Why The Trees Are Gone: From Asia to the Amazon (Part 1 of 3)
The large cat strolled away through the shadows of the underbrush. “CAT! CAT! CAT!” I excitedly whispered to Santiago, as we trailed behind the animal. It paused, and so did we.
That was no cat.
It was a jaguar. Its coat was covered in large black rosettes, its shoulders were busting at the seams. And despite its size, we heard nothing as it moved. The jaguar strolled forward again, paying little attention to our presence, more intrigued by the trumpeter birds ahead. Our feathered friends left as quickly and quietly as they could.
Eventually, the jaguar settled on a spot to bask under the sun. From this close a distance, it could almost be a giant housecat… only with the strongest bite force of all the extant felines. With its enormous paws, it swatted at the insects that buzzed around its head. I slowly approached the jaguar, under the watchful glance of its large, yellow eyes.
Such is the beauty of nature once you spend a long enough time off-trail in the jungle. Sadly, sights like this may soon be the stuff of myth.
It’s been a month and a half since I left modernity to travel and work in a section of the Amazon Rainforest located in southeastern Peru. Of our initial team of seven, only Liz Kirby and I remain here. As a research assistant, I cover the trails until I see a group of saddle-back or emperor tamarins. I follow them for as long as possible, no matter where they go. The goal is to collect ranging, feeding ecology, behavioral, and genetic data using a variety of methods: GPS tracking, the collection of poop samples, the tagging of trees. It gets frustrating. The monkeys are small, cat-sized, and extremely agile among the trees. Along the way, I watch out for bloodsucking insects: chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes, and sand flies. I have to beware snakes, spider webs, and bees, among other things. Each day is an adventure. When I say I am scared of insects, I mean uninhibited-high-pitch scared — yet with each passing day, I fall deeper in love with the jungle. And with only one week left in the Amazon, I have begun to appreciate it even more.
Besides our research subjects, I have been fortunate enough to see a variety of other wild animals present in the jungle: an anaconda, a bushmaster snake, a tapir, peccaries. And a jaguar. Events like these define a person’s experience, especially in such a foreign land.
Despite the beauty we are fortunate to observe daily, we end up facing a sobering fact: this part of the forest is far from untouched. Daily, we hear the chainsaws of loggers, the boats of the miners and sometimes, planes flying overhead. There’s our research station, generating and dumping its own waste. Various animal populations have become low density from hunting activity. And though this problem may seem local, we should remember that the pressures that led to the destruction of Earth’s beautiful ecosystem are global.
Tropical rainforests are the habitats currently undergoing the most dramatic facelifts. In Indonesia, the island of Sumatra has almost lost all of its forests to oil palm farming, pushing its own unique animal inhabitants to the brink of extinction.
Perhaps you may not care. Perhaps you are one of those who still hates the outdoors even if you visited the jungle and saw what I saw. None of that matters, because nature’s destruction will eventually matter to you. Hong Kong’s natural habitat grows scarcer. Taiwan lost its indigenous population of cloud leopards the year I was born. With its exacerbated flooding, China’s Three Gorges Dam is causing massive problems up and down the Yangtze River — destroying not only habitats, but human lives.
What kind of a world do you want to live in? Our excesses have resulted in amounts of waste that nature itself can no longer handle. In the unseen search to fuel luxury, humankind destroys itself and everything else with it.
William Hsu reports from the Amazon rainforest, where he is currently conducting field research with the non-profit organization Primates Peru. Learn more about their mission here.
FOLLOW 21CB ON:
TAGS: Amazon Rainforest • deforestation • environment • Environmentalism • field research • Primates Peru
You'll also like: