Friday, 5 February 2010

Lobos del Rio: a meeting with the river wolves

Fellow Purple Cooer Tattie Weasel has tagged me. My challenge? To reveal a memory.

This required some thought since, though having only 28 years behind me (nearly 29!) I have many memories of wonderful and exciting, and not so wonderful let alone exciting, things that have happened.
But one of my favourite memories? It has to be of my encounter with the "Wolves of the River" in the Amazon Basin, Peru while I was working as an expedition journalist for The Times in 2001. Note that my own photos are mostly slides and I don't have a slide scanner so these are "borrowed"!
I had joined the Biosphere Expeditions Research Team during the summer following my second year of University. At that time I was getting more seriously into writing and was Science Editor for the University Magazine; a position which earned me an award from the Principal for Outstanding Service to the Student Body. Ah the days of being really appreciated!
I was desperate to join one of these amazing trips into the wilderness collecting data and was sure that other folk were bound to be interested in hearing about it: who knew, I might even get paid to go! I was right. One phonecall to the editor of The Times later and I had myself a commission and even some cash in advance
Before long I found myself stepping off a plane with my friend Leigh, who had decided to make the trip too, into an unknown world of temple-like trees, bizarre bugs and painted parrots.
On a rare day off from collecting behavioural data on parrots or recording species along forest transects, a group of us took a trip down river to visit Sandoval Lake, an Oxbow off the Madre de Dios. We walked through a local village and, for a few Sol, were allowed to borrow one of the locally made canoes.
Soon we were gliding across the mirror calm muddy waters, gawping at the gaudy macaws in the towering trees, smiling at a basking turtle complete with a butterfly on his nose, waving excitedly at long-nose bats roosting openly on the trunks of the palms and laughing at the ungainly movements of hoatzin as they lumbered noisily in the bushes.
This place had a profound effect on me, it immediately got under my skin and into my soul, I felt a deep connection with the place though why I cannot fully understand. I've been to many incredible places, but I will never forget the feeling of deep calm that I felt out on that lake.
We paddled towards a dark little creek leading off from the main body of water; it looked like a set for Anaconda or Congo with its dark waters and overhanging vines. 
As we slipped along day-dreaming we were suddenly brought back to earth by splashing and high whistles. We glanced at each other, "otters" we whispered excitedly. James, our friend and guide for the day, skilfully paddled our canoe silently toward the sound. Sure enough, there appeared the eight heads of a family of giant river otters. They regarded us calmly for a moment and the adult male periscoped high out of the water, his large liquid chocolate eyes showing no sign of fear.
The giant river otter, locally known as Lobo de Rio [wolf of the river], like so many rainforest species, is now extinct from much of its former range. Fur hunting from the 1940s until 1970, decimated the population. Add to this overfishing; mercury contamination of the water by gold miners; irresponsible tourism; and the fact that 12.5 million hectares of rain forest are felled every year to provide us with plywood for our DIY projects and grazing space for our fast food, and you have a problem which isn't going away soon. 
Finding us of little consequence, he turned tail and led his family casually off into the swamp forest, squabbling and whistling as they went. We turned so as not to disturb them further and paddled back to the lake, each with an indelible grin on our faces. Let's hope that I'm not among the last to experience such an amazing encounter.

So who shall I tag? Hmmm
Denise over at Being a Smallholder
Garrett at Ramsay Farm
Rayna of North Star Shetlands
Corinne at Crosswinds Farm

Memories, light or dark, please folks!


corinne said...

You have the most incredible life!
I will see what I can do, but anything I write will pale in comparison : (.

Claire said...

Wow, what a trip! I can't imagine the sights you must have been grand. I have a small river otter that visits my pond sometimes, but we only see it very rarely and it hisses at me. :-(

Nancy K. said...

What an incredible adventure! I suspect you will have to write a book one day...

Thank you so much for sharing that very special memory!

mollygolver said...

That was absolutely amazing Jenny. Isn't it sad that our world is being destroyed without a second backwards glance. I am so glad that there are people like you out there to take care of it.

Tattie Weasle said...

That was wonderful! I can see why it got under your skin. Sorry not to have dropped by sooner to say so! The pictures are amazing too. My Grandpa said it was importnat to share memories so nothing was lost - this post makes that saying all the more poignant.