It’s pitch black as we set off in a small wooden boat along a tributary of the Samiria River, deep in the Amazon basin.

The low hum of the outboard motor is drowned out by a cacophony of strange sounds made by the many nocturnal species living in Peru’s northern jungle region.

Our guide, a local from one of the nearby villages, skims the surface of the water with a search light.

Suddenly the boat stops.

I can see two shiny spheres, like giant marbles, floating on the calm water.

In one fell swoop our guide - skilfully balanced on the bow of the boat — lunges forward and throws out a noose. A caiman, a reptile from the alligator family, is thrashing about in a desperate bid to break free.

Catching wild animals might sound like madness, but there is good reason for our actions.

I’ve travelled to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in northern Peru as part of an Earthwatch Institute expedition. Along with 11 other volunteers, I’m here to help researchers survey the wildlife so they can monitor the health of the aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

Prior to this trip, I’d never been on a volunteering holiday. But I was keen to get involved in something that would make a difference, however small.

Tour operator Kuoni offer a variety of responsible holiday programmes all over the world as part of their Ananea programme, which has grown in response to customers’ demands for more experiential holidays.

  • Victoria Mitchell


Kuoni (01306 747008 or offer 14 nights volunteering on the Earthwatch Amazon Riverboat Exploration with two nights either side at the Atton San Isidro, Lima, including flights with BA from Heathrow, domestic flights and transfers in resort. Prices for 2013 from £4,467 per person, based on two sharing.