The Brazilian Government has just announced a four year long survey of the Amazon Rainforest to provide detailed data of tree species. It will also provide data on the soil and bio diversity in an area and try to assess the effects of climate change ie drought.
I am so happy to see this happening. A survey will detail all the trees in an area and make it easier to see when trees have been cut and will give a more accurate picture of deforestation.
I know from experience that many trees get cut down and sold without proper Government papers, which are, rightly, difficult to get.
I hope this survey will be highly publicised and involve locals in the collection of data and encourage communities to protect their beautiful environment. http://gu.com/p/3dc68/tw via @guardian
Real Life in the Amazon Rainforest. Morning, January.
My life in the forest bore no relation to the experiences of the muscled,adventurous, exuberant presenters usually seen on programmes about the Amazon.
I didn’t wrestle alligators, poke sticks into the holes of venomous snakes and spiders, or swim with hordes of Piranhas. Well, actually I did bathe with piranhas and venomous stingrays daily, but in a benign way, not in a threatening manner.
Real life in the Amazon is just like real life everywhere. It’s a day to day survival. I could just have easily got run over by a car or fallen down some stairs when in England, than get bitten by a cobra in Brazil.
I woke in the mornings as the sun rose. The growing light and the sounds of birds waking and flying off to their feeding grounds, was my cue to leave my hammock and prepare breakfast.
Often I had a guest or two. Mr.Monduco lived in his large canoe on the river and would regularly hang his hammock on the verandah. He was an elderly man, a man of the forest. Strong, gentle and a friend. We communicated in hand signals and my very poor Portugese, and somehow I got to know a lot about him. We had a similar silly sense of humour that helped too.
Just as often I was totally alone, sometimes for weeks, but I was never concerned about that. If anything I was able to see a part of myself that I did not know existed…I found a strength I didn’t know I had.
After breakfast I went to the river to bathe in the water along with the piranhas. Not a problem, most piranhas are harmless. Caiman were not a problem either, usually fishing at night, they rarely bothered humans. Anacondas too kept themselves to themselves.
I would sit on the wooden harbour deck with my feet in the water to keep cool, to do the washing up. Bird watching is easy done in the rainforest. Without any effort on my part, just patience, I saw from my position beside the washing-up bowl : several variety of Herons, Kingfishers and Birds of Prey. Blue-headed Green Parrots and Scarlet and Blue Macaws flew in noisy flocks overhead, as did Toco Toucans. A solitary Osprey perched in a tall tree to my right every morning. Sun Bitterns and Rails would often scuttle down to the shore, oblivious to my quiet presence.
I sat there in wonder until the sun rose above the trees and the heat became unbearable. I returned to the lodge and cleared, cleaned and tidied and prepared lunch.
That was my morning, similar to my mornings in England, but I must admit not so exciting as wrestling a caiman or dodging a cobras bite.
First photo Striated Heron, second photo Tiger Heron, third photo Blue-headed Green Parrots, fourth photo Great White Heron or Egret.
Smooth-billed Ani. Scientific name: Crotophaga ani
A bird that roosts close to the lodge are the Smooth-billed Anis. Black crow-like birds with large hooked parrot-like beaks.
Watching them from my verandah was always interesting. They hunt in flocks. The scout Anis appears first, leading the others over the trees and shrubs and swooping down through the branches, as far as the ground. They eat everything in their wake, be it frog, lizard, insect or termite. They remind me of velociraptors, in the way they move and in their pursuit of prey, and in their calls, resembling the calls heard on films of prehistoric dinosaurs.
They breed communally, having as many as twenty nine eggs in a single cup shaped nest.
When in open areas, close to settlements or in town, they march forward in ranks clearing the area of small wildlife. They appear not to fear humans, and do not fly away when one is sighted, but often turn, look with a challenging stare, then turn away, irritated by the interruption and carry on with their foraging. I found them quite intimidating, though they are not aggressive to humans.
A raucous yell from a tree close to the lodge, always made me smile. It told me the Aracari was in town.
The Aracari looks like a smaller version of a toucan, with a huge black beak that looks heavy, but which is very light. It’s predominantly black body is relieved with a vibrant, custard yellow, breast, striped with a thick, scarlet band and across its cheeks is a chestnut patch, like a blush. But certainly not a blush of shyness. The Aracari is a charmer. Loud and cheeky, its one of my favourite birds.
The Aracari favours forest close to rivers, so was perfectly at home close to the lodge and made daily visits. It fed on fruit and insects and stole, when it got the chance, the eggs of other birds.
One afternoon a local fisherman brought a baby Bottle-nosed Dolphin to show me, then he placed it in the bottom of his canoe. I asked him to let it go and he promised he would, but dolphin meat is good to eat, I hear, and to use for fishing bait, so sadly I doubt he did.
I had to put aside my own expectations when faced with the behaviour of the locals. To them dolphins are big fish. Food which will feed their families for a few days, not the beautiful, intelligent animals with protected rights that I saw.
On my return to the lodge earlier in my trip I was asked did I want the good news or the bad. “Good,” I said hopefully. There had been seen the previous month: three Jaguars in the forest, a male, and a mother and her cub, and three Giant Otters had been seen in the waterfall area, I was told.
Overjoyed, and with my nascent Portuguese missing the past tense, I now asked tentatively for the bad news. The large, male Jaguar had been shot dead by a group of local men from a neighbouring forest several miles away. The big cat had taken a pet dog and some domesticated pigs, so had been hunted down by a band of local men and dispatched with a bullet. And the three otters had also been killed, why was not explained to me.
My first response was anger, but then after a few hours of thought I realised why they had done this, even though it hurt to recognise it. They had bought the piglets in town, with limited funds, fed them and nurtured them into plump adulthood and the big cat had made off with their investment and the families dinner, not to mention the family pet.
As for the otters, I could get no explanation for their deaths. I don’t think they are eaten, but maybe they are competition for dwindling fish-stocks in the dry season and I hear their pelts can be sold for a good price.
I learnt in the Rainforest that putting myself in another’s shoes hurts. Western values don’t fit well, or at all, into some cultures. Animals that we value, such as Turtles, Tortoise and Dolphins, or that we find zoologically interesting, ie Caiman and Anaconda, are simply food to my forest neighbours.
The Yellow-footed Tortoise was a frequent walker of the Rainforest trails. In some areas in the Brazilian Amazon the tortoise is becoming rare and is endangered, because they are considered a food delicacy by the locals, but in my forest they could be frequently seen.
They can grow to 94cm, but the tortoise I saw were much smaller. They fed on foliage, fruit, carrion and small, slow moving animals such as worms, beetles and snails.
The rainforest is thickly wooded, damp, hot and humid. The tortoises thrived in such an environment.
One sad encounter I had with a tortoise, was after a bonfire. We had cleared the area around the lodge. The piles of leaves were set alight in the evening and the next day, whilst digging in the ashes to enrich the soil, I found an empty shell.
Somehow, I don’t think the living tortoise got caught in the fire. Large Tegu lizards lived around the lodge and they are tortoise predators, so I think the shell was empty already. That’s what I told myself, but I was careful to dig around the piles of leaves next time we had a bonfire.
The first two photos are of a Yellow-footed Tortoise seen on a forest path. Note the mites embedded in the tortoise shell. The next two photos are of the Northern Tegu Lizard.
One morning a loud flap of wings and a shuffle behind me caused me to turn around and there stood, three South American Black Vultures.
I was sitting on the wooden harbour boards, birdwatching. I had just finished washing up in the river water and the soft clouds hiding the glaring sun for a while allowed me to sit and stare.
The vultures surprised me as they landed within feet of me. They came to at least my shoulders and at full stretch the top of my head. When one became agitated and fully spread its wings, it seemed huge, vampire like and threatening. I knew them to be scavengers and therefore not dangerous or aggressive, but their large size was still oppressive.
They looked up when I turned, waited, and when I didn’t respond to them in a negative way, went on picking at the ground clearing it of any bits of fish and meat that had fallen from plates whilst cleaning or during preparation. I occasionally had to shush them away, when they came within pecking distance, eliciting from them a hiss or grunt of irritation, otherwise we cohabited peacefully.
In a clear blue Amazon sky, the sharp, black shapes of the vultures can be seen flying very high, circling slowly, using their incredible eyesight and acute sense of smell, to search the forest and river banks.
The dry season brought benefits to the vultures, who were able to take advantage of the misfortune of the rivers animals. Caiman and dolphins caught out by the swiftly disappearing river, were left high and dry on the sandy banks and the vultures quickly disposed of them.
Vultures are strange looking, not very attractive, not very exciting, but probably the most important bird in the forest. They are essential to the ecology of a region by clearing away the dead bodies of animals and keeping areas clean, as they do in my harbour.
They were always welcomed and tolerated and rather admired.