March 28, 2013

What is wrong with extinction?


What is wrong with the BBC article below?


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21866456

Reading this BBC article a few days ago deeply distressed me. Not because it induced some terrible revelation or caused any dark new ideas to surface: what distressed me was its appalling quality, especially for the standards of the BBC. This is an article which is cast into the domain of the public as informative; and those without a better understanding of the subject may see sense in it.

However, the subject of the article was either very poorly researched or completely misunderstood by its author, for the reasons I express below and more I will not entertain myself exposing. This is not a case of opening a well-reasoned debate or expressing all possible points of view, but an attempt to challenge profound ideas with some absurd superficial arguments, perhaps in hope his conclusion will appear fresh and controversial. At least he nears the right track toward the end, even if his tone is lamentable, and finishes advocating that we need to protect species.

March 12, 2013

Things one sees whilst camera trapping (forgive the lack of photos...)

When putting out camera traps, I carry a backpack full of photographic equipment, yet I don't usually bring my good camera with me, because often my guide and I cross water on foot or end up floating down Payamino River for 3 km. Unusually, yesterday I had a motorised canoe at my disposal, because I was filling the points of my camtrap grid furthest from camp, and it would have taken me more than one very gruelling day to get them out otherwise. The motorised canoes are wide and strong, and through most things still get wet in them, I'd be comfortable to carry my camera in a dry bag in these boats, as there'd be no need for my camera to be submerged. Unfortunately, I wasn't expecting my guide to turn up until today and so got ready in a fluster yesterday, forgetting my camera.

March 9, 2013

Camtrap update - March 2013


Figure 1 - Camtrap grid design
When people ask what kind of research I am carrying out in Ecuador, there's a part of me that worries my project will sound lazy. Camera trapping – leaving cameras out for 21 days, picking them up, downloading pretty pictures of animals, and putting the cameras back out again.

The truth is, it's as tough as any project. Usually I position 2 or 3 cameras at a time until all six the station possesses are out. The maximum distance between each consecutive camera is 1.4 km (if measuring the distance between two cameras placed diagonally in relation to one another on the grid) or 1 km if in the same row or column (figure 1). This does not sound like much – so why position so few cameras at a time?

Walking 1 km on a path does not take much time at all; walking 1 km down a forest trail (especially if you're used to the relief of the jungle floor and don't get stuck in mud) shouldn't take much longer. But walking 1 km through uncut, wild rainforest is a hassle and a half, only made possibly with a machete. At first I was concerned with the irony of coming to the jungle to carry out research in aid of conserving it, and then hacking through it with a blade. However, on the grand scale of things, cutting a few vines and nasty plants here and there doesn't affect the forest grievously and by the time I return to pick up the cameras, the vegetation has restored itself completely.

March 4, 2013

Kingdoms in the Canopy (III): Climbing Trees


By now you may have noticed I have a growing obsession with my summer study subjects, epiphytic bromeliads. Those hanging zoological gardens that adorn the trunks and branches of neotropical trees (Figure 1).
Figure 1 - Flowering bromeliads

I've already mentioned how I collect them – by climbing trees and cutting the bromeliads down. What I haven't really explained it how I climb trees.

Last March, I completed the Basic Canopy Access Proficiency course, offered by Canopy Access Limited. The course teaches you to use double rope canopy access techniques to pull yourself up into the trees, as well as tying knots, differentiating between good and bad trees to climb, and everything to do with staying safe whilst suspended in mid-air from ropes over a branch.

First things first, choosing your tree. This is important, not only must it suit the purposes behind your climb (in my case: are there bromeliads?), there needs to be a suitable anchor branch to hold your weight, anything you may be carrying, and very heavy rope. While no tree in a natural environment will ever be completely flawless, it's important to watch out for external roots, broken branches, cankers, insect nests, cavities, or any other signs that the integrity of the tree may have been significantly reduced. There also needs to be an appropriate anchor tree nearby, that you'll attach your ropes to.


March 2, 2013

The Jungle [Cook]Book - 2


In an earlier post I mentioned how despite living in the middle of the rainforest without an oven, at Timburi Cocha we've been enjoying little homemade luxuries such as breads and cakes. It is no rocket science, simply a method of using pots and pans as mini-ovens on a gas stove. But let's just call it jungle baking, because everything sounds better with the word "jungle" in front of it.

I've decided to describe how we make jungle cake, because it is something that always seems to surprise visitors and people I speak to back home.