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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Advice Upon Travelling in the Rainforest

Air Date: Week of

In some tropical forests a bit closer to the U.S., producer John Burnett recently had the good fortune to explore the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica. Along the way, John learned a few do's and don'ts about visiting rainforests. He sent us this reporter's notebook.


CURWOOD: In a tropical forest closer to home, producer John Burnett recently had the good fortune to explore the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica. Along the way, John learned a few do's and don't's about visiting rainforests. He sent us this reporter's notebook.

[Footfalls on an unpaved path]

BURNETT: The first rule of nature tourism is to educate yourself. Read a good book on tropical forests before you go. Then, when you arrive get a knowledgeable guide. Ours was Sergio Vega, a naturalist from the National University of Costa Rica, who has mastered the territorial call of the mantled howler monkey.

VEGA: [Makes hoots of mantled howler monkey] I'm doing a territorial call, that they do to keep other families out of their territory.

BURNETT: By hiring a guide, you'll learn more, you'll be supporting the local community, and he'll point out things you'd never notice on your own.

CHILD: I don't see it--

VEGA: He's right through the leaf. Look right through the leaves- -

CHILD: Oh, I see it!

VEGA: Yeah. And there's a little baby--

CHILD: I see him! I see him!

VEGA: A little baby on the right--

CHILD: I see him!

VEGA: Yup.

CHILD: I see him!

VEGA: Yup. He's a little teeny baby, hanging from its tail, here on the right side.

[Whoops from monkeys along the trail]

BURNETT: Number two: Go slow. Too many people walk a rainforest trail like it's a triathlon event. Try the birdwatcher's trick. Stand in one place, and see what passes by. And if you planned five forest hikes during the course of your trip, why not pick two, and make those count.

[Whoops from monkeys, constant frog chirps]

BURNETT: Number three: Go out at night, with a good flashlight, of course. Watch for luminescent mushrooms. Feel the whoosh of air as a bat swoops by--there are 103 varieties in Costa Rica, compared to 40 bat species in all of the United States. Hear how nature's orchestra changes: the cicadas of the day replaced by the chorus of frogs at night. Just try not to stand on a nest of leaf-cutter ants, as I did.

[Fumbling sound, then "Ow?!"]

BURNETT: Finally, don't go into the rainforest to be entertained. It's not a theme park. Don't expect to see a jaguar bounding across your path, or a boa constrictor swallowing an ocelot. Notice the small things, such as, what lives in the water that collects in a bromeliad plant, or the teeming life that exists in the micro-environment of a rotting log. Walk into the tropical forest as you would go into a sacred place, reverent, rapt, and not a little repentant for all the terrible things we've done to this masterpiece of nature. And be sure to bring along some insect repellent.

[Trilling hoot closing on a high note]

BURNETT: For Living on Earth, I'm John Burnett.



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