The Crees Foundation

The Crees Foundation | Setting the Rainforest Agenda 

“Almost everything is off the grid and you have to think very creatively about what you do,” Hillary Fenrich, the Experiential Learning Coordinator at Crees, excitingly points out. The Crees Foundation explores the value of a regenerating rainforest from a research station inside the buffer zone between two protected areas in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru. The harsh and challenging conditions of the rainforest make meticulous planning an essential part of running a research station here. Known to be a very optimistic and cheerful problem solver, Hillary has arrived to puzzle with the logistics at the Manu Learning Centre.

What does your job entail?

Currently I am the Experiential Learning Coordinator at Crees at the Manu Learning Centre, meaning I manage all the visitors we receive. I put particular emphasis on the different educational programs: that could be anything from a two week volunteer programme to our three month media or six month conservation internships.

I also co-manage the field staff, whilst also working with the tourists, Peruvian students and researchers that come in. For them, I facilitate the different learning opportunities that the regenerating rainforest provides.

What does your day to day look like?

I tend to get up really early because I think that’s when I can get most done. To start, around 5am, I’ll go to the colpa, a huge expanse of clay alongside the Alto Madre de Dios river where we do our clay lick monitoring survey. Right around six or seven I make sure everybody’s schedule is the way it’s supposed to be, if anything has changed logistics wise, or if someone has become unwell. It does get a little crazy from seven to eight after breakfast. I always make sure everyone knows the routes they are taking, have all the correct materials, etc. I also go out and lead different monitoring surveys.

My afternoons are filled with different meetings with conservation interns whom I mentor. I also constantly meet with the Research Coordinator to plan out the coming weeks, and at night we typically have presentations on current research. 

Hillary travelling down the Madre de Dios river, Peru. Image: Jone Troconis

Hillary travelling down the Madre de Dios river, Peru. Image: Jone Troconis

What is the main difference in managing something in conservation and something that is not?

I would not be a manager if I was somewhere else; a cubicle space, for example. I manage here because it’s in the jungle! Almost everything is off the grid and you have to think very creatively about what you do. I also really like having input and being able to help directly on the research side of things. It’s really amazing to meet all the different types of people that come here with different conservation backgrounds and see them work and learn in what is quite a difficult environment. It’s mainly different because you are never ever bored here, because everything is a challenge.

What is your background in?

Environmental studies and Spanish, meaning my biology knowledge is based mostly on hands-on, practical experience.

Any advice to give to conservation newbies?

Something I really love about conservation is that it’s quite creative and very flexible. It is a relatively new way of thinking about things. Basically it’s about being more flexible with how we view the world, and how can we best manage our resources. What I think this means is that conservation careers in the past might have been working with national parks but now it can be much more broad: you can make documentaries and that can be a conservation career, you can be a blogger and work for conservation, you can create websites to educate, you can manage a research station and have more an educational background like me. The possibilities are endless.

I guess my the advice would be to figure out what you are really passionate about and think about it creatively because you might be lining up a conservation career, or you might even be inventing yourself a conservation career that doesn’t currently exist. Ask yourself, what do you really want to do and what does the world need?

What is new and exciting at Crees?

Right now we are doing a number of pilot studies that are branching out from the core research we have been doing for almost 8 years. We are continuing our long term research monitoring projects but we are now also trying out new things, which is really exciting.

Interns are the main lead for these monitoring projects, like the new audio encounter survey (AES), which goes alongside the visual encounter survey (VES) we are already doing in our night transects. With AES, we are looking for amphibians and reptiles that are calling, and comparing the differences between what we see and what we hear. We are also re-running a previous project called ‘monkey business’, which is aimed at monitoring woolly and spider monkeys.

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Apart from that we have a caterpillar crianza survey by another intern and I am also currently running a pilot for a macroinvertebrates streams survey. This involves looking at the water quality of different creeks we have here but have never really studied or observed before. These are all quite exciting for me, and it also makes our interns feel empowered and challenged.

How do you deal with bad field days?

I think maybe I don’t have bad field days quite as much because I don’t go into the field every single day so every time I go out it’s amazing, especially the longer days. It can be tricky when you get wet and cold, but I just try to keep myself motivated and also tell myself I’m in the rainforest and should expect rain! Just trying to look on the bright side, thinking of warm showers and nice cooking.

What is a unique skill/experience you think only you bring to your role?

I think that something that you have to have in my position – and it may not be seen as a good thing in other positions – is to be able to run in many different directions at the same time. So in other jobs it might be seen as if this person can’t focus, or that they are juggling too many things, but here it is absolutely necessary – and I love it! It’s the reason I never feel bored because there is a million things going on. I like, for instance, writing the weekly schedule for all staff, interns and volunteers. Other people hate it as it is a quite difficult task to figure out. For me it is like brain practice – almost like math – and I like having to think about everyone’s needs and objectives at the same time, making sure it all kind fits. Afterwards you feel so good.

I think that’s my skill: my ability to deal with many different things at the same time while being aware of and ensuring everyone’s wellbeing and happiness.

What are your next steps?

Managing is fun but I would like to be more in the field than I currently am, and that’s something I didn’t know about myself until I got here, which is pretty awesome. During my time with Crees I have gotten more involved with research and now I would like to assist further in this area. This incredible jungle experience will be hard to follow… Beach? Middle of an island in the ocean? Sahara? I’m not sure, but I’m excited!

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