Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
Stan Rand and I had used collecting dates for baby iguanas in museums to demonstrate
that breeding varies latitudinally; so at La Selva mating happens now, as the dry sea-
son begins, and eggs hatch months later, with the onset of heavy rains—coinciding with
what Isaías had seen many times, a seasonal change in male colors! 6
Besides people, transients on the elevated corridor included prehensile-tailed taman-
dua anteaters, seven-foot-long tiger ratsnakes, and raccoons. A hog-nosed skunk occa-
sionally waddled over to raid kitchen garbage, and I was reminded of Robin Hood's skir-
mish with Little John as researchers edged against the rails rather than turn back from
the well-armed scavenger. And soon after María Marta Chavarría set up an ultraviolet
moth trap over the river, a brick-and-cream-furred, lavender-scrotumed woolly opossum
plundered her catch. We stared in awe as the gaudy bridge possum, most arboreal of
La Selva's five species of marsupials, scampered across thirty-five-foot-high suspension
cables instead of using the heavily traveled walkway.
High views from forest openings have intangible virtues as well. Out on the bridge
over the Puerto Viejo, free of the all-encompassing botanical livery, one encountered a
preternaturally elemental world. Dusk colors changed from green through purple and
scarlet rather than simply fading into obscurity, and the multidimensional trees turned
sharply flat before dissolving into blackness. On clear nights the stars and Jupiter
evoked odd memories of cooler climates. Perhaps these impressions stemmed from the
quality of light not yet filtered through canopy layers, reactions of the retina to more
contrasting surroundings, and even fatigue, but I felt content to admit that perceptions
of reality are far from absolute. I was also reminded that the most urgent challenge for
conservation is for us to fit in with landscapes and not destroy them. The nicely weath-
ering bridge, its green paint blending in with vegetation, symbolized that effort.
With all that Costa Rican experience under my belt, in November of 1990 I jumped at
the chance to study an Old World tropical snake fauna. I'd spent nearly a month recon-
noitering a montane African rainforest, and my face was haggard, clothes sweat-soaked
and disheveled. Yet I was grinning because, despite exhaustion, I'd kept up with the
shorthaired fellow in front of me. Vincent Bashekura was a Ugandan game guard hold-
ing a bolt-action .30-06 rifle and wearing khaki fatigues that looked freshly pressed.
His demeanor reflected earnest pride in protecting the gorillas of what British colonists
named the Impenetrable Forest, and my triumphant smile was illusory. In truth, Vincent
waited for me countless times, and I remain inspired by his all-too-short life.
A few weeks earlier and two hundred thousand years after the origin of modern
humans on the Dark Continent, we'd crouched around a cooking fire as night fell on
Mubwindi Swamp. With Bob Drewes, Jens Vindum, and Jim O'Brien from the California
Academy of Sciences, I'd come to the Bwindi-Impenetrable Forest Reserve to help in-
ventory its amphibians and reptiles. Bob is an expert on African frogs, and our findings
might bolster the area's protected status, but after a decade of Costa Rican fieldwork I
also yearned to satisfy my curiosity about Old World tropical snakes. Jan Kalina, an avi-
an ecologist who ran Bwindi projects with her husband, Tom Butynski, had organized
our trip, and several Ugandan wildlife personnel rounded out the group.
Jan and Tom's spare but comfortable field station near the rural community of Ruh-
izha served as a base, and after two days collecting there our team moved into sur-
Search WWH ::

Custom Search