Fountain Valley High School, March 15-19, 2014

A team of Fountain Valley High School students from Colorado Springs, CO, spent five days with us. Led by Andrés and 3t, the students completely emptied out the entire woodworking and machine shop, cleaned and organized all the tools, cleaned machines, took out all the wood stockand re-organized it, and left the workshop clean, organized and far more user-friendly! Students also worked in the nurseries and trails with Norman. Thank you to Deb Prantl and Vydia Garcia for tremendous team leadership, and a super big thanks to all the students who carried out such an incredible task. We really appreciated your help, and also the constant smiles and endless enthusiasm.

Please come back in the future!

Vella, Genny, and Tim – volunteers March 2014

Genny and Tim, spent 10 days with us during the Appalachian State University group’s visit, and helped with all aspects of the project. We really appreciated their wonderful company, super hard work, and enthusiasm! They are off to spend more time at our sister project Synergia Ranch, Center for Innovation and Retreats, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. https://synergiaranch.com/about-us/

Appalachian State University March 9-15, 2014

Appalachian State University students worked really hard on a diversity of projects at Las Casas de la Selva; plastering the bunkhouse, making a ramp for access to the dining room, pruning, gardening, nursery work, moving soil, making a new compost, emptying the humanure compost ready for use, and many other tasks. Wow! We thank you all for being such wonderful company this last week. We’ll see you again!

Vanderbilt University March 1-8, 2014

Vanderbilt University students have just spent several days with us at Las Casas de la Selva, and we have had a super time, working hard! Students learnt the art of plastering on the bunkhouse, led by Andres, and also helped with heavy labor and soil renewal on the Papaya Terraces with 3t. In their time here, they also got to do a leaf litter study with Norman and hiked into the forest. Thank you for your remarkable teamwork, and thanks Zach and Julia, team leaders who did a great job. We salute you all! Come back and see us again soon.

Vella Lovell, a student at The Julliard School of Dance, Drama and Music, NY, volunteered at Las Casas de la Selva for the days that Vanderbilt University students were here. Thanks for all your hard work and enthusiasm lovely lady!

Pepperdine University Feb 22-28, 2014

This was our third year hosting a team from Pepperdine University at Las Casas de la Selva. Norman Greenhawk, as crew leader worked with the students on the main hill-trail and everyone worked super hard to build steps, and to make the walk up and down the hill much safer and more comfortable. Hauling rocks and gravel from the river and carrying then up hill was hard work, and it was extremely satisfying to us to see a group getting on so well with the task at hand. The materials used were recycled from all over the homestead and the wood was from the old drying shed that Pepperdine students helped us to deconstruct in 2013. The work was muddy, and in rainy conditions for a few days, but sunshine prevailed and we all had a superb time with this great bunch! Pepperdiners, we salute you all. Please stay in touch.

Pix below by: 3t, Katrina Kirsch, Evelyn Aleman, Anushree Mahajan.

Creating a new space

Vanderbilt Alternative Winter Break.

These students worked with Andrés and 3t on the reparation of a broken fence and gate and also completely pruned back an overgrown area that will house the new tree nursery. The weather was rainy for most of the time, so kudos to the team for staying on task and getting the work done. Norman Greenhawk and Magha Garcia Medina provided delicious food for the group, and they also got a night hike led by Norman. Thanks everyone for a week of super work. Now a few days of a Christmas break before we get ready for our next Earthwatch team arriving on the 28th December.

Thank You Vanderbilt Winter Breakers! We appreciate your time and effort in helping us with our goals.

Why volunteer here?

Why volunteer at Las Casas de la Selva? See this 3 minute video by Ben Zenner.

This 3 min video was produced by Ben Zenner, a volunteer of Las Casas de la Selva in April of 2013. Ben is a videographer and graphic designer, and is in the process of developing a non profit design firm to help organizations with their online media presence and funding efforts, and to connect students and individuals with potential volunteer opportunities. For more information about Ben and his project called Volunteer Dream, check out his website: www.benzenner.com/

Thank you Ben!


Frogging at Las Casas de la Selva! Patricia Caligari (center) is pursuing a Masters Degree at University of Puerto Rico. L-R: Rosangela, Michel, Naomi and Monica are her assistants in the field and they are taking credits as part of their bachelor degrees.

Geographic assessment of the response of three different endemic Puerto Rican anurans to the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd)


Chytridiomycosis is a lethal infectious disease caused by the pathogenic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which is responsible for the extinction of many amphibians worldwide. In Puerto Rico three species of Eleutherodactylus disappeared potentially due to this pathogen, and many others are at risk. A synergistic effect between Bd and climate was shown for two species at El Yunque, but this relationship has not been tested in other species or forests. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the status of Bd in three endemic species, Eleutherodactylus wightmanae, Eleutherodactylus coqui, and Leptodactylus albilabris, which differ in conservation status, ecology and life history, in three highland forests across the island. Results from this study will enhance our understanding of the mechanisms of Bd under enzootic conditions.

Her advisor is Dr. Patricia Burrowes, who also co-authored our biodiversity and frog study paper.

Norman on sabbatical

In 2012 Norman Greenhawk was honored by Earthwatch with a Neville Schulman Award. The award is given for the training of emerging environmental leaders. For the award, Norman submitted a proposal: “Herpetological Conservation in the Neo-Tropics: An Interdisciplinary Approach”, and he is currently two and a half months into his seven month sabbatical.

June 2013: Above: Norman Greenhawk with Nahir Tejada in the PARC (Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project) quarantine room, located at Summit Zoological and Botanical Park in Panama. The frogs are being stored here in temporary housing as the project finalizes it’s relocation to the new facility in the nearby community of Gamboa. Every day, over 150 plastic tanks of frogs have to be cleaned and the frogs have to be provided with fresh water and food. Norman is holding an Atelopus limosus and Nahir holds an Atelopus glyphus. Collectively, members of the genus Atelopus are known as “Harlequin frogs”, and are highly susceptible to the Chytrid fungus that is decimating frog populations worldwide. The goal of PARC is to preserve a genetically diverse breeding population in captivity in the event that these species go extinct in the wild, as the Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki) is currently.

He has spent a month at La MICA Biological Field Station in El Cope, Panama. He has worked with Dr. Julie Ray, a specialist of Panamanian snakes and has also interviewed citizens of the rural barrio of Barrigon about their attitudes and beliefs about snakes. His time in Panama will end with a stint at the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC), which partners with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. PARC is a captive breeding program dedicated to preserving genetically diverse populations of Atelopus frogs, a genus of frogs that are highly susceptible to the Chytrid fungus, a disease currently wiping out populations of amphibians all over the world. While working at PARC, he is continuing his interviews of local and indigenous peoples, focusing on beliefs about reptiles and amphibians in general, as well as perceptions about conservation organizations.

Norman also has had an opportunity to conduct a very sobering interview that helps showcase why he is so focused on community outreach and partnership. On May 30th, Jairo Mora Sandoval, a Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist, was murdered by poachers who were angered at his efforts to attract the attention of police to a huge illegal turtle harvest. By chance, a former Las Casas volunteer was working with Jairo’s group when the murder occurred. He met with Norman and shared his story of what happened; Jairo was a young man, 26 years old. The night before his murder, he spoke of wanting to propose to his girlfriend. He was well liked by the community, and even by many of the local poachers. Such examples of violence are extreme, but not unheard of. Norman hopes that his continued outreach to communities around each of the conservation projects he is working at will help in some small way to prevent future tragedies such as this- on July 3rd, Norman flies to Belize to work with a crocodile sanctuary that was burned to the ground two years ago by Maya Indians who erroneously thought that two village children had been eaten by the crocodiles. We wish the best for Norman on his intrepid explorations!

Atelopus limosus male

Image by Brian Gratwicke [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons