Indifference to the rain-forest plight will kill us all.

The TV programme here in England called #’I bought a rainforest’ showed last night. The show was about Charlie who had bought an area of rainforest in Peru in an effort to conserve it and protect it from deforestation.
His story is similar to my own and his desperation as his dream is shattered is equal to my own.

It’s easy to sit on the stones of a clear, cool forest stream as the water runs through your toes, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the rainforest, and think life is perfect.
But then your daydreams are crashed into by the sound of tree saws and you’re faced with the reality as you hear and feel the thump of the tree hitting the ground.
People, often those living in towns, often well off, come into the forest or send others to cut down the best trees…the hardwood trees that have taken hundred of years to grow, to sell abroad or to clear the forest for food, soya, production.

There are two kinds of locals in the rainforest. There are those that don’t want change, who want the forest they love left alone. People who live and work within the forest.
And there are the other kind. The ones who see the rainforest as a thing to be used and abused and flattened if it provides money, however temporary.
The soil of the rainforest is thin it won’t provide decades of farming. I’ve seen fields after a few years…… now useless …stark, dry and treeless, abandoned by the farmers.
I’ve seen streams and rivers polluted and made unusable by mining. I’ve seen thick forest burnt to the ground and with it thousands of animals and birds and insects, some not yet seen by man as new discoveries are being made all the time.

The forest has evolved over millions of years. The animals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians…the trees, shrubs, plants have evolved to work together. The Brazil-nut tree for instance needs a particular orchid, a specialist bee and a sharp toothed rodent to reproduce.
Take away one item from the forest and the effect on everything around it is dramatic.
The rainforest is not only beautiful with extraordinary wildlife, it provides a third of the oxygen we breath. Cut down the forest and human life on earth ends.

When are governments around the world going to take this seriously and help the countries with rainforests to protect them or must we just accept the inevitable. Are Charlie and I banging our heads against a wall of indifference.


Three-toed sloth (Bradypus )


The sloth is a difficult animal to take photos of. It is an arboreal animal….living quietly in tall trees and it moves slowly so is difficult to even see. They usually appear as dark shapeless bodies high in the branches.

My partner climbed a tall tree and brought this sloth down for me. I held it to me and like a baby it put its surprisingly strong arms around me digging its long,sharp nails into my skin.
The three-toed sloth’s face is gentle and baby-like with an upwards curving mouth, you can’t help smiling as you look into its large round dark eyes, despite the green algae covered fur crawling with fleas and other insects.
As I held the sloth it put it’s hand out and grabbed some leaves. They eat leaves, shoots and fruit usually in the evenings.

Three-toed Sloths have no breeding season, but breed throughout the year. Females scream to attract males. Babies stay with their mothers for nine months and are left territory by their mothers who move on to new grounds.

The sloth was carefully unpicked from his grip of me and returned to the tree. I could hear the sloth moving through the branches as it moved up the trunk and along from tree to tree.

I, left below in a canoe, spent the next hour picking off large fleas from my clothes and hair.

Last Photo Courtesy of Arkive.

Caiman…Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Dwarf Caiman. Brazilian Amazon.

Caiman….Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Caiman.

There are several types of Caiman in the Amazon rainforest…Black Caiman, Spectacled Caiman, Yacare Caiman-(Jacares in Portuguese), Cuviers Dwarf …..The Black Caiman is the largest at 13/20ft (6m) and the Cuviers Dwarf the smallest at some 3ft (1m).
The Caiman resembles alligators. It is a four legged reptile with a long snout and long tapering tail. Their dark coloured, plated bodies have markings, stripes and spots, that help them blend in with the rainforest.
Caiman eat fish, birds, small animals and snakes. They can live for 50 to 80 years.

Caiman lived on the banks of the river close to the lodge.
I didn’t realise just how close, until a friend, a forest guide, went for a late dip in the river. He took a torch and on returning regaled me with a description of the size of the biggest one, worked out by the distance between its eyes, which glow in torchlight.
‘You are joking,’ I said with surprise and ignorance…but no, he was not joking. He assured me that bathing during the day should not be a problem, but to be cautious in the evening.

I was concerned by the behaviour of Caiman only twice. Once when I was fishing with a local and a large log seemed to be following the canoe. He laughed when I pointed out the ‘log’. It was a Caiman, he said, and it can smell fresh, Britisher flesh!
The other time I was concerned by a Caiman was when I was doing the washing up, sitting on the harbour decking with my feet in the water. I caught sight of the eyes of a large Caiman staring at me from a short distance away, then it sank and I jumped up and moved quickly away from the waters edge depriving the large reptile of its English breakfast.
Sadly, confirmation of their existence close to my lodge was made when, on returning to the lodge during the dry season, I saw the shrivelled body of a caiman on the sandy banks of the river, picked clean by vultures. Maybe it had been surprised by the rivers quick departure or maybe one of the Jaguars who lived in the forest had got him.


Jaguar…Panthera Onca Amazon Rainforest Cat.

Jaguar….Panthera Onca.

Photo by Bjorne Christian Torrissen

The Jaguar is the third-largest cat. An adult stands at 63/76 cm of pure muscle with a body length of 120/195 cm. It is similar to a leopard, but is sturdier, heavier and shorter and has a rounder head.
This beautiful cat is at the top of the food chain in the rainforest. It stalks and ambushes its prey, biting into its head from behind with powerful jaws. It eats most small animals and reptiles as well as larger animals like caiman, tapirs, deer etc.
It’s colouring is mostly a tawny yellow, but it can look brown to black through which their spots can be seen. The spots or rosettes are useful as camouflage in the dappled sunlight of the thick rainforest.
Adult Jaguars are solitary animals. They mate throughout the year and the female raises her two to four cubs alone. The cubs stay with their mother for one or two years.

I was told by a neighbour, the term being relative as he lived in a forest area miles away, that while fishing he had seen a female Jaguar and her cub walking along the river bank close to my home on a number of occasions.
I was delighted and not surprised as during a visit to the waterfall area at the back of the forest I had seen claw marks in the river bank, one of the ways, along with urinating, that Jaguars mark their territory. The Jaguar is most often seen near water and is a good swimmer.
I was then also told a sad tale about a male Jaguar from my forest. The big cat had taken some pigs and a dog from a neighbouring property, so a posse of locals gathered and hunted the cat through my forest. They shot the male Jaguar dead.
I let it be known that I wanted no one on my property with a gun, especially if they were intending to kill local wildlife.
Of course, I understood why the locals had killed the Jaguar….the cat had eaten their families dinner….the pigs having been bought in town, a long way away, and then nurtured into plump maturity….and lost a valued pet. But the Jaguar is a rare and beautiful animal and I wondered why they hadn’t recognised this and instead taken precautions to ensure the safety of their livestock and pets in the evenings when the Jaguar hunts.
When alone in the forest one morning I heard a cough. My hair stood on end. Was it a human or a Jaguar….either a possible danger to a lone woman. I never found out, but spent the day looking over my shoulder and that evening I securely locked and bolted my bedroom door and tried to ignore the padding of feet along the verandah.
Despite the fear I felt honoured to be sharing territory with such a magnificent creature.


Squirrel Monkeys in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

Squirrel monkeys.

The Squirrel Monkey is a small species of monkey that moved behind the lodge early in the morning and returned in the evening.

I heard the Squirrel monkeys coming long before I caught sight of them. A rustle of leaves or the breaking of a twig or branch warned of their arrival. They were a large group of mixed adults, males, females often with babies, juveniles and youngsters.
The Squirrels have short hair, small bodies and long non-prehensile tails used for balance. They have short greyish-tan fur and white faces with dark foreheads and black muzzles. Delicately fingered hands are used for gripping and manipulating.
Squirrel monkeys eat fruits, figs being a favourite, insects, small animals and plants. Each day they would move through the trees behind the lodge and on into the deeper forest in search for food.
These monkeys are thought to be very intelligent with good eyesight, useful as their small size makes them a target for birds of prey and snakes.
Deforestation is a particular problem for Squirrel monkeys as they generally have large numbered troops which suffer if pushed into smaller areas resulting in lack of space and a limited food supply.


This is the scene I was usually faced with when searching the trees for a photo of the Squirrel Monkeys. Can you see the monkey?


The Wet Season in the Brazilian Tropical Rainforest.

The wet season starts at the end of November and continues until May. Rain usually falls in the morning, light showers that cool the air, but quite often a great storm will rage through the forest, lasting for hours.
During the storms, walls of heavy rain move across the forest, saturating everything in their path. Thunder crashes above with such force the ground trembles. The noise must be the loudest natural sound on earth. Despite being warned by lightening of the impending boom and rumble, it always made me jump.
High winds bend and shake the trees and leaves, twigs and branches are thrown through the air. The lodge verandah, when finally the storm ends, is covered with broken twigs, leaves, battered insects and other bits of natures debris. The wooden boards shone as if freshly varnished. The grass roof, rearranged by the storm, let in rays of sunlight………
The rains change the views from the lodge dramatically. Gone are the vast meadows of grasses and wild flowers. Instead stretching to the river mouth is now gleaming, deep water. Deep enough for the dolphins to swim and breed in, deep enough for the caiman and deep enough for the return of lunch. No longer do we have to eat dried up, smelly carcasses, instead the dish is plump and tasty.
The rain is welcome, bringing with it fresh water, food and enough water to row the canoes from shore to shore, so much nicer than slurping through the thick, clinging, river bed, mud.
The wet season is back, all is well in the forest.


These photos were taken from the same point. During the wet season the river is deep and full. Boto and Grey Bottle-nosed Dolphins swim and jump and breed…Caiman stalk the shores…Anaconda slide through the reeds.

Come the dry season and the view changes dramatically…the river disappears leaving shallow pools, tiny streams and beds of thick, sucking mud as far as the river mouth. Fishes are easily caught by flocks of Herons and Egrets. Kingfishers find easy meals. Dry, shrivelled carcasses of animals lay on the shores to be picked over by Black Vultures.



Amazon Rainforest-home. Eden Lodge.

Eden Lodge. My home in the Amazon rainforest.

My home in the Amazon rainforest consisted of three spacious rooms and a wide verandah. There was space to sling my hammock and cook a meal and a spare room for visitors. Two of the rooms had flat, wooden ceilings, the other was open to the beautifully woven grass roof and, I’m afraid to say, rain drops.
It felt organic and had a strong smell of freshly cut wood. The surfaces of the verandah walls and doors were rough to the touch. It fitted well into the environment and was certainly a place where the wildlife felt at home.
Why Eden Lodge? Well, the multitude of animals, birds and insects I saw on a daily basis, along with the peace and quiet associated with the Garden of Eden, and of course the snakes, made Eden an obvious choice as a name for my home.
I loved it there. I felt at home the minute I arrived back, no matter how long I’d been away. The moment I stepped ashore, the forest wrapped around me like a pair of welcoming arms and I had a deep sense of belonging.

It took time to get the house in order on my return. Monduco, a friend and neighbour, who lived in a large canoe on the river, used the kitchen when I wasn’t there. He was not known for his cleaning skills. Everything had to be scrubbed clean and the area around the lodge had to be cleared.
But when all was in order again, I was able to sit in my rocking chair and watch the wildlife. When you’ve always lived in a busy city or town as I have, its sometimes difficult to wind down when away, but the journey to my forest home in planes, cars and boats began the detachment from that reality and by the time I reached Eden lodge I was ready to relax and totally immerse myself in the environment.
I didn’t move much when I was there. The humidity which made every pore in my skin wet and the heat which drained all energy, made exertion unpleasant. So I sat in my rocking chair or on the wooden harbour boards and watched and listened.
I found that I saw a great deal in that way. Rather than rushing around, digging sticks in holes, hauling myself up trees or diving headlong into rivers to unearth wildlife, my idea of bird or animal watching was to sit back and let it come to me. And, it worked.





Dogs, Rabies and Foot-tunnelling Ticks.

Dogs, Rabies and Foot-Tunnelling Ticks.

I got bitten by a tick that had fallen from the fur of a little dog onto the verandah. I walked on the boards in bare feet, so had picked it up after the dogs visit. The tick had burrowed into my heel, contentedly setting up home.
I was on my way back to the UK, so was flying and the pressure on the planes caused the wound to swell. It was very uncomfortable. On my return I immediately limped to my GP, who was delighted to have something very different to deal with.
He put my heel up on his lap and cut into the swelling with a scalpel, draining out the poison and digging about to ensure nothing of the tick was left, while I grit my teeth and mused on my love of animals. It cleared up pretty quickly after that, but I kept well away from dogs when I returned to Brazil.
I felt pity for them, but as dogs carry rabies in Brazil, as well as ticks and fleas, this caution was necessary.

The dogs I saw in the city of Manaus or town of Manacapuru were often thin and bony with bald, sore areas in their matted fur and could often be seen limping. I saw few strays on the streets, but those I did see were in this condition. I saw not one well cared for, well fed dog being taken for a walk by a proud owner. The reason for this, I believe, is because dogs are seen as animals, able to look after themselves, and not as pets to be pampered or fed with tins of thick meat that locals can’t afford for themselves.
People in the forest sometimes keep dogs as guards, to bark at strangers or warn off prowling animals and snakes. They are often left to find their own food or are given scraps from the table. They will eat absolutely anything……except corned beef and tinned peas. Even people who appear to be quite fond of their dogs are happy to go off for weeks at a time and leave them to fend for themselves in the forest.



Moths of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. White Witch (Thysania agrippina) or Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata)

Moths of the Amazon Rainforest. Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata) White Witch (Thysania agrippina)

In general moths in England are relatively small and even the big ones are still only hand palm size, so it was with surprise and awe that I come to know the Amazon Rainforest moths.
One particular moth appeared everywhere. It was greyish brown with an exquisitely intricate pattern on its wings. It crept up the wooden walls of my home, sometimes onto the ceiling and I found it in hotel bathrooms,stuck to tiles and oblivious to me showering below.
One extraordinary individual covered two large floor tiles in a hotel lobby. I ran for my camera, having asked the receptionist, broom at the ready, not to touch it. Of course, by the time I got back it had gone, the broom returned to the cupboard and she was sitting painting her nails, a tolerant smile on her lips. I think they saw me as a kind of ‘cat woman’ with my obsession for birds and insects.
In some Latin American countries the Witches are thought to be the bringer of curses or death, but I never heard a Brazilian condemning them with such powers.
The Witches fed on fruit from the forest. Because they can feed almost continually in Rainforests, moths produce fatter caterpillars and therefore bigger adults, resulting in these huge insects. In fact, the White Witches are considered to have the widest wingspan of any moth in the world.
Not all the moths were big, of course, some were tiny. The little black one in the photo could always be seen near the ashes of bonfires, almost blending into the background. The pale yellow and pink moth I found on a table.
Photos taken of moth taken in shower room = mist on lens. White Witch (Thysania agrippina) or Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata)






Deforestation..Brazil Government Survey.

Amazon Deforestation.

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. via @guardian