July 16, 2012

Tambopata Photo Journal by Photographer Luana Luna

Luana Luna from Conservation International visited Refugio Amazonas in April. Thanks Luana for your guest post and wonderful photo journal.

You know normal life? That one in which you wake up and spend the entire day running to get things done, and when it is time for bed you are tired but still wishes your day had more hours? This is the kind of life that I forgot I had being in the forest for a week. It was the most relaxing and rewarding week I had in a long time. There is no electricity, and one of the walls is open to the forest, so you wake up and sleep with the sun, without the noises of technologies to disturb you. The fact that we had Yuri as our guide (only ours!) allowed us to choose what we were doing in our days. And that is the best part: we saw and did everything we could!

I am a nature lover. I could spend an entire week observing how monkeys interact and play (and taking pictures of them, of course). In the forest we had that entire week to observe not only 5 species of monkeys, but other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, such as the colorful macaws. We learned about life in the forest, met the Centro Ñape medicine man who extracts his portions from the plants, played soccer in sandals in a soil field with locals and other tourists, and learned how the local communities totally depend on the forest to survive. I am proud to know that my experience in the forest provided income to the people of the forest in a sustainable way, a way that they have to keep the forest and the animals alive if they want to survive themselves. 

The slow pace that nature offered us when we were there is something I will never forget and that I am already looking forward to repeating. You can learn more about our trip and the animals through our Tambopata photos.
July 12, 2012

Three famous visitors to the Amazon I bet you did not know about

This is not about celebrities. It’s about historical figures. You know, Abraham Lincoln or Vladimir Lenin. And, to be fair, I got these from the excellent book on the history of the Amazon: Tree of Rivers by John Hemming. You have to enjoy the Amazon to cover its 400 pages, but it is a superbly researched and well written book (so is Hemming’s other book, the Conquest of the Incas). Anyway, without further ado, here they go:

Theodore Roosevelt (pg 236-244)
It is appropriate that the North American president who founded the National Park system had an epic Amazon journey. In 1914, Teddy Roosevelt, already 55, visited Brazil on a hunting trip to  Amazonia. The government of Brazil assigned the great woodsman Colonel Candido Rondon as his guide. Rondon, who may have been the first indigenous rights activist in Amazonia has whole state  named after him: Rondonia.

Anyway, they had no mission beyond hunting and exploring. Hunting is not as good in the Amazon as it is in Africa: game is smaller and much harder to find. So I imagine that after a disappointing tapir or red brocket deer kill, Roosevelt turned to exploring. Rondon gave him a choice of four rivers to descend from Rondonia northwards to the Amazon. One was an unknown tributary called the Duvida, or “River of Doubt” because now when knew where it emerged. Roosevelt of course,  picked that one. During the eight week 1000 kilometer descent, he almost lost his son Kermit in the rapids and was “wasted to a mere shadow of his former self”. The Duvida was christened the Roosevelt River by Rondon.

I love his quotes from his Amazon travels, which could be found in any field biologists journal:

“Now, while bursting thru a tangle, I disturbed a nest of wasps, whose resentment was very active; now I heedlessly stepped among the outliers of a small party of the carnivorous foraging (Eciton, army) ants; now grasping a branch as I stumbled, I shook down a shower of fire-ants (Dinoponera) which stung like hornet, so that I felt it for three hours… ”

“Because of the rain and heat our clothes were usually wet when we took them off at night, and just as wet when we put them on in the morning.”

Henry Ford (pg 264-268)
Who would have thought that Ford founded one of the Amazon’s first businesses to go bust? It turns out that around 1922 Ford wanted to break the Dutch- British cartel on plantation rubber, which was steadily raising prices. Some shady Brazilians sold 10000 square miles of land in the state of Para where he could replicate the Asian and African rubber tree plantations in the Amazon. Any Peruvian forestry undergraduate will tell you that is an extremely risky proposition: high densities of any native tree species will attract pests (in Asia and Africa, rubber is a non-native species, so it has no pests). So, Fordlandia was built, complete with a cinema, a hospital, churches schools, tennis courts, swimming pools, social clubs, avenues lined with eucalyptus, and a golf course. By 1935, 1.5 million rubber trees were planted, but as they grew enough for their canopies to touch, they lost their leaves to the endemic South American Leaf Blight. They moved the plantation and built a large Fordlandia at a palce called Belterra. After 2 million trees were planted, the blight struck again. In 1945, Henry Ford II abandoned the enterprise having sunk 10 million dollars without tapping a single rubber tree.

Otto von Bismarck (pg 122)
The founder and first chancellor of the German Empire (ca. 1870) was an aide-de-camp in an expedition to the Amazon led by Prince Adalbert of Prussia. The expedition visited the Amazon in 1842 with the goal of exploring the Xingu. Ive tried googling more on this expedition because Hemming doesn’t mention much about it (von Bismarck, was after all, a lowly aide de camp), but I keep finding Bismarck biographies on Amazon DOT COM! Amazon.com is one of the few bummers of real Amazon work!

Please let me know of any other historical figures in the Amazon who are known for their Amazon adventures. And if you,re planning to become a historical figure, don’t forget to visit us at our Amazon jungle lodges.
July 07, 2012

Hot Water Is Now Available In All Our Lodges

We are happy to anounce that starting from today all our the rooms in all three of our ecolodges now have hot water.  The 30 rooms at Posada Amazonas, 32 rooms in Refugio Amazonas and 8 bathrooms at the Tambopata Research Center all have hot water.

The system is a low comsumption on-demand hot water system.

A partir de ahora TODAS nuestras habitaciones en nuestros 3 ALBERGUES, tienen ya agua caliente, es ya a partir del día de hoy oficial.  Las 30 habitaciones de POSADA, las 32 habitaciones de REFUGIO y los 8 baños de TRC.

El sistema, es un sistema a gas de bajo consumo.
July 03, 2012

Leafcutter ants retire when they grow old

Leaf-cutter ants "retire" from
their cutting role when they grow old, switching to carrying when their jaws
blunt with age.

A close up shot of a leafcutter ant - Jeff Cremer
Leaf-cutter ants start their lives with razor-like jaws, or
mandibles, to cut through the leaves they harvest.

But as these "wear out", the insects tend to carry
the leaves cut by their younger counterparts.

The findings suggest that individual ants can extend their
useful lifespan as their skills decline.

They are reported in the journal Behaviour Ecology and

The US-based scientists discovered that older ants were
significantly less efficient at cutting leaves.

They estimated these older colony members' "worn-out
teeth" halved the speed at which the entire colony was able to harvest

The researchers, from the University of Oregon and the
Oregon State University, supports previous research showing the survival of a
leaf-cutter colony depends on the efficiency of its workers.

A leafcutter ant carrying a leaf - Jeff Cremer

The leaf-disks collected by the forager ants are transported
back to the colony where the sap can be harvested for food.
The gathered leaves are also used as a surface to grow the
fungus that is consumed by the colony.

"Cutting leaves is hard work," explains the
University of Oregon's Dr Robert Schofield, who led the study.

"Much of the cutting is done with a V-shaped blade
between teeth on their mandibles.

"This blade starts out as sharp as the sharpest razor
blade that humans have developed."

It is believed that leaf-cutter ants' mandibles also contain
zinc-enriched biomaterials, which strengthen them.

Over time, however, these razor-sharp blades become blunt
and less efficient.

The ants cut the leaves with a V-shaped blade on their jaw.

The researchers measured the wear on the mandible cutting
blade in the ant species Atta cephalotes from a colony in Soberania National
Park, Panama.

Dr Schofield and his team used electron microscopy to
compare the pristine teeth of laboratory-reared pupae with the worn teeth of
the wild forager ants.

By comparing the radius of the mandible teeth they found the
blade of a cutter ant to be 340 times duller than the pristine blade of a pupa.

The study revealed that leaf-cutter ants with highly worn
mandibles had difficulties cutting and anchoring leaves.

Individuals with the most worn teeth, which had less than
10% of the cutting blade, exclusively carried leaves rather than cut them

The team estimated that, because of this age-related wear, a
colony spent twice the energy cutting leaves than it would if all the ants had
sharp mandibles.

The findings support the idea that wear and fracture can be
significant problems for insects as well as larger animals.

Greater good

"This study demonstrates an advantage of social living
that we are familiar with," says Dr Schofield.

"Humans that can no longer do certain tasks can still
make very worthwhile contributions to society.

Leaf-cutter ants live in colonies that have a very developed
structure with a strict hierarchy.

This level of social organisation is described as eusocial.

As well as benefitting the colony, the researchers believe
that this ability to change jobs may also lead to longer life spans in social
insects compared to their solitary cousins.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9306000/9306830.stm

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