Frontier

Big Cats, Primates and Turtle Conservation

Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica show on map
Non-profit
·
founded in 1989
Frontier
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Coordinator | David
Coordinator | David
Contribute to vital conservation research in one of the most ecologically diverse locations on the planet. This volunteer program is especially suitable for:
Singles
Couples
Groups
50+

Highlights

  • Gain practical research and conservation experience
  • Study the ecology and behaviour of several species including jaguars, sloths, turtles and tapirs
  • Work within one of the world’s most biodiverse forest ecosystems
  • Work to improve the conservation status of some of the world's most endangered species
  • Assist with the conservation of vital habitats and their resident species
At first glance, Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is a mere pin prick on the world map, covering a measly 0.03% of the world’s landmass. This makes it even more astonishing that an incredible 4% of the world’s species call the park home and that it is, as described by National Geographic, ‘one of the most biologically intense places on the planet’.

Located in Central America, Costa Rica is nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean and is home to over 500,000 different species of animals, giving it the highest species density of any country in the world. Over 50% of species found in the country call the Osa Peninsula home, meaning this project is located in the most biodiverse region of one of the most biodiverse countries on the globe – truly a hotspot within a hotspot!

The Osa Peninsula at a glance:

  • The largest remaining tract of lowland rainforest in Pacific Mesoamerica
  • 2-3% of flora are found nowhere else in the world
  • At least 323 endemic species of plants and vertebrates
  • The largest population of scarlet macaws in Central America call the peninsula home
  • More than 10,000 types of insects
  • 700 species of trees, which is more than all of Europe and North America combined
  • 463 species of birds
  • 140 species of mammal, including 25 species of dolphins and whales.

Sadly, the region and its inhabitants are being gravely challenged by habitat fragmentation and destruction, pollution, poaching and climate change more broadly. Over the past several years, Frontier has been working on the peninsula to carry out groundbreaking survey work and vital data collection in an attempt to combat the effects of these challenges and to preserve this environmentally significant area.

The research camp itself is based amongst dense tropical forest on the edge of Corcovado National Park, close to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Volunteers live and work with other enthusiastic and energetic conservationists, working together to carry out critical surveys and data collection activities. Joining this vitally important project will not only give you an opportunity to experience a world of fragile beauty, but to more importantly contribute to the conservation of Costa Rica's precious and unique habitats for the future.

Home to one of the largest tropical primary lowland rainforests in the world, Corcovado National Park is also home to a large range of endangered plant and animal species. Over millennia, the dense rainforests have created a dramatic and ideal habitat for hundreds of bird and mammal species and the warm waters surrounding the park are also home to several marine species.

On this project, you will help to carry out extensive and broad biodiversity surveys, which could include:

  • Walking primate transects to collect valuable data on various primate species in the park
  • Beach patrols to assess and survey turtle nesting habits and hatchling health
  • Big cat track surveying and data collection
  • Undertake surveys on the data-deficient neotropical otter
  • Participate in broader surveys and research of exotic bird populations, invertebrates and other animal groups on the peninsula

In addition to wildlife and research activities, volunteers also participate in various other conservation-related tasks. For example, typically once a week all project participants assist with the creation and maintenance of forest trails which help to facilitate the majority of the surveys we conduct. This can be difficult work, but is actually an excellent opportunity to see more of the jungle! In addition to this, there is plenty of time to experience the peninsula with regular walks to identify and observe rare and endangered species, including nocturnal walks to discover the jungle after dark when the big cats are most active.

Things will be busy! However, there will also be sufficient down time to get stuck into a book while swinging on a hammock or taking a dip in ocean or jungle stream. There are also plenty of optional activities to take part in including horse riding, forest canopy tours, dolphin and whale watching tours and guided trips to the national park, so remember to bring along some extra funds!

The project boasts a busy schedule focusing on a broad range of high impact, groundbreaking conservation strategies and scientific research for which volunteers receive full field training in order to undertake. There will also be a wide range of regular lectures designed to complement the practical research component of the project, which cover topics such as species biology, ecology and conservation needs.

Typical day

This is a wide-reaching project covering many different topics, but has been developed with the understanding that the different research areas we focus on fundamentally overlap with one another. In order to protect the important ecosystems on the Osa Peninsula, we have to understand various key species habitats, habits and trophic preferences amongst other things. These understandings can in turn indicate what actions need to be taken by local communities, governments and the global community more broadly so that we are able to protect the vital biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula.

Sea turtle monitoring

Volunteers patrol two beaches close to camp, which aim to not only gather valuable population data of the endangered marine turtles, but also serve to discourage poachers and predators trying to raid nests and collect eggs. The two species of turtle most frequently observed are the Olive Ridley and the Pacific Green Turtle. During peak nesting season (July-October), turtles found nesting on the beach at night are tagged and given a health check. In the mornings we also conduct nest excavations which involve checking the hatched nests to assess reproductive success after the hatchlings have emerged. 

Total clutch size, number of successfully hatched eggs and the number and stage of development of un-hatched eggs are recorded. Any hatchlings that might have remained trapped in the nest chamber are freed and placed on the beach to allow them to reach the sea. The peak season for turtle monitoring begins in June and ends in February/March. Outside of this time, vital work is still carried out but at a markedly reduced level.

Primate surveys

There are four primate species found on the Osa Peninsula, including the squirrel monkey, mantled howler monkey, Geoffroy’s spider monkey and the white-faced capuchin monkey. The primary objective of this project is to estimate the density of all four primate species in the areas outside of the Corcovado National Park and to record habitat preferences. Work usually includes walking primate transects for data collection and recording observations.

These surveys are typically conducted three to four times each week and involve recording every troop encountered during slow forest treks, using binoculars. It is important to take an accurate count of the number of individuals within the troop (a good pair of binoculars will certainly prove beneficial) as well as calculating the size of the area surveyed by taking measurements of the distance between the trail and the troop of monkeys. Behavioural data is also collected to determine activity patterns in different habitats, and information regarding plant foraging preferences is also recorded to gain a better understanding of the ecosystem as a whole.

Big cats and people

Five species of big cat call the Osa Peninsula home, including the larger jaguar and puma, the smaller jaguarondi and margay, and the intermediate sized ocelot.

Our big cat research is a relatively new multi-phase project initiated in October 2015 that combines a range of field research methods to study the abundance, distribution and habitat of Costa Rican wildcat species. Conflict between landowners and wildlife is one of the most significant challenges facing wildlife conservation and wildcats are not immune. The wildcats are one of the most heavily threatened species in Costa Rica as a result of retaliatory killing and persecution as a preventative measure against livestock predation.

There is a direct correlation between the success of the prey of wildcats and the success of wildcats themselves, and recent poaching of their prey is directly linked to reduced wildcat populations. Both the wildcats and their prey are studied in an attempt to understand the health of cat populations on the peninsula. The ultimate objective is to understand how this ecosystem works, which then allows for a formulation of sustainable strategies to maintain predators and prey in this critical biological corridor neighbouring Corcovado National Park.

It is important to note that these species are elusive and sightings are rare. Even if you don’t see them whilst out on the trail or on camp, it is very likely that you will find evidence that they are around through leaving tracks and faeces. Seeing a big cat is mostly down to luck and being in the right place at the right time, though the nocturnal treks increase your chances of a sighting.

Details on Arrival

This project starts Every Monday. If you arrive on a Monday before 12:00pm, you will be greeted at Puerto Jimenez airport or bus station by a Frontier staff member and escorted by local bus to the project camp. If arriving after 12:00pm on a Monday or at any time on any other day, a pick-up can be arranged for an additional $40.

Free-time activities

Costa Rica provides everything you could ever desire for an action packed and eye opening gap year or eco break. You may wish to explore some of the activities and unforgettable sights that are on offer here whether it is in your spare time, or even in a few extra days spent in this spectacular country at the beginning or end of the project. There are so many possibilities to explore – here are just a few suggestions! Try white water rafting, river kayaking, or even ocean kayaking – all activities that Costa Rica is famous for whether you are an expert or a compete novice.

If you have a head for heights see the landscape stretch out beneath you from above with a canopy tree top tour, or even an aerial tram! Other adventure activities that are on offer include biking, hiking, snorkelling and even bungee jumping! For something more sedate, there are butterfly and insect farms – fascinating for those with an interest in the natural world. The Costa Rica camp is also close to the border with Panama so you could always add another country onto your list by heading to this fascinating country too.

Alternatively you may wish to visit the Frontier house or local hostel in Puerto Jimenez ($7.50 per day, food not included). Costa Rica really does have something for everyone – you will never be short of ways to enjoy your spare time!

* Please note that you will need to cover your own costs for extra activities.

Kayaking

Learn more about one of the most biologically intense places on earth as you explore solitary beaches, beautiful rivers, mountains, waterfalls, farms and amazing diversity of wildlife on a guided kayak tour. You will have the unique opportunity to explore the mangroves from the water, and then paddle towards the sea where you may encounter dolphins, sea turtles, fish and ocean birds. You can kayak individually, in a group or with a guide who will teach you more about the incredible mangrove and coastal environment of Costa Rica.

Wildlife Sanctuary

Visit this remote wildlife sanctuary which is providing wildlife rescue and rehabilitation for orphaned, injured and displaced animals indigenous to south Costa Rica. The sanctuary promotes conservation through education and community involvement and work promote the maintenance of natural biodiversity. The sanctuary run a public education programme and you have the opportunity to visit the organisation for a day to see the animals, meet and chat with staff and walk around 700 acres of local forest land.

Water Sports
Swimming
Sightseeing
Hiking
Sports
Yoga/
Meditation

Program Requirements

In order to join the program you need to be at least 16 years old on the program start date.
Language Skills
You need to speak English (intermediate level)
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Time Commitment
Your helping hand will be required on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 08:00 - 17:00

Included Services

Extra security layer by Volunteer World
Volunteer World is the world's leading comparison platform for international volunteer opportunities. We guide you through a safe and easy application process - including all necessary payments. Planning your next meaningful trip with Volunteer World gives you free access to our:
Quality Assurance
High ethical standards & transparent social impact
Flex Option
Change your reservation at no extra costs
Refund Guarantee
We refund your fees if Frontier cancels your trip
Support & Mediation
We cover your back no matter what happens
Our services are free of charge!
All program fees are charged directly by Frontier.

Before your journey

Profound consulting and ongoing support (free)
Frontier (your host organization) provides consulting and is keen to answer all your questions. Once you reserved your spot, you will receive the contact details of your volunteer project.
Online preparation course (optional, from $49)
Prepare yourself and become a confident and well informed traveler. Global Travel Academy takes you on a journey before you leave home, helping you to become one of the world's greatest travelers. Our trusted partner for online learning offers courses in "International Volunteering", "Travel Health & Safety" and "Travel Safety Abroad".

On-site services

Services by Frontier

Before you go:

Pre-departure support & documentation
Travel advice & documentation
Kit advice
Discounted medical kit
Free Frontier t-shirt (UK & US)
UK residential briefing weekend including food, accommodation and training (extra cost applies)

In-country:

Accommodation
3 meals daily (while on project)
Project orientation and training  
Airport pick-up, Mondays before 12:00pm
In-country emergency support
24-hour international HQ backup

Airport Pickup at Puerto Jimenez
Pick-up from Puerto Jimenez weekly on a Monday before 12:00pm. Pick-ups available at all other times and days are available for an additional $40. 
Accommodation
Life on camp is a unique experience! You will be staying in simple, shared, mixed-sex eco-cabins amidst the jungles near to Carate. This is a jungle research camp, so a mosquito net is an absolute must! We have tried to keep the camp in harmony with its pristine surroundings, so conditions are simple, but environmentally friendly and comfortable.

The camp is situated about 5 minutes walk from Playa Carate, a beach which stretches for over 20 miles all the way into Corcovado National Park. There are cool, refreshing showers and  toilets on camp too. You’ll be feeling one with the jungle before you know it!
Dorm Room
Food & Beverages
We feel it is very important to support the local economy, so most of our supplies are sourced locally. This means we do not have access to everyone’s preferred foods and much of what we eat is seasonal and fresh. Costa Rican food is delicious, with a focus on rice, beans and good quality fruit and vegetables. 

Cooking and cleaning are carried out communally on a rotational basis, so everybody will be responsibility for meal preparation. You will have the opportunity to learn how to cook the national staple food, gallo pinto, consisting of fried rice and black beans. Another dish that is simple to prepare with local ingredients and is often eaten on camp is light and crispy tortillas stuffed with refried beans and vegetables.

There are no refrigeration facilities for meat, fish and dairy, so the team takes the environmentally friendly option of vegetarianism during their time on project. If this sounds worrying to you, not to worry, as volunteers regularly make delicious comfort foods such as pizza, falafel-style burgers, curries with homemade chapattis and ginger and cinnamon cakes to name but a few. Get creative! There is also powdered milk to satisfy you avid tea-drinkers. 

Much of the fresh water in the streams surrounding the camp and on the peninsula are safe to drink and it’s important to remember to keep hydrated. Just be sure to check with staff first.

Costa Rica is also world famous for its coffee and it represents the country’s biggest export, so coffee lovers will have plenty of opportunities to get their hands on some. Luxuries like chocolate and packet soup are available in the town nearby, but it is worth bringing some of your favourite treats out with you as well as any herbs or spices. It is recommended that you buy snacks when in town (cereal bars, biscuits etc) for mid-morning sugar dips or to give you energy on long treks.
Internet Access
Limited access at the project site
What's NOT included?
Visa, flights, travel insurance or vaccinations are NOT included in the program fees.
Flight Tickets
The nearest airport is Puerto Jimenez (PJM) in Puerto Jimenez. We assist you to find cheap flights to Costa Rica.
Travel Insurance
Going abroad is an adventure and it is always best to be prepared. Sudden illness or injury, cancellation or theft - a travel insurance for Costa Rica provides security and is a plus to have.
Vaccines
If you are intending to volunteer in Costa Rica you should seek medical advice before starting your social journey. Check your required vaccinations for Costa Rica.
Costs: Prices in USD
1 week (min. stay)
$ 945
2 weeks
$ 1,445
3 weeks
$ 1,995
4 weeks
$ 2,445
5 weeks
$ 2,845
6 weeks
$ 3,095
7 weeks
$ 3,395
8 weeks
$ 3,695
10 weeks
$ 4,245
20 weeks (max. stay)
$ 6,495
Average fees
$ 635 /week

You can volunteer at the project site in Puntarenas Province/Costa Rica between 1 week and 20 weeks. Please note that the above shown program fees are estimated and subject to exchange rate fluctuations. Frontier will let you know about the final price during your application process.
Crowdfunding Service
Generally, volunteering abroad involves certain costs. In case you need financial support, we will assist you to fundraise your volunteer program in Costa Rica.
Deposit (15%)
The deposit is simply to reserve your volunteer placement. Payments are handled by PayPal, our trusted global payment provider. If you don't have a PayPal account, you can also pay using a credit card.
Final Payment (85%)
Your final payment will be agreed with Frontier during the application process. Common solutions are either via bank transfer or a cash payment at the project site.
  Americas Central America Costa Rica  Puntarenas Province, Puerto Jimenez

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Reservation
The project site is open in: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

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