Richard Vaerewyck is a biologist and world traveler. He’s spotted sights, eaten cuisines, and studied animals most of us will never come anywhere near. And this accomplished Eagle Scout only graduated college last year.
With a bachelor’s degree in biology, experience as assistant Scoutmaster, and service in the National Guard under his belt, Vaerewyck tackled Amazonian biological research at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, thanks to the NESA World Explorer program. There he helped monitor trail cameras that captured images of native wildlife. And while he had a background in animal tracking and species population data analysis, Vaerewyck’s journey to the Amazon to study animal life was packed with unique experiences.
Hear from the Eagle Scout World Explorer as he details his expedition below.
“I was selected by the National Eagle Scout Association to be a World Explorer and go to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Amazon Jungle of Ecuador. As a wildlife biologist, the chance to go see and study the wildlife of another part of the world greatly excited me.
“For our adventure, we started it off spending two days touring Quito, one of the major cities in Ecuador. We visited the Quito Basilica, a gorgeous cathedral that has towers close to 250 feet high, and offer an awesome view of the city. There were two museums we visited on the equator, that showed the Amazonian people’s way of life, typical dwellings and had many center of the world activities. On our second day of touring we visited Parque Condor, an aviary with many native hawks, owls and eagles. They also had an Andean Condor, and put on a show with many of the raptors. Next, we went to the Otavalo market and were able to buy lots of handmade goods, such as alpaca ponchos, scarves and blankets, carved gourds and many other souvenirs. All the food was very good. We ate lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, guinea pig (the only dish I wasn’t a fan of), pork and so much more. It was really awesome to be able to see the city, experience the culture and try the food while we were in Ecuador.
“So the research focus of our trip revolved around the trail cameras. The issue is, working with trail cameras is a waiting game, as you only check them at most once a week, generally every two to three weeks. Diego is one of the station managers, and the researcher who conducts the trail camera surveys. Before we arrived, Diego placed six trail cameras so that we could go out with him and check them and hopefully get some good video footage. The videos are being used by the Harvard Museum of Natural History with a display on Amazonian wildlife. Diego gave us (and many other researchers at the station) a presentation on the trail camera program, and what it has helped us discover so far, and what we hope to find in the future. When we checked the cameras, there was nothing that really helped Diego out with the study, but the pictures and videos were still really cool to see. There were videos of common opossums, a member of the weasel family, peccaries, tapirs, trumpeters, and even a few ocelots. To Diego, these are all very common on the trail cameras, but for me, these are animals I probably wouldn’t get to see in just a week at the station.
“While at the station, Jose was our guide everyday. We went on our first day to the lagoon, where we paddled around in a canoe, and Jose pointed out every bird, caterpillar and plant and was able to tell us so many facts about each species. We went to two different mineral licks to look for wildlife, and between the three trips we saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, wooly monkeys, a tamandua (type of anteater very rarely seen), countless parakeets, and probably 150 peccaries. We visited the Blackwater, a tributary of the river that has almost no flow, so the tannins in the leaves leach out and turn the water black. It was home to lots of wooly and howler monkeys, and many different birds and fish. Probably my favorite animal that I saw was Salvin’s currasow. It’s a bird the size of a turkey, but jet black with a crest and a bright orange, frugivorious bill. We saw nine out of the ten primate species that live there. We saw howler monkeys, titi monkeys, capuchins, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, pygmy marmosets, night monkeys, wooly monkeys and golden-mantled tamarins. The only species we didn’t see were the Saki monkeys, a rather elusive species that lived in the trees where the river flooded: but we sure made a solid effort to find them. We went on lots of hikes, visited the canopy tower, canoed the river and so much more. We saw macaws, toucans, parrots, monkeys, tons of little frogs and toads, lizards and geckos, turtles, tarantulas, whip scorpions and lots and lots of spiders and insects.
“Other than visiting Canada, I’ve never been outside of the United States before. This was definitely the best first trip I could have had. I am so thankful that the National Eagle Scout Association presented me with an awesome opportunity such as this. This is surely an experience I will remember vividly for the rest of my life. If you are considering applying for the World Explorer Program: do it. You’ll meet lots of fantastic people, see things you’ve never seen before and be blown away every day. I am proud to be an Eagle Scout, and belong to the fantastic organization that the National Eagle Scout Association is.”
– Richard Vaerewyck