Author Archives: Admin

Protect This! : Psittacanthus gigas


For your look into the glory that is the Wildlife of Colombia today, let me present to you : Psittacanthus gigas.

Image via Southern Illinois University

Image via Southern Illinois University

Psittacanthus gigas is a mistletoe from Colombia that was discovered by the late, great botanical explorer, Alwyn Gentry. It lives in the wild in three locations, all in the Buenaventura area. Now, this plant is very interesting for 2 points.

First, it was discovered recently. Specifically, this mistletoe was discovered and categorized in 1984, which is exceptional because so many plants were discovered generations ago, not within our lifetimes…

Second, it is a large plant. It has the largest leaves of any dicot shrub. It’s leaves are also the largest of any parasitic plant. These leaves can be up to 3′ 10″ long and a more than foot wide.

Image via Tropicos

Image via Tropicos

To help in our work protecting this environment, and other projects, visit
To follow along with the rest of Protect This!, Visit

Protect This! : Brown Hairy Dwarf Porcupine


For your quick glimpse into the majesty that is the Colombian Ecosystem today, let me present to you to the Brown Hairy Dwarf Porcupine.

protect this

Picture via Juan Villalba-Macías

The Brown Hairy Dwarf Porcupine is one of the species listed as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, meaning this cutie is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

It lives in the wild in two locations, both western foothills of the eastern Andes, roughly 60 km northwest of Bogotá. As with many porcupines, this one is nocturnal, and eats fruit, shoots, and leaves. As it is arboreal, living in trees, the destruction of the local forest is especially devastating.

Interestingly enough, no specimens of this species were able to be captured for study between 1925 and 2001, leading researchers to believe that it had either left its known range, or died out. Luckily, they were found again in 2001, when a single porcupine was found in a fruit tree of a plantation.

To help in our work protecting this environment, and other projects, visit
To follow along with the rest of Protect This!, Visit

Protect This! : Cotton-Top Tamarin


For your glimpse into the beauty that is the Colombian Ecosystem today, let me present to you to the Cotton-Top Tamarin.

The Cotton Top Tamarin

Picture via Wellington Zoo

This adorable New-World primate (weighing in at less than 700 grams and 23cm from head to tail) is currently classified as Critically Endangered, and lives only in a small section of Colombia. This species only naturally occurrs in northwestern Colombia between the the Magdalena River and the Atrato River.

Since this species was found to spontaneously develop colonic adenocarcinoma, it was commonly captured and sent to biomedical research facilities. In 1976, this was banned, but roughly 40,000 individuals were captured and used for research. Between the massive losses due to research, the illegal poaching for pets, and a environment that is undergoing deforestation (currently 5% of its historic range), this cute little primate is in serious danger of becoming extinct.

This is such a shame, as the Cottom-Top Tamarin is a very lively creature. Just like me, it displays spite, altruism, cooperation, and interacts within a complicated social structure, all while being awkward in photos.

The Cotton Top Tamarin

Picture via

To help in our work protecting this enviroment, and other projects, visit
To follow along with the rest of Protect This!, Visit

Protect This! : Handley’s Slender Mouse Opossum


For todays piece of Colombian Wildlife, let me introduce you to the Handley’s Slender Mouse Opossum.

A Cute Colombian Opossum

Picture via The Zoological Society of London

This cute little Opossum (weighing in at less than 90 grams and 300mm total length) is currently classified as Critically Endangered, and lives only in a small section of Colombia. The entirety of this species is believed to live in 4 sites in a 48 km long range in central Colombian Andes. Although this species is not well studied (only 9 specimens have been studied), it is believed that this Opossum lives nocturnally, within a few meters on the ground, and eats mostly insects and fruits.

Additionally, even though this Opossum has a prehensile tail (which this author wants), it does not have the characteristic ‘Possum Pouch’, (which this author also wants).

To help in our work protecting this enviroment, and other projects, visit
To follow along with the rest of Protect This!, Visit

Protect This!

Currently, the Pathfinders are in Minca, a town in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Colombia.
We are working with Misión Gaia, a local Non-Government Organization, to help protect biological diversity, develop low-impact environmental processes, promote awareness of conservation and responsible consumption, and encourage respect for nature.
This translates into us working on a daily basis on educating schoolchildren and adults about environmental processes and issues, and building sustainable environmental structures, such as composters, a composting latrine, permaculture gardens, and seed beds.
That being said, these projects, and our entire trip, costs money.
To raise awareness for the environmental issues in Colombia, as well as money for our trip, the pathfinders are uniting for an educational campaign “Protect This!”
We will be providing daily information about the environment issues and profiles of local wildlife, as well as photographs of the area we are trying to protect.
You can support us at Follow us on facebook at to learn more about this wonderful area of the world.


First sickness (pt. 1)


It happened…

I was the first of our group, and I’m sure not the last…

That is right, I got Traveler’s Diarrhea.


Now, for those who don’t know about this illness, Traveler’s Diarrhea (also known as Montezuma’s Revenge, Delhi Belly, and my personal favorite Turkey Trots) is a common ailment, the most common reported among international travelers. An estimated 10 Million people (between 20-50% of international travelers) suffer through this ailment every year.

And suffer they do….

The main symptom of Traveler’s Diarrhea is, you guessed it, severe diarrhea. As a medical condition, diarrhea is defined by having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day….

Now, I was quite a but more frequent than that, and it was not pleasant.

My studies taught me that the word diarrhea comes from from the Greek διάρροια, δια dia meaning “through” and ρέω rheo meaning “flow”, combined meaning “flowing through”. This is so very accurate to what my condition was.

Anyway, back to symptoms: Mayo Clinic lists the common symptoms as:

    Abrupt onset of passage of three or more loose stools a day [Check]
    An urgent need to defecate [Check]
    Abdominal cramps [Check, but with that much defecation, it is inevitable]
    Nausea [not really]
    Vomiting [some, but only after I had a Pineapple Fanta.... It wasn't actually that bad]
    Fever [none]

Now, I’m sure you will now ask, “Ben, if you weren’t feeling well, why did you have a Pineapple Fanta?”

Now, at the time, I thought I had just gotten too much sun/ low blood sugar, and I assumed that my craving for a citrus soda was it telling me I needed it.

I didn’t….

Anyway, back to diarrhea… (Not literally though)

Traveler’s Diarrhea is generally resolved after a few days, without medical intervention. Now, due to the specifics of my case, I elected to take a 3 day corse of antibiotics, but that wasn’t “necessary”, just well worth it.
In cases of Traveler’s Diarrhea, the most important thing is to keep taking in fluids (even as you keep losing them) and to attempt food when you can. In more severe cases, a Oral Rehydration Solution may be necessary. This is a drink usually made from a packet (there are several brands available) that replaces some of the other substances lot during diarrhea (salts, sugars, minerals, ect.). That being said, one can also mix a good version by mixing 2 tablespoons of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt into a quart of water.

Now, the next part of this post will go into the microbes responsible for this disease…..
Stay tuned!
-Ben (Currently in Siam Reap, Cambodia

Jet Lag in cambodia

I’m here in Cambodia, an it is currently 3:26 AM local time. Which means it is 3:26 PM in LA where I spent the better part of a month training for this project, and 1:26 PM in Minnesota, where I was born and raised….
Now, I have traveled in the states quite a bit, but this is the first time I have traveled abroad…. And so I’m feeling some jet lag. Now, some of this may be exhaustion from the 27 hours we were on planes/in airports, but this doesn’t feel like exhaustion… It feels like my body is disconnected from my brain, which is still blazing…

But, luckily, I have someone to blame for this… Well, actually lots of people. I’m blaming the people who came up with flight. Without them, we would never have to face the discomfort that is jet lag….
Sure, we would also have a much longer travel time, our roads would be more crowded, and don’t even think about the ways that flight has benefited medicine (medical evacuations anyone?) and society as a whole. But at least I would be asleep right now, instead of writing this at 3:35 AM in Cambodia.

Now that I think about it, I am kinda tired….
If you want to learn more about the history of human flight, here is a good place to start, and if you don’t, here is a picture of the anatomy of a narwhal…


Be safe, and make good choices!
-Ben (currently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Thoughts Aboard Our First Plane Ride

For the first time in our trip, I began to confront the privilege I normally have.
In this case, it was the privilege of language, or the native tongue privilege. While flying to South Korea for our first group layover before Cambodia, the primary language was not English. The primary language on the instructions and menu and that the flight staff speak is not English….. And that is a new experience to me.
That is not to say I haven’t been to restaurants or had other experiences a where there wasn’t English on the menu… I have.
But now, and for the next year of my life, it is a constant struggle, and will be in many, if not most aspects of my life.
Anyway, that’s just a brief blip of a blog…. Expect more on issues similar to these, as they are an important part of how I experience the trip, as well as my growth from this experience.