Thursday, July 17, 2008

Posted by Bejat

Today we climbed another tree. Kaya
is doing a
wonderful job and has been of great assistance with the tree climbs and bromeliad work in the lab. She is so helpful, caring and kind. We feel blessed to have her as an assistant. This is her first time to the Amazon rainforest and she has dreamed of this moment since she was a child. Everything is new and exciting to her. It is like seeing the forest through new eyes when with her as I witness the amazement she has when observing the beauty of the Amazon rainforest's vast diversity. She is a bit timid of things at times, but this will pass as she is a strong individual.

This tree climb was a quick one. But, as we were pulling down the climbing rope to go back to camp, the rope got hung up around some branches. After pulling, tugging and hanging; Shawn decided to put his harness on and climb on up about 5 feet to get more weight on the line in hopes that the rope would pull itself free. This did not work. So, we decided to have me piggy back, hanging below him. Well, this did work. We swung around like Tarzan on a liana and down we came rope and all, right on top of a Spiney Palm. We rolled around in the mud laughing. We were just fine. I suffered a bit of Spiney Palm in the hind end, arm and back, plus soreness since I cushioned our fall. Today I must admit I am developing more soreness, yet I am just fine. We have yet another great story to tell. Too bad that did not make it on video, talk about funny.

The road has made the transfer of bromeliads easy since we seem to exit the forest and a few minutes later we are able to catch a ride. Good for our backs and the bromeliads. Taking them along the trails, swamps and streams can be difficult, but a great work out. The TBS Station may have it’s challenges, but makes one feel rugged and accomplished. However, working at the Catolica Station with the road allows for less energy and time to be expended on transport of the bromeliads and gear, providing more time for work to be done. Therefore, we are now going out in the evenings more frequently to find species of frogs, snakes and lizards that we have not seen before, as well as recording frog calls.

Today Shawn found his first snake in a bromeliad, Leptodeira annulata, which is typically found at or near ground level. Shawn found him about 34 meters up tucked inside a bromeliad leaf. It is a non-toxic snake that is mottled brown so when he first caught a glimpse in the little tent he was concerned that it may be a fer-de-lance or some other pit viper, upon further investigation with the snake tong from across the tent he was able to determine that it was indeed a Leptodeira. This will be a new publication for him when he returns because there is no documentation of such species at this elevation. I was able to get phenomenal natural setting photos in one of the bromeliads here in camp as seen in the above right photo. This was only possible with my lovely assistants, Shawn and Kaya.

Kaya took here first venture into the tent this go round of bromeliad discoveries and encountered Osteocephalus sp. (as seen to the left with Kaya) and a juvenile Ostecephalus sp. (as seen above to the right). I also photographed her Osteocephalus find in an Achmea zebrina bromeliad leaf in the studio as pictured to the above left. She encountered many different species of Tadpoles too. She enjoyed her time in the tent and she is now ready to return to what we call the "cage", only because we look like we are caged humans inside the tent and you are not allowed out until the bromeliad is done, well typically. I am going in next.

Pulling the insects from the water and sludge is what appears to be expending our minds and time. I recommended we rinse out the sludge and pack it away for us to work on in the States when we get back. Shawn is very excited about this is telling everyone jokingly that this is why he pays me the big bucks, for my ability to see outside the box. Although we are now behind on our schedule, we have accepted the fact and decided we will return next year. I'm certain more funding will be necessary, however, we will live more frugally and make this possible with more grant applications and hard work.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shawn, Bejat, Kaya and John atop the tower after sunset.

Posted by Bejat

It was John Malone’s birthday yesterday! John arrived the 4th of July waving this US flag, well not actually, but he was humming the Star Spangled Banner. Kaya arrived a few days later and we are fully staffed once more. John is a collegue of Shawn’s from Texas, but is currently working on his post doc in Maryland at the National Science Institute. Kaya is from New Zealand and she is extremely intelligent and eager to learn.

Shawn climbed his first tree July 6th. A few days ago he climbed his second tree and today the bromeliad work is nearly complete. John leaves tomorrow after a quick visit. Not only has he been immense help, but he educates us with his vast knowledge with the most humerous stories. He is quite a character, making friends with everyone. His birthday was a smash as we set out for a complete day in the forest, hiking several trails, visiting the Waorani Tienda (Rositas, as seen in the photo to the left) and finishing it off with sunset at the tower.

The Ecuardorian students showed us all how a birthday is celebrated here in Ecuador. It was great fun. The kitchen baked him a wonderfully large cake and our Ecuadorian friends decorated it with a lizard. They came out of the kitchen singing feliz cumpleanos and the cake was proceeded by a presentation by Maria, who researches understory flocks.

Then we were off to give John his 31 spankings, due to his age, it almost seemed more like a beating. We were told the better the friend the harder they hit you with a belt as someone holds your hands and wishes you happy birthday. My belt was preferred since it was leather and we could make that lovely sound when you fold the belt in half and open each side partially bringing it back together quickly to make this smacking sound that is piercing. Everyone was laughing and John took it well. The next day he had sore memories on his backside all the way to Quito.

After the beating, as we came to call it, we were dancing salsa with a broom. It was a game that we played for about an hour where we all got to dance with the broom. The objective was to find a different partner every time the broom was dropped by the person in the center of the circle. If you were not successful in finding a partner you then had to dance with the broom. After dancing with the broom 3 or 4 times you had to do some other embarrassing act that the group would decide upon. It kept us all in fits of laughter. Sometime around 12:30 we went to bed.

John had a wonderful stay and says this is his new favorite place. That boy has more energy than all of us combined and
was out every night and up for breakfast at 6 am. He caught many species of herptofauna and if he didn't catch it the first time, like with Rana pamipes (as seen in the photo to the right), he would head out again and catch 'em. The evening Shawn and John caught Rana palmipes was a late night out by the lakes tracking these large frogs down by their eye shine in the water. The boys had great fun slopping around in the water, diving in after the frogs, just like kids.

Another evening John caught a Rainbow Boa. Shawn and I hav
e been looking for another one ever since we tried to capture the seven foot one in 2004. John found one right in camp the night we all stayed in to get some rest. His brilliant color can been seen in the photos below. I have also included a photo of Shawn holding the Rainbow Boa in place to give everyone an idea how these photos are taken sometimes when a snake is in the field and wants to escape.

The next morning breakfast was at 6 am. John and our other Ecuadorian friends left around 6:45. We were sad to see them leave. He'll be back and I can't wait for us all to get together again someday soon. Shawn and John are already talking about future projects together. I think we would make a fabulous team. I love taking the photos of all the beautiful species, just as long as I get some down time. Unlike super-John, I need more than 4 hours of sleep a night. Years past we relied on this little of sleep and we found ourselves always exhausted. Now we are like turtles, slow and steady to wine the race.

This evening Shawn had an interview with some French reporters and will be on a radio broadcast in Franc
e at some point. We went out on the trails with them and Martin Bustamanti from the nonprofit organization that TADPOLE works with, Finding Species, looking for frogs in the evening. It was a quick interview since it began to rain, however the interview on Shawn’s research and gerneral herpotafauna turned into oil and the discussion began. It was wonderful to hear the view of Martin since he is from Ecuador. He has hope for the future with President Correa, who is doing great things for the country. So, only time will tell I suppose. However, we all agreed that PetroEcuador was not the right company for the job since they do not have the proper technology and resources to extract the oil properly.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Posted by Bejat

Whew! I must say the last several weeks have been unbelievable. Shawn was able to finish surveying the plots upon his return from Surinam to TBS. I returned about a week later from Quito assisting one of Shawn’s assistants as he left TBS unexpectedly to return home. Made it back to TBS just in time to pack and inventory everything, which is an amazing amount of gear (about 500 lbs plus), so that we could move to our next destination. After two days of packing, storing and completing our inventory, we moved to the Catolica Research Station within the park boundaries along the Via Maxxus road.

Our trip was beautiful along the Tiputini River in the small canoe called the Capibarra; however, when the rain hit, it hit hard. This was a bit stressful with all our gear in the driving rain. Luckily, it all survived and we made it to the Catolica Research Station wet and cold. The facilities are amazing and the staff is phenomenal. They are all so kind and caring, always ready to assist with anything and everything. The food is hearty Ecuadorian dishes. We absolutely love the food.

The pet Tapir, Omaka,
reminds us of our Basset, Daucshoud, and German Shepard mix, Abby. Omaka is sweet and docile, loves fruit and responds to consistent whistles. The mapadores, who work in the 50-hectare plot, adore her and she adores them right back. They hand feed her and pick the gorged ticks off her, three of which were as big as my thumbnail (see below left photo). She follows them into the plot nearly every day to keep them company, as she is seen in the photographs above and to the right on the side of the road directly outside the entrance to the plot. What an amazing Tapir. Who would have thought a Tapir would be so docile?

Surveying the road is a hot and tiring task. We are returning to camp exhausted and just eat dinner and fall into bed. Our feet hurt and our bodies are sore. It is quite different to walk the road rather than on the soft forest floor. To be standing in the middle of the road looking into the forest has become part of our daily routine, yet it constantly seems strange, making me wonder how this change effects the Waorani consciously and subconsciously. Are they seeing the forest through different eyes from the road? Has it become normal to them? Would they prefer the road and the oil companies who supply them with work, transportation, boat motors, generators, gas, food, housing, electricity, doctors and so much more? How must it feel? All I can imagine is that it must be the most extreme form of culture sock to have lived through the era of the construction of the Via Maxxus and even more so the Via Auca.

The first contact with the outside world was devastating to their culture, yet there is no turning back now. I find this to be quite unfortunate since it not only brought disease that wiped out many of their ancestors, but also the loss of culture and the destruction of habitat. The Waorani are most interesting to me and I have found them to be quite intriguing, making friends with many of them, like Yura and some of her 10 children. My first encounters with Giro were about 10 years ago with her yelling in the road as we passed on the TBS ranchera. Recently I was on the TBS boat waiting for the barrels of gas to arrive. I spoke with her in Spanish as her daughter Norma translated in Waorani. Giro only speaks Waorani. We were speaking of our families and lifestyles and she asked if I had children. I said no, but I have a dog that is like my child. I mentioned how she sleeps with me in bed. Giro was shocked and laughed. Their dog, Dido, was on the boat and she dragged the dog over to me. I pet Dido and this also shocked her. She began to pet the dog too. She then asked me if I could remove some bot flies from the dog’s leg. I did not understand, but after a while I did and I just continued to not understand since I thought this to be a back idea in case the dog decided to bite me in the process. She thought my nails were great tools for this purpose. I think they are too, but some random jungle dog is very questionable indeed.

The Via Maxxus road has only been in existence for close to 25 years and the Waorani were contacted some time in the 70’s. There are still clan members that have survived the impact of oil and missionaries. They seem to find themselves confused and lost in their own territory. It would be as if you were lost in your own home that you had known all your life. It should be made clear that the Waorani are nomadic indigenous people who lived sustainable in the forest for thousands of years. Their populations were of low numbers and they would periodically raid other tribes for revenge killings. Anyone that would enter their territory was typically killed and they were thought of as Savages, hence this name Auca. The Via Auca, another oil road that we will be working along in a few months, was named after the Waorani in a derogatory manner.

We shall only see what the dawn of a new day brings. I look forward to meeting more Waorani and those I have met like Giro and her children, Norma and Moses, are very curious. Giro appears to be in her 70’s, yet it is difficult to determine their age. Giro and Moses are pictured to the left.

Giro is one of the few Wao that exhibits the elongated earlobes due to piercings that become widened over time by inserting wooden plugs. This makes a drastic hole that is recognizable from afar. Since Giro only speaks Waorani, Norma or Moses are typically with her to translate for her in Spanish. Most indigenous know several languages. Many Waorani can speak Waorani, Quitchua and Spanish. They are remarkable people.