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Internship In Tropical Ecology Research & Conservation

This internship allows students to obtain hands-on experiences in tropical ecology research

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Un poco del Chocó is a small conservation project in the Northwest of Ecuador which was founded in 2009 by the German Biologist Nicole Büttner (MSc) and her Ecuadorian husband Wilo Vaca. Settled in a privately protected nature reserve within the endangered tropical forest of the Andean Chocó, our biological station promotes conservation, education and research. OUR NATURE RESERVE The Un poco del Chocó nature reserve is situated on the western slope of the Andes in the northwest of Ecuador. Located in the Pichincha province, it is approximately 3 hours away from Quito. The 15 hectares reserve stretches over an altitude between 950 and 1200 meters above sea level, right in the transition zone between the biodiversity-hotspots of the Chocó and the Tropical Andes, two biogeographic regions globally known as biodiversity hotspots and centers for endemism. The reserve is primarily covered with lower montane rainforest showing different levels of disturbance. The main part of the reserve consists of slightly disturbed primary forest where some bigger trees have been cut illegally in the past. As a private reserve Un poco del Chocó forms part of the ACUS Pachijal, an area of conservation and sustainable land use administered by the Commonwealth of the Andean Chocó. Furthermore, it lies within the buffer zone of the recently declared Chocó Andino de Pichincha Biosphere Reserve. The Andean Chocó area is known for its high diversity in birds. In 2014, part of it was declared the Important Bird Area Mashpi-Pachijal. The Un poco del Chocó nature reserve itself is home to over 285 bird species, of which 17 species are endemic to the Chocó ecoregion. Major conservation threats to the area are habitat loss due to deforestation, habitat fragmentation, global warming and climate change.


Established in 2010, the biological research station is the beating heart of our work at Un poco del Chocó. Here we host individual researchers, students and eco-tourists, but also student groups for workshops and courses. Our Study Abroad program offers a range of internship opportunities and courses for biology and environmental science students. Interns learn about the fascinating rainforest ecosystem, gain valuable practical skills and get hands-on experience in biological field work whilst assisting in various ongoing research projects (listed below).


A major aim of Un poco del Chocó is the conservation of the remaining rainforest around the reserve. Therefore we work in environmental education, participate in local conservation workshops and support sustainable land-use. Furthermore we work together with other local conservation initiatives and Ecuadorian NGOs. >Environmental Education We regularly organise environmental education workshops in the reserve. Hoping to promote more awareness amongst the next generation, we are currently working with a group of local kids from Las Tolas. Interns can help us planning and realising our environmental education workshops. >Reforestation Habitat fragmentation is a major problem in the Chocó region. Therefore we have created a small tree nursery with saplings of primary forest trees to support local reforestation projects.

Skills & Experience Acquired

Time Commitment

We usually work five days a week, for about 5-7 hours per day.

Active Periods

Year round with some restrictions during summer (June-August)


Work and Activities Description


The main focus of our research at Un poco del Chocó lies on the study and monitoring of the rich avifauna in and around our reserve. Trying to fill a gap in the research and understanding of the diverse bird life in and around Un poco del Chocó, in August 2014 we started our work as a bird observatory and implemented a longterm-bird monitoring program in the reserve. In order to study the bird populations in the reserve and its surroundings, we realize regular censuses and run three constant-effort mist-netting sites regularly. In the past five years we have already banded over 140 different bird species in the reserve. We mainly band passerines, but also near-passerines like hummingbirds, toucans and small raptors. The captured birds are weighed, measured, sexed and aged (if possible) and examined for their general fitness.


One very important pollinator group in the neotropics are hummingbirds. They often visit a wide array of different food plants and create a complicated network of hummingbird-plant-interactions. At Un poco del Chocó reserve we study the availability of flower resources and the interaction networks. The abundance of flowers is counted once per month on a 1,5km long transect and hummingbird-plant-interactions are investigated by observation and using time-lapse cameras. Daily nectar production of flowers is measured with microliter syringes and the sugar concentration is measured using a refractometer.


The goal of this longterm-monitoring project is to study mammals and ground birds in different parts of the reserve and its surroundings with camera traps. We are using this non-invasive method to do an inventory of species, study habitat use and activity patterns, and compare communities in different land uses. Besides numerous small to medium-sized rodents and ground birds, regular sightings on our camera footage are agutis, pacas, armadillos, opossums, tayras and tamanduas. Plus, we have been able to record the presence of peccaries, grison, two different deer species, and also carnivores like ocelots, jaguarundis, and pumas.

Typical Day

A typical workday for an intern at Un poco del Chocó usually starts either at around 6AM (Avian Research) or at 8AM (all other activities). Before heading out in the field interns prepare their own breakfast. We then spend the rest of the morning on one of our different work activities, e.g. collecting phenological data, placing or checking cameras, assisting in bird banding, working in the tree nursery, entering data, etc... At 1PM it's lunch time. Lunch is prepared by our staff and sometimes the help of volunteers. The afternoon is free (see activities below). Dinner is usually prepared together with your house mates.

Free Time Activities

You can spend your free time in the afternoons at the station and just chill in one of the hammocks, enjoying a good book or doing some birdwatching at the banana feeders next to the station house. You can also venture out onto the reserve's nature learning trail and hike down to the Pachijal river for a refreshing swim in the river. Not far from the reserve, you can visit a waterfall (about 50 min walk) or go on a birdwatching trip to visit a Lek of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (about 30 min walk). For a weekend-trip we can recommend the nearby village Las Tolas. You can stay with a family and get an insight to rural Ecuadorian life. The community tourism project offers different activities. You can visit the ecological jewellery work shop, a coffee plantation, one of the waterfalls or the archeological museum in Tulipe. Quito with its beautiful historic centre, Otavalo with its indigenous crafts market or Mindo with its different outdoor activities are also worth a trip. Costs for weekend-trips have to be covered by yourself. There is no refund for not staying at the station.



Accommodation Options

Interns are lodged in (shared) double rooms with bunk beds.

Accommodation Description

Up to 26 students, volunteers or visitors can be lodged at the rustic, but cozy, wooden station house in the middle of the tropical forest. On the upper floor of the main building, there are four double rooms with bunk beds. Next to the main building there is a new dorm building with six more rooms: five double rooms with bunk beds and one big dorm room that sleeps eight people. Four of our rooms have bunk beds with a lower double-sized mattress, so we can also host couples. On the lower floor of the main building you'll find the kitchen, dining area, a common area with hammocks (also used as class room) and a small laboratory. There are two warm-water showers right next to the main house. Our eco-friendly composting toilets are outside: only 10 meters away from the main house we have three outhouses. On the balconies, you can enjoy the view of the forest canopy. At the back of the new dorm building there is a deck overlooking the forest and a fruit feeder.


Facilities Description


Our small team is made up by Nicole and Wilo, the reserve owners, and our two employees Christian and Leo. Nicole manages the station and supervises research projects and interns. Wilo oversees all the maintenance work in the reserve, cooks and supervises volunteers. Christian and Leo help with pretty much everything, from gardening, trail cleaning and cooking, to collecting data and banding birds.


We are located in a rural and quite remote part of Ecuador where crime rates are very low. So far, we haven't had security issues. Nevertheless you'll get keys for your room and there are also personal lockers available.

Food & Drink

A stay at Un poco del Chocó includes three meals a day and water, tea, coffee all day. For breakfast, you’ll usually have (homemade) bread, butter, jam, caramel spread, cream cheese, cheese, oats and eggs. For lunch and dinner we cook typical Ecuadorian food (rice, plantains, legumes, yucca etc,) as well as pasta, potatoes and lots of vegetables. The food is mostly vegetarian and we eat little meat.

Internet Access

There is WiFi at the station house which is available throughout the day. As the station house is solar-powered, electricity will be turned off at night, which means no WiFi during the night.

Phone Signal

There is mobile phone reception at the reserve with fairly good coverage.

Nearest Facilities

As it takes about 40 minutes to get from Un poco del Chocó to the next village, that’s what it takes at least to find the next doctor. In Las Tolas there is a small health centre where basic health care can be provided. The next hospital is in Nanegalito, about 80 minutes by car. For more complicated cases you have to go to Quito.

Airport Pickup

Un poco del Chocó is located in the province Pichincha, a few kilometers northeast of San Miguel de Los Bancos in Ayapi at the river Pachijal. However, Un poco del Chocó can only be reached via the small village Las Tolas (40 minutes by car). From there an 11 km unpaved road leads to Ayapi and the river Pachijal. The last part requires a 4WD, at least during the rainy season. Unfortunately, there is no direct public transport to Un poco del Chocó. However, the bus company “Minas“, which operates from the Northern bus terminal “La Ofelia“ in Quito, has one daily bus going to Las Tolas (2 hours) at 5.30 pm. Furthermore there are some more busses going to Tulipe. We can arrange for a 4x4-taxi to pick you up in Las Tolas or in Tulipe, or you also have the possibility to be picked up directly in Quito (all transportation at additional costs).


Language Requirements

We speak English, Spanish and German at Un poco del Chocó. Interns should be able to communicate in one of these languages. Interns who want to plan environmental education workshops are required to have a basic level of Spanish.

Document Requirements

Valid passport, Visa (for stays over 90 days), Travel insurance (incl. health, emergency, third party and trip cancellation)

Nationality Requirements

Interns should have a basic background in biology (no degree required) and a special interst in the natural world and its preservation

Qualification Requirements

Medical Requirements

Interns should be reasonably fit (no certification required).

Other Requirements

Recommended Gear

- rubber boots - old clothes for work - work gloves - rain wear, jacket and trousers (dark colors) - camera - binoculars (8*40 recommended) - insect repellent - towels - a decent flash light (head light recommended) - plug adapter - rechargeable batteries - sun screen - ear plugs - biodegradable cosmetics and detergents - swimwear

Included Services

Before Journey Services / Support

We provide a very detailed information booklet before your journey and are available via email for any questions regarding your stay at Un poco del Chocó. Please also check the FAQ section on our website.

On-Site Support

We are not a travel agency, but are happy to provide you with travel recommendations and some assistance (phone calls for booking or reservation enquiry) once you're on-site.


Pricing Breakdown

The internship can last between 4 and 24 weeks. Costs depend on the duration of stay. First month 999,- US $ Second month 869,- US $ Any following months 814,- US $ Once your application has been accepted and you travel plans have solidified, we require a non-refundable 25% down payment to guarantee your position. The remaining 75% have to be paid 14 days prior to arrival.

Not Included in Price

Airfare, vaccination, travel and health insurance, snacks, visa fees, transport to the reserve, laundry service, weekend trips

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