Epiphytes growing on a branch in the Aula Global reserve.

Epiphytes in the Cloud Forest

In the Costa Rican cloud forest, where dense cloud cover maintains a humid environment much of the time, one can find a great diversity of plant life. Epiphytic plant life grows here in multitudes, mostly in the forest canopy. Epiphytes are plants which use a host tree for support. Epiphytes are not parasitic to their host tree, but rather obtain nutrients from surrounding water and air, and energy from the sun. Studies have shown that epiphytes affect the cloud forest ecosystem as a whole by their ability to absorb and retain atmospheric nutrients from particles in rain, mist, and dust. They effectively filter out mineral nutrients and incorporate them into their living tissues, with the help of their vast root systems. Eventually nutrients are transferred to other areas of the surrounding ecosystem via herbivores, liter-fall, and through their host’s root system. Epiphytic plants distribute a large percentage of nutrients necessary for cloud forest life. This is essential during dry periods in the cloud forest, when nutrients are not available through rainfall. Aside from their contribution to nutrient uptake of the surrounding ecosystem, epiphytes have been cited as an important force in cloud forest dynamics, influencing forest systems and population variations. Heavy quantities of epiphytes on a host tree can cause an increase in tree and branch falls, resulting in light gaps that provide open areas for germination and new seedlings. The epiphytic ecosystem includes a wide variety animal and insect life, some of which depend solely on epiphytes for food. Each epiphyte contains a micro-ecosystem, in which there can be a food web of arthropods and other animals. When insects die within the ecosystem, they help to supply the epiphytes with nutrients and minerals.

One example of an epiphyte with the ability to host a micro-ecosystem is the bromeliad. Bromeliads have stiff, upturned leaves, which create a cup and can collect rainwater. Some have been found to hold up to two gallons of water when full, supplying a constant source of nutrients to sustain life. The pool of water is important to many species within the micro-ecosystem, such as frogs, mosquitoes, salamanders, snails, crabs, flat worms, and insects. This habitat for small reptiles and insects in turn provides a food source for surrounding birds. There are an estimated 15,500 species of epiphytes and they account for 33% of plant species, with more still to be discovered.  Epiphytic trees can be seen growing on other trees, and it can be difficult to discern different types of foliage supported by a single trunk. In the cloud forest even cycads may occur as epiphytes. Cycads are seed plants typically characterized by a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large evergreen leaves, and include several species of palm trees. There are many orchids, ferns, bromeliads, and woody epiphytes as well. Pleurothallids (can be terrestrial or epiphytic, often with very small and unusual flowers) and other orchids that have little nutrient storing tissue occur here in multitudes as well. Though most epiphytes live close to the canopy, some can be seen growing on tree trunks or vines where there is enough light.





The Big Cat Research Project



Participating in the Big Cat Research Project was one of the greatest experiences I have had yet.  I expected to learn about field research and get a feel for whether that was the direction in which I wanted my life to go, and I gained so much more than that.  Colin and Kathy have a wealth of information to share on big cats and every other species we encountered and are invaluable contacts to have for making future connections.  Kruger Park was all I expected and more, with a surprisingly high density of so many different species.  I learned so much about research in the field, African wildlife, and myself in just two weeks.  The worst part of the trip was getting on the plane to go home.

- Megan, 2013 Participant

This trip was incredible! I had always wanted to go to Africa and see how the animals interact with each other, because all I’d ever seen before had been in the zoo. I also didn’t expect to see so many cats. The way that Colin was able to find them was amazing. The daily life on the trip exceeded my expectations because each day was full, there was never a wasted moment. From driving around to dinner conversations, I learned a lot about the wildlife and cats, as well as about myself and my direction for the future. I am sure I am going to return to Africa.

- Anna, 2013 Participant

My experience in South Africa with Raven Adventures was hands down the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. Being up close and personal with some of Africa’s most awe inspiring animals was mind blowing. To be out in the wild and to see these animals in their natural state was sometimes overwhelming because I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to fulfill this dream. Roaming around Kruger is like being in another world where fancy clothes, fine jewelry and all material goods no longer exist or even matter. You just become so captivated by the beauty of the cats, the other animals, and the landscape that you sometimes forget that the outside world exists. It was an incredibly strange feeling to leave the park and see large infrastructures, plantations and all of industrial society again and this was the moment I realized just how gorgeous Kruger really was. I would give anything to return to the park to see the big cats, sunsets and sunrises again. It was an escape from the “real” world that opened my eyes to the beauties that still exist on this planet and it was an experience I will never forget.

–Lauren, 2011 Participant


The big cat research trip in Kruger National Park, South Africa was an informative, insightful and inspiring trip. Every day, Colin was teaching us information about lions, leopards and cheetahs, as well as the other animals we would come across on the road. We learned a lot about mating behaviors, courtship, hunting strategies, feeding techniques, tracking, and rivalries between the animals of Kruger. Unlike a typical class at a university, where you sit in a classroom for an hour at a time and go through a list of objectives, we learned on the road sporadically.

Nature inspired what we learned each day while we were out there. Not only was this trip very informative on the wildlife of South Africa, it was also an insightful experience. Being disconnected from the internet, cell phone, and facebook, I was able to think for myself without the influence of the media or others. Although in America, we may learn about the loss of the certain ecosystems, and endangerment of many species throughout the world, we never truly understand the detriment it will cause if we lose these ecosystems and species completely because we are not able to witness them with our own eyes. It is truly an “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon that can quickly turn into a tragic reality.This trip inspired me to learn more about conservation and the ecosystems and animals that are suffering.

Given that this adventure not only taught me a lot about wildlife and animal behavior, but it also inspired me to pursue my passions, I would definitely say this trip was a worthwhile experience. I would strongly recommend this trip to anyone who is interested in wildlife and traveling. I learned a lot about the big cats of South Africa, as well as numerous other animals, and I learned a lot about myself, which made this experience truly memorable. I hope to return to South Africa in the near future!

–Jen, 2011 Participant

Being a conservation biology major at SUNY ESF made me want to see conservation in action. My interest in photography and the want to apply it to this major was what made me come on this trip even more. It was a great experience waking up early and driving around all day in the park because it taught me how simply, yet difficult a task like photo cataloging could be. It was also nice that we had a chance to go on a night drive and a bush walk because it gave me some insight as to what I may want to do down the road. If anyone wants to travel out of the country to learn about the wildlife in Kruger National Park, or just want to see the sights, I would highly recommend that you go on this trip.

–2011 Participant

Cheetahs have always been my favorite animal. It took me a while to get enough money for a volunteer internship with the Cheetah Conservation Fund and when I finally decided the time was right, the deadline had passed. Then I heard about Colin’s trip to film and photograph lions, leopards, and cheetahs and I knew I couldn’t pass it up. I’ll admit I was losing hope when the first week passed and we still had yet to see a cheetah, although we had seen plenty of lions and leopards, even African wild dogs, not to mention every other bird and mammal imaginable!

Then one evening as we were heading back to camp for the night, I saw a glimpse of a cheetah in a small opening between thick bushes. Those 15 minutes with this gorgeous male cheetah and his beautiful mate who joined him later were the most incredible and moving minutes of the entire trip for me. It actually brought tears to my eyes and continues to do so every time I look back at my photos or the painting I did from a photo of the male cheetah. Although that was the last we saw of cheetahs on our trip, that was the spark I needed to know in my heart that cheetahs had to be a part of my life. It made the trip the greatest experience of my life and I will never forget the people who were there to experience it all with me.

–Deanna, 2010 Participant

My trip with Colin was honestly a life-changing experience, which is something I never expected from a two-week trip. I knew, before I went, that it would be a good experience, and that I’d probably have a good time, but I had no clue to what extent it would affect me.

It was difficult for me to get the money together for the trip; it was a constant struggle almost until the day I left to have the funds to go, and to pay for what I needed to on the trip. But I never doubted that I would be able to go; it was something that I knew, deep in my bones, would happen. And the struggle was more than worth it. I learned so much from that trip, about Africa, about the world, and about myself. The trip re-kindled my love of traveling, and instilled in me a desire to see all of the wild places of the earth. It reminded me why I go to [SUNY] ESF in the first place; because I love this planet and I want to protect the beautiful things that it gives us. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that, when you’re bogged down with homework and tests and work. The trip invigorated me in a way that I’d never expected, and it’s helped me keep my passion alive.Because of this trip, I’ve realized just how much I love field work, and actually getting out there and experiencing the world. It strengthened my conviction that nature is where I belong, and it’s given me the drive to do my best to see the rest of the world, no matter what it takes.

–Katherine, 2010 Participant


Do I need any shots?
 NO! We used to guide in Kenya and Tanzania and a huge amount of effort was needed to keep everyone safe and free of illness from food and water born illnesses. South Africa is a trip leader’s paradise. Just a few hours after landing in South Africa, our students have already traveled on excellent highways, entered the game park and are enjoying the abundance of wild animals found there. The food and water in South Africa is 100% safe to consume.  Kruger park accommodations are excellent and the camp compounds throughout the park are clean and safe. Each compound is like a small village, complete with small grocery store, gift shop, restaurant and some even have a swimming pool and outdoor theater for viewing excellent and informative movies about the animals that live in the park.

What about Malaria?
 One of the wonderful aspects of traveling within Kruger park during the dry season is the lack of biting insects. This means no malaria! We have been traveling extensively in Kruger during the dry season for many years and have never encountered a single case of Malaria within our group or by others we have met. This of course does not suggest it is impossible but the risk is so low that none of our staff concern themselves with taking malarial prophylaxis. This is of course, a personal choice and we are happy to discuss this issue with you further. If you do choose to take a prophylaxis, please be sure to notify us upon your arrival.  Be sure to do your research and get the appropriate type for the areas in which you will be traveling. It does make a difference.

What if I’m a vegetarian / vegan? 
All meals prepared and served by Raven Adventures offer a vegetarian / vegan option. Please tell us if you have any food allergies or special dietary needs so we can plan ahead. On our drive from Johannesburg to Kruger park, we stop at a very large supermarket to stock up on staple foods to bring with us into the park. The park does have small grocery stores located in each camp where we will be purchasing fruits, vegetable, sandwich meats and other food items to add to the menu. Our stop at the super market outside the park is an excellent opportunity for you to purchase personal snacks. We also provide a box of quick food (apples, oranges, snacks etc) inside the vehicle for anyone to consume.

What does the project price cover? Are there any additional costs? 
Raven Adventures strives to offer low-cost high-quality educational programs and opportunities.  Our trip price includes round-trip airfare from JFK, group food prepared by Raven Staff, tent camping, and in-country transportation. As an additional cost, all visitors to the Kruger Park must pay a mandatory daily conservation fee.  For our program, the cost is $290 USD.  We ask you to bring this amount with you in US dollars and we will collect it when entering the park. Other expenses, if you choose to partake, include guided bush walks and night drives led by Kruger Park Rangers.  Though prices for these activities vary between camps, they average around $65 per person for the bush walk and $35 per person for the night drive.  Don’t forget to bring a little extra spending money for personal snacks, souvenirs, and maybe treating yourself for a night out at one of the restaurants in camp.  $100 – $150 will go a long way.

What do I need to bring? 
Please click here: Africa equipment list to see a basic equipment list we have created. This list does not cover everything you are likely to bring, but we strongly suggest you pack as light as possible. All luggage must be packed inside our van (plus all our food, camping gear etc) during our time in Kruger. We ask each person to limit their luggage to one medium cloth duffle bag and one small day pack or personal bag that you can keep with you at your seat while on safari. Please note: Large, hard case type luggage and luggage with heels and handles is impossible to pack efficiently inside the van. Please use soft duffles. Thank you.

What if there is a medical emergency?
 At least one Raven staff member on every trip is certified in search and rescue and back country medicine. This is an advanced medical first aid training that goes far beyond the typical first aid training offered by the Red Cross and other entities. South Africa also has an excellent private and public medical system and there is even a medical clinic located at Skukuza camp in Kruger park. Please be sure to complete all health forms and list any medical issues, allergies, etc, so our staff are made aware of special concerns.

Will I be able to contact family and friends at home while I am traveling?
 Though we will be traveling into the bush of Kruger park, all camps have phones in which you can use to make long distant calls provided you have a credit card or have purchased a pre-paid phone card.  A couple camps even have internet service, though we have found these to offer intermittent service at best.



Mangrove Conservation, Baja, Mexico

Global Classroom will be conducting an in depth study of mangrove forests located at Magdelena Bay in Baja Mexico. The study is open to volunteers who are wishing to gain unique field experience in some of the most pristine mangrove areas left on earth.  The goal of this project is to photo document and identify all wildlife found within the mangroves forests and surrounding area over the next three years, creating a baseline of data for future scientific and conservation projects. Using GPS systems, the density and distribution of each individual sighting will be added to a catalog of all species encountered over the three year period.  Using sea kayaks to navigate the dense labyrinth of mangrove forests, participants will collect samples, note climate and water conditions, photograph and film the insects, birds, reptiles, mollusks and mammals that use the dense vegetation for food and cover.  Participants will learn skills such as animal tracking techniques, GPS data collection, wildlife photography, desert and mangrove natural history, sea kayaking and other wilderness skills. Other activities may consist of assisting with blue whale research in the Sea of Cortez, plankton studies and preparing skeleton specimens for a local museum. Community outreach is a critical component of all our projects and participants may also enjoy a day making friends with the locals during a volunteering visit to a local school in a rural fishing village. Volunteers must be willing to share a tent with another volunteer, occasionally wade into deep mud, and participate in camp life such as cooking, cleaning and logistical chores.  This volunteer opportunity is being offered by Raven Adventures, the sister organization of the award-winning non-profit The Global Classroom.  Raven Adventures and The Global Classroom focus on hands-on conservation, community outreach, and environmental education.


This program is limited for the 2014/2015 season and enrollment is on a first come, first served basis.  For more information on how to enroll please visit our enrollment Page at our sister site.

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