We finally made it to the Amazon! We have talked about the Amazon quite a bit in our discussions on the environment in Brazil so it was exciting to actually see what we had only heard about. We went to an Eco Park just north of Manaus by bus and boat with our great guide Marco. He is a professor at the University of Florida currently working on research in Brazil. Probably the best guide we have had on the trip along with Leo in Recife; Marco was full of interesting information about the ecosystem of the Amazon.
After arriving in the Eco Park we went on a two-hour hike through the jungle. There was no stone unturned as Marco stopped seemingly every twenty feet to point out some exotic plant or animal. Some times it would be a plant with a strange way to protect itself from insects while others were to point out birds and monkeys in distant tree canopies. Also during the hike I could not help but notice the sounds of the Amazon. At times the air would be filled with the songs of birds and the buzz of bugs but mostly it was completely silent besides the sound of us walking on the damp leaves covering the ground. It was bizarre to think that this place containing some of the highest amounts of species in the world could be so deafeningly quiet.
Near the end of the hike we came to an area the park was using to grow orchids. Now it may seem odd that the park would specifically cultivate orchids but it turns out they are essential to life in the Amazon. The orchids have a unique relationship with many pollinators in the area so losing the orchids would impact the ability for many other species of plants to survive throwing the ecosystem into a tailspin. The star of the show however was a 7’’ monkey spider living in a nearby plant. This spider got its name due to its grayish brown hair and ability to jump 2-3 feet. They are also one of the few spiders that actually eat birds. After a great deal of coaxing the spider came out and started walking around on one of the staff members which was appreciated by some more than others.
After eating lunch and having some down time we went off to the park’s monkey rehabilitation center. Here the park takes monkeys that were previously in captivity, mostly as pets, and reintroduce them to the wild. Many of the problems the monkeys would have coming into the program involved food as they did not know how to find it in the jungle but more surprisingly they often had diabetes due to their previous owners not giving them a proper diet. Marco spoke about how Brazil has begun to crack down on illegal exotic pet trafficking but it is still an issue since it is very difficult to enforce regulations in the Amazon because of its remoteness.
This issue goes along with Marco’s overall message of the visit. He was saying that much of the problems facing the Amazon come down to a lack of enforcement of laws both externally and internally. Externally in the sense that the government is limited in its ability to prevent activities such as the “slash and burn” deforestation method used to remove swathes of jungle to open up land to agriculture in particular cattle ranching as well as water pollution caused by illegal mining (Montero, 108). Despite this, it seemed to Marco that the larger problem was an intrinsic one, that the people in the Amazon view it as this ecosystem too large to be impacted by human activity and those in the rest of Brazil are often unknowledgeable or fairly apathetic towards the Amazon since most Brazilians live near the eastern coastline thousands of miles away. As with many of the problems we have discussed on the trip, the solution ultimately comes down to education for Marco in that Brazilians need to learn more about the Amazon and its importance to Brazil and the world. By doing this Brazilians would be more reluctant to damage the Amazon and would demand more government protection of it.
The Amazon continued giving us a show though as we saw great wildlife even while leaving the park. During the boat ride back to the main road there was a wide variety of birds along the trees lining the river including multiple kinds of toucans which Marco had been calling all day. The best part of the ride back though was the family of grey dolphins swimming through the river. Tomorrow we will be going back into the Amazon to swim with pink river dolphins which is going to be awesome.
Brazil never ceases to surprise and today was no exception.