Peje and Piro Beach (learning to identify tracks and signs of nests, measure the tracks and how to record the data). We also went on several trails to gain an idea of what the area was like in preparation for other surveys and setting up my BTEC. A very exciting part was learning to how to set up camera traps along the river and the anticipation of what we’d find.
I was able to establish a plan for my BTEC project, consisting of observing the biodiversity and abundance of leaf litter frogs along the forest and river trails. My surveys occurred over a two week period and I managed to work out the sectors using GPS points and then captured and photographed the frogs as we worked along the trail. I was able to ID the frogs back at camp and so found Bransford’s litter frogs, Noble’s rain frogs, 2 species of rocket frogs and a glass frog. Around the camp and trails we saw gladiator frogs, drab tree frogs and smoky jungle frogs.
I was well supported throughout my BTEC with the support of the Principal Investigator and a mentor. After two weeks I was able to analyse the data and give a presentation to camp members on my findings, entitled “Relative abundance and diversity of lea-litter frogs in Piro, Costa Rica”. Since my return I have been writing the data up into a more detailed report.
Overall the experience was amazing and the project was incredibly varied with dedicated members of staff there to support the volunteers. I learnt a huge amount studying for my BTEC but also got to study an abundance of wildlife such as butterflies, otters, various primates, birds and sea turtles. Words cannot describe the experience here but the camp has been exceptional, the staff and locals so warm and welcoming and the location is just astounding. Although there has been a lot of hard work, we have also had tons of fun with camp party nights, horse-riding and swimming under waterfalls to name just a few of the activities we got up to in our free time.
I found the process of the BTEC enjoyable and was able to work at my own pace, achieving great outcomes. Completing the BTEC Certificate in Tropical Habitat Conservation has given me great confidence in my ability to research wildlife as well as to prove my practical skills in field work. This has helped me to realise my dream and pursue my goal of becoming a researcher and I am now well on my way to starting a PhD in Applied Animal Welfare in March 2014.