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The Gap Year Blog

Millie Coker - Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles

11 Feb 2016 16:10 PM

Millie wanted to prepare herself for studying Geography at university whilst gaining travel experience and stepping off the beaten path, so she embarked on Frontier’s Big Cats, Primates and Turtles project in Costa Rica to gain experience in her chosen field. 

Why did you choose this particular project?

I chose the Costa Rica big cats, primates and turtle project because I have a big interest in turtles and also conservation in general. I wanted to learn more about these species and about the work that frontier is doing out in Costa Rica. I also think I wanted a break from life and home and wanted to do something worthwhile and thought that this would be a good opportunity that would give me some experience. I am aiming to study geography at university in September and thought that the fieldwork techniques on this project would be particularly useful for my course. 

Which kind of work and activities did you do during your project?

Having just moved to a new camp, when I arrived things were just starting out. We conducted a number of different surveys, recording birds, primates, tracks and turtles. These took place in the form of point counts at the lagoon with our binoculars to spot different species of birds, walking the beaches at night and in the morning to find turtle tracks and nests, going on night walks at the back of camp to have a look at the different species that come out at night, walking on different trails to count primates, find tracks and also doing work for the local people in some of our spare time. We also spent a couple of hours researching different species that we were given to look out, in order to eventually create species information sheets that can be put up on trails for tourists. 

How did the culture and people differ to home, and what were the locals like?

The locals were so friendly and immediately I felt welcomed to Costa Rica. The people were always smiling and always seemed happy. The culture is really different to home in that you can walk down the street in Costa Rica and the majority of people will say hello in passing and which is not a regular occurrence at home, but also in the clothes that people wear, even in the hot weather, everyone I saw was dressed nicely and respectfully. 

What was the accommodation like?

For the duration of my trip, we were sleeping in bunk beds in an army tent, we had a small kitchen with a hob and sink and a side to chop on. We also had outside toilets and showers. It was all basic but quickly became home and I was lucky, as after I left the group moved into a hammock deck and will be there until the new camp is finished being built. 

What were the staff and other volunteers like?

All of the staff and other volunteers were all really friendly and helped me get settled quickly. They made me feel really welcome, answered any questions I had and got me started on the project immediately. By the end of my time in Costa Rica, I felt as though I became part of the family on camp. 

What was your most amazing moment or your best memory? 

The best memory I have from my time in Costa Rica, was seeing a tapir walk on to camp.   We all went outside to look at a common opossum that one of the staff members had found in a tree, and a Baird’s Tapir walked onto camp. He wondered around for quite a while and came really close to our tent, I think looking for food and finding our compost bucket! Unfortunately it was really dark and my camera wasn’t too good at getting a really good shot but it was such an incredible experience. 

Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?

I definitely think everything that I did was worthwhile out there, not just for me but for the project too. Every trail, where we collected data, provided more information that can be analysed or more information that could prove to be vital in scientific discovery later on. The project is going to be carried out over a long period of time, and it will be a while before any analysis does take place, but I feel as though I will have contributed to the end outcome. 

What sort of wildlife did you encounter?

I saw lots of different wildlife whilst in Costa Rica, just to a name a few, I saw a Baird’s Tapir, a Fur De Lance snake, as well as several different types of birds including a Great Egret and a number of Roseate Spoonbills. I also saw lots of different species of spider including lots of Golden Orb Weaver Spiders, and a few species of frog - my favourite being the Poison Dart Frog. I cannot name everything I saw, as there were so many different things that were all so incredible. 

What were you hoping to learn while on project, and have you achieved those goals?

Going out to Costa Rica, I hoped to gain experience in the field for September which I feel as though I have. Other than that, I didn’t really have anything in mind because I was just trying to do something different, but I feel as though I have learnt so much information about the project, about some of the species on the Osa Peninsula but I think the best thing I have learnt, is how to be independent. 

Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?

Make sure you bring lots of long socks, wellies and a head torch with a red light function! They are all essential. I would also suggest buying snacks at the supermarket before you go to camp, just something small like cereal bars because you’ll need them for the long walks. But most importantly, I know it’s probably a cliché, just try to go there with an open mind because this really was the trip of a lifetime for me and I would recommend it to anyone!

What do you have planned next?

I am hoping to travel a bit more in the summer, maybe even try to gain some more experience before September. Then hopefully it will be university for me in September studying Geography for 3 years. 

Anything else you would like to add?

I would just like to say that if you get a chance to do something like this, if you are on a gap year, or looking to do something different and you are interested in conservation then I would definitely recommend doing this project. Even if this doesn’t sound like something you would be interested in, Frontier still have lots of different projects that might be perfect for you!

By Millie Coker - Frontier Volunteer | Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles 


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