Special to mongabay.com:
Wilderness Classroom: Expedition 2006
Emerging from the Wilderness
May 2, 2006
Update 13: Emerging from the Wilderness – Dave
Yesterday, was a long, hard day of paddling in the hot sun. Plus, we had no real way of knowing where we were, how long it would take us to reach the mouth of the river, or where the ranger station was where we could find shelter. We spent the whole day following a quiet fisherman through a maze of lakes, flooded forest, and rivers that were often clogged with floating plants. When we tried to ask how much further we had, he would smile and say two hours more.
By two in the afternoon our fisherman friend had been telling us two more hours for 4 hours, and it appeared that we still had a long way to go. We floated patiently for about 15 minutes while he poked along the shore, looking for some sort a path through the forest that we hoped would lead us closer to our final goal. I was starting to wonder if there really was a path when a canoe came out of the forest about 100 feet up stream. Then another canoe came out, and another, and another.
We had found the path leading into the forest, but what were all of these people doing out here in the middle of the rainforest? It turns out they were fisherman heading into the park to catch fish to feed their families, and to later sell in their communities.
During the first 10 days of our journey down the Pacaya River, we encountered very few people. But now that we are getting close to Bretana, a small village, we are encountering fishermen heading into the park to set their nets. Fishermen from Bretana and other communities along the edge of the park paddle into the park for up to a week at a time to fish. When the forests are flooded, the fish are harder to find, and the fishermen are forced to travel further in search of fish.
It felt strange to paddle along, feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere, only to come around a corner and find a line of four canoes heading into the park. It was like rush-hour on the river after so many days of solitude.
Well, two hours turned into nine hours, but eventually we made it to the ranger station at the end of the river. Tomorrow we will continue our journey down-river to Monco Capac to start our journey down the Yanayacu River.
Baby crocodilians are much more common than their older relatives.
Understanding the Black Caimans – Patrick
Black Caimans are one of the largest predators in the Amazon basin. They can grow to be over thirty feet long. They usually eat birds, fish, and small mammals, but they have also been known to eat human flesh. I think about them every time I jump in the water to cool off. We have probably been paddling among them for days along the Pacaya River, but we’ve had not seen one until recently. There are many rumors and stories surrounding these special creatures.
Although it is very rare, several unsuspecting humans have fallen prey to the Black Caiman. Perhaps this is why the endangered crocodilians are hated and feared in many parts of the world. In the 1860’s, the Amazon Black Caiman were as common as tadpoles in a frog pond. But because of the excellent quality of the hide, the black caiman was hunted to the brink of extinction for commercial interests.
During the caiman slaughter of the pioneer days, people did not understand the important roll caimans play in the forest’s food chain. The over-hunting resulted in serious decline of the edible fish populations. Because the reptiles were so abundant, their excrement, or waste, was a major food source for plankton at the base of the food chain. Tiny fish hatchlings prey on the microorganisms that feed on the caiman’s waste. So when the caimans were wiped out, a vital part of the food chain disappeared as well.
Now that we know more about the natural world, black caimans are being respected and protected. The black caiman we saw was accidentally caught in a fishing net. The risk of injury to the fishermen was too great, so the reptile was killed instead of attempting to remove it from the net while it was alive. Although we were saddened by this situation, we were very happy to see the elusive Black Caiman and know that it will be a healthy meal for many people.
The Black Caiman is almost extinct in many parts of its original habitat. However, there is a healthy black caiman population in the Pacaya Samaria National Reserve, because the park guards are working hard to eliminate poaching. Protected areas like the Pacaya Samiria are an excellent way to ensure the survival of the species.
Unfortunately this endangered Black Caiman was caught in a fisherman’s net, but nothing goes to waste in the flooded forest. The rich caiman meat will be eaten by the fishermen and their families.
The Rainforest: A Great Place For A Field Trip – Anna
One of the Ranger Stations nearing the end of the Pacaya River also serves as a Research Center. There, we met many students from the University of Iquitos who are studying the fish populations in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. When we first arrived at this huge research station, I noticed Ziploc baggies full of different kinds of seeds. When I asked where the seeds came from, a student named Soraya replied that they came from the stomachs of different fish in the reserve.
The students are studying what the Tambaqui and the Gamitana fishes eat in the flooded forest. They are trying to find out how fast the seeds go through the fishes’ digestive tracks, and how far the fish migrate before dispensing the seeds. Seeds, like those from the cecropia tree, are swallowed whole and will germinate in the fishes’ stomachs. Then, when the fish dispose of the seeds, the seeds begin their process of growing into a tree. This is one way that plants and fish work together in the rainforest.
The students from Iquitos come to the research center for about two months at a time. Here, they study the fish in the rainforest by catching them in nets and then dissecting their stomachs. The students then eat their specimens for dinner!
Twenty-six year old Soraya already graduated from the University with a degree in Biology. She is there now because she loves studying animals in this region. If I were to choose an animal to study here in the rainforest, I think I would choose the Giant Anteater. Dave says he would study Howler Monkey, and Patrick would choose the Pink River Dolphin. What animal would you like to study here in the flooded forest?
This giant frog was the size of a small cat, and a local man explained that it would make a very good meal.
How much gasoline can we use each day?
For cooking our meals here in the flooded forest, we use stoves that require gasoline. We brought about 10 gallons of gasoline along with us on our trip. We have twelve days left of needing to cook with that gasoline, and we have already used about 5 gallons in 10 days. This means that we need to conserve gasoline in order to make it last for the last two weeks of our trip. How much gasoline can we use each day in order to have enough to last us until the end of the trip? Remember, there are 128 ounces in a gallon.
In what other ways can we be more efficient with our gasoline use? Do you have any ideas that might help us save gasoline when we are cooking?
Gasoline must be conserved not just in the flooded forest, but everywhere. This is because gasoline won’t last very long at the rate we are using it. How might your family be more efficient with their use of gasoline in the United States? Are there other natural resources that we can depend on that won’t run out?
Track the adventurers at wildernessclassroom.com