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lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

Tangled puppets by Ruby Easther

When I was a kid, I used to have two string puppets. One was a carpenter and the other a little drummer boy. They were handmade works of art that some family friend had bought me for one of my earliest birthdays. As I grew up I would carefully take out my string puppets to play with, but more often than not they would end up horrendously tangled. My Great Aunt Margaret was the best at untangling my little string puppets. Oh, if she were here now. Untangling bat nets can test the limits of anyone’s patience. My name is Ruby and I am an intern from New Zealand working on a bat inventory of Laguna Blanca with Joe. I have been here for almost four weeks now and have seen tarantulas, scorpions, owls, giant moths (that allegedly suck your blood and predict who is going to die by perching on their doorframe) cute little beetles and one huge, big Black Tegu (who we named Targaryen) all just inside our little PLT house. In addition to these weird and wonderful critters, there is no shortage of spiders. As I do not possess any arachnaphilia (yes, that is a made-up word) I have successfully made my bed a fortress against spiders – the top bunk completely encircled by a mosquito net and a foot away from the walls in all directions. I am one step from putting a moat around it. Airell, a volunteer here, suggests a moat of vinegar - apparently insects and spiders don’t like vinegar - I quite like the sound of that. But we are getting off topic, bats are where it’s at. Joe and I have been setting up 5 bat mist nets in different habitats to catch a selection of bats that reside in the reserve. So far we have caught 17 bats, 9 of those in one night! I’m not sure how much you know about bats, but it turns out they are not only strong and feisty but also spindly and easily tangled. As you may imagine, catching a bat in a bat net leaves not only a mess reminiscent of a child’s string puppet but also a sharp set of little bat teeth which wooden puppets seldom boast. The bats we have caught so far have been a pretty decent variation in size, my favourite being about the size of my thumb and weighing all of 6grams. Six grams! So tiny. We think this little guy is Molossops temminckii, the Dwarf Dog-faced Bat, but to be certain of the species of any of the bats we catch we need to remove their skulls and feed them to PLT’s flesh-eating beetles(!). Once the beetles have done their thing, we will take some measurements of the skull and identify them further from there. Anyway, I’m off to the cerrado to catch some bats, Ruby

jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2012

Zen and the Art of Trail Maintenance - A blog entry for PLT by Rosemary Gamsa (part 2)

Here is the essence of The Zen of Trail-Clearance / Maintenance (using the term Zen very loosely, as I know little about it) and its most obvious effects: One experiences a sort of time-dilation in the physical action; the upswing, the core torsion, as the body twists, coiled and ready to unleash the optimum amount of force, at the optimum angle. There is beauty in this moment of stillness and balance as the machete reaches its zenith, and the trained eye judges precisely the thickness, solidity and elasticity of the target material. Will the blade deftly slice, scythe seamlessly, exert a blunt force trauma, bludgeon, smash, land like a professional executioner’s sword, or recoil sending a spray of red soil up into the eyes? The judgment is made in a split-second, the body shifts a degree this way or that, and the cutting edge arcs downward, whistling. The result is a satisfyingly severed root, a neatly spliced and knotted vine, or a stubborn thud as the unrelenting tangle of underbrush springs back, having moved but one millimeter. It is an art to not take the results personally, sometimes the easiest section of pre-cut path is the nastiest to clear. Neither can one rest on one’s laurels after a series of elegant and rapid-fire slashes. The fresh, leafy forest soon gives way to dry, head-high grasses; to bouncy and treacherous bamboo, full of rotten tubular beetle hotels and crawling with gentlemanly spiders, making off discreetly on their long legs. Myself, I like to picture them in tails and top hats, bumbling along to fetch the morning paper, it helps dispel any residual fear. All too frequently a devastatingly large ants’ nest is revealed, and one must scarper, leaping and hopping crudely from the scuttling legions, abandoning the persona of the intrepid explorer. As the weeks have gone by I have experimented with siphoning emotion into the clearing action, seeing if a particular image or thought process alters my effectiveness with the machete? So far, it seems that the most balletic work comes from a silent mind, or at least that unencumbered by words. Having no internal dialogue is a blessed state, and many of us will have been advised to practice this through mindfulness and meditation. Macheteing is an active form of meditation on some days (or it is until a situation arises, usually involving ants to break the calm) but on other days it is a sort of dance; partnered to a steel edge and a gracefully long wooden handle. A dance which the machete and the wielding party can move together, alternating tenderness and wild abandon, in an utterly secure grip. Visualize each debonair swing left and right; the bold advancing together into the tunnel of twisted branches and huge wet leaves; edging backwards from the falling of a suspended bamboo log, then swishing through the gentle confetti of dead leaves and caterpillars. Sidestep in a series of genteel foot and blade-tip taps to the ground; kick leaf litter aside joyously, recklessly; trample and jig on the loosened earth; launch a swaggering fling of kinetic energy up, up into the canopy; and finally repair to a quiet spot to ‘sharpen up’ on a rusty but stylish file. And all the while, be it a session of dancing, a cathartic smashing, or mindful contemplation, the soundtrack is provided by a plethora of tropical birds and insects, which are unpredictable, funny and eerie by turn. Then there is the difference in the debris concerned; if it is freshly cut, or old and gnarly. Like any psychological obstacle, the older and well-ignored ones are the real buggers to deal with. A newly sliced path gives way pleasingly, and fast, the soil underfoot is revealed bright red and silky. On the more neglected trails (or those too daunting to take on immediately) the hardening piles of dead matter seem to lock together like some form of torturous twining Tetris. It taunts and teases as the machete blade pings off, ricocheting at alarming angles. In and around the fallen trees, that must be crawled beneath, or hurdled over, a dense matting of mossy crust develops. This in turn attracts peculiar assemblages of fungi, caches of invertebrate eggs, alien larvae and ghostly, crystalline spiders. Glutinous slug-like caterpillars, equipped with toxic spines, wander aimlessly through the litter; clouds of butterflies descend to feed on sweat whilst gigantic crickets munch away at the nylon of one’s rucksack or ‘bug-proof’ clothing. More than once an hemipteran of disturbing appearance has crashed into my face and taken up residence in my hair. The very fabric of the forest is moves and seethes; look closely enough and lose all sense of time and scale. It feels sacrilegious to chop through such a wealth of organic, bustling strata, given that most of it is (to the layman) un-named and unknown… Please, botanists, entomologists and all experts in small wriggling indecipherable things, come here to Para La Tierra and tell us what they are! Of course, all this is all very well when the weather is fine; cool enough to be vigorous, and bothered not too much by mosquitos. When it is really baking and humid, the ability to slash and clear takes on a new level of dedication, and I admire those who function well in the heat. I am a temperate beast, and when most of the other volunteers are out sunbathing and volleyballing, I am usually hiding under a shrub, mumbling fondly about how nice and chilly the UK is at this time of year. However, on the torrentially rainy days, when thunder rolls in and the lake lights up with sheets of milky-blue lightning, we all sit under the porch and look longingly at our machetes. Or write long mellifluous monologues about the Zen of neo-tropical scrub-bashing. Everything here at Para La Tierra has the potential to be a valuable lesson; be it the replacing of irrational fears with realistic ones, the acceptance of proximity to ants, or the grass (and vegetables available for dinner) being markedly greener on the other side. I could happily wax lyrical about the challenges of moth-cataloguing, beetle-wrangling, or the gentle art of acquiring bedtime spider-tolerance, (or, and there’s a paper in here somewhere, ‘what drives the volunteers here to develop an unquenchable, passionate dependency on Game of Thrones?’) but it is all for another time. To sum up; come and try it for yourself; this adventure has done me a power of good. When I am back in Britain, plodding through tarmacked streets of dog poo and dog ends, under a washed-out, skyscraped horizon, I will yearn for the hum of mosquitos, the cool tongues of butterflies on my skin, and the singing of glittering machete steel at dawn. Rosemary Gamsa Para La Tierra Volunteer 2012


Hey Everybody! I’d like to quickly give you an update of how things are going here at RNLB before telling you about the amazing opportunity I had this past weekend. We’ve had two new arrivals since the last post: Airell, a volunteer from Canada who will help with the primate project, and Ruby, an intern from New Zealand who’s helping us out by taking on the bat inventory. Ruby and I have been prepping to start up the inventory tomorrow night and with all the poles and nets sorted and we are both anxious to start catching some bats. Georgia has begun her sleep-site study which has meant that she’s been walking out to the forest before sunrise to try to catch any of the capuchins that are having a lie-in. The house is slowly filling up again and everyone is getting involved in all the projects. This past week, I had the amazing opportunity to visit a neighboring nature reserve in Paraguay for a weekend: The Mbaracayu Forest Reserve. The refuge is located on the border of Paraguay and Brazil just 5 hours from RNLB and is a whopping 64,400 hectares. The immensity of the forest is immediately noticeable as you drive toward the reserve; as we drove past the soy fields and cattle ranches that are the unfortunate but typical Paraguayan landscapes, we crested a hill and what lay in front of us was a never ending ocean of forest. Once inside the refuge, the forest’s size remained awe-inspiring; we found a tree that was so thick it took five people with arms spread out to ring around the trunk (the tree was 200 years old!). The reserve was founded in 1984 and has an amazing variety of projects going on at all times. The most impressive in my eyes was their work with community outreach and education. They have helped the local populations to not only adapt to the increase in tourists that come to visit the reserve but also to profit from their presence. They also run a high school for girls that focuses on environmental education and female empowerment. The school is completely self-sustaining as they grow most of the food they eat in a garden tended by the students and pay for anything else they need with profits from a student-run chicken coop. Karina, Conce, Jorge and I arrived originally to learn from them about how to run a chicken coop but on arrival we decided to split into two teams to take full advantage of all the projects that were taking place at the time. While Karina and Conce visited the chicken coops, Jorge and I took part in a Tour Guide course that was run by a member of the SENATUR (Servicio Nacional de Turismo). We learned a lot about what it takes to qualify as a nationally recognized Tour Guide as well as a few tricks of the trade. All in all it was an amazing learning experience and we left Mbaracayu not only inspired by the beauty of the forest but also by the versatility of the projects run by those living and working on the site. RNLB has come a long way in the past two and a half years, but seeing the extent of influence the Mbaracayu Forest Refuge has on the nearby communities, it’s clear to me our job is FAR from finished. I know that I returned to Laguna Blanca with a mind full of ideas of what amazing new projects Para La Tierra can get into next, we just need your help to get ‘em done. Joe