About a month ago, when my homesick meter was at an all-time high, I didn’t think this day would come. Now I’m surprised how fast the time has gone. My bags are mostly packed, and I have just a few gifts left to pick up for family and friends. Our host family threw us a joint Festa Junina/going-away party that was so much fun. Festa Junina celebrates the beginning of harvest season. People wear traditional bright costumes and, of course, and prepare a feast (mostly corn-based).
We danced the quadrilha, drank mulled cachaça, ate a ton of food, and sang bad karaoke. It was a great time and I’m glad we got a chance to celebrate with so many of the people that helped to make our work here enjoyable.
What I have enjoyed most about my internship in Brazil is having time to think and focus on what I’ve learned in my wildlife and ecology classes, as well as mull on questions that might be interesting to research. My time in school has always been chaotic – a full schedule of classes combined with a full-time work schedule and trying to fit lab and field experience into the margins. Having two months to focus just on research, read scientific papers, and think about potential research projects has been a great privilege.
When I wasn’t distracted by dreams of Squirrel burgers, microbrews, and spicy Thai food, I had a chance to observe and think about how forest ecosystems work and how disturbance can change everything. When sitting comfortably in America, it’s easy to say that countries like Brazil should conserve their forests and wildlife. When you’re actually in another country, you see how desperate poverty can be, and how economic growth is an imperative to improve these citizens’ lives. Balancing that with conservation is extremely difficult.
I was astounded at the amount of wildlife that we saw on the edges of fragmented forest. Based on what I’ve learned in my classes, I expected these areas to be ghost towns. Perhaps more wildlife thrive here than would be expected (and if so, why?), or maybe the relative abundance I see is a small fraction of what used to live here. Of course, as an American living in a developed area, seeing wild mammals larger than a squirrel just doesn’t happen on a regular basis, so my perception of what’s normal is not a great measure.
It has been an interesting time to be in Brazil. The country is in the midst of a devastating economic recession and corruption allegations as Brazil’s first female President, Dilma Rousseff, awaits an impeachment trial. Brazilians’ political apathy is similar to Americans’. They feel the corruption is so entrenched, they feel helpless to stop it. So they move forward as best as they can. They attend college in hopes of making a better life. They work hard in hopes that it will gain them financial security one day. They go home to their families, and hope that their children will be prosperous, just like Americans.
I am so grateful that I had the chance to do field work in a biodiversity hotspot that is undergoing rapid land use change. I am excited to see what our data shows us, and the questions it might answer about the linkage between deforestation and disease, as well as the species populating the forests.
My sincere gratitude goes to Roberta and Domingos Bronzoni for allowing us to stay in their home while we did our research and for treating us like family.
Without the financial support of the Oregon State University CAS Global Experience Fund, the Fisheries and Wildlife Department International Experience Scholarship, and the Izma Bailey Conser Memorial Scholarship, this opportunity would not have been possible.
Finally, a huge thanks to Aimee Massey for taking me under her wing and being an awesome science mentor, and Taal Levi for extending me so many great opportunities and being such a responsive, helpful advisor.