The End of the Wild Sumatran Tiger

The Sumatran tiger is so critically endangered that its population has been cut in half over the last 25 years due to poaching and deforestation. There are only about 400-500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, and at least 40-50 are killed due to poaching every single year. If things keep going at this rate, they could be extinct in the next 20-25 years. Action needs to be taken to save these creatures.

About the Sumatran Tiger:

The Sumatran tiger is the only tiger with such close stripes and it has more hair around its face and neck than other tigers. And although the tiger is the biggest in the cat family, the Sumatran tiger is the smallest species, with males that only get up to 300 pounds whereas other species can get up to almost 600. It’s average length is about 8 feet long. The reason for the close stripes and small size is believed to be due to the fact that they live in a habitat full of high grass and the close stripes help them blend in, and their habitat is smaller than other tigers’ and their prey is smaller as well, so having a leaner body is necessary.

Sumatran tigers chase their prey into water because they have webbing between their toes that makes them incredible swimmers, so they’re able to take out prey in the water that they may not be able to overcome on land. They also confuse their prey with “eye spots,” which are white spots on the back of their ears that animals mistake for actual eyes.

According to Smithsonian’s National Zoo, tigers communicate by rubbing heads, grunting, and roaring. Scent marks and visual signs like scratches allow tigers to track  and identify each other. Female tigers are aware of other females whose territories are close by. Mother and daughter tigers usually live close together; the daughters tend to take up territories not too far away. The Smithsonian National Zoo says, “All tigers can identify passing strangers. So, solitary tigers actually have a rich social life; they just prefer to socialize from a distance.”

Also according to the zoo, the tiger’s lifespan is between 10-15 years in the wild, and 20 when they’re in human care. Most don’t live to see 12 years though. Only half live long enough to become independent from their mothers, and “only 40 percent live to establish a territory and begin to produce young.”

What’s Being Done to Protect Them:

According to CNN, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its partners are using camera traps and other tools to estimate the population distribution across Sumatra. Since, like human fingerprints, no two tigers have identical stripes, the camera traps help researchers gather more precise data on individual tigers. Understanding the distribution of the tigers allows scientists and forestry officials to designate protected areas and helps them better understand where to best patrol against poaching. WWF has Tiger Protection Units that patrol vulnerable areas and gather intelligence about poachers and also remove deadly poachers’ snares and “in places where they operate, poaching has dramatically declined.” Check out CNN’s full article here.

It can feel hopeless sometimes learning about yet another critically endangered species, especially when you don’t know of a way to help. But there are things you can do, even if you don’t have money to donate. WWF has several different suggestions for ways you can help. Check them out here. Something needs to be done or we’re going to lose another species of tigers. Please do anything you can to help them.

Photo courtesy of Tony Hisgett.

Flying Snakes and Spiders Exist, Apparently

That’s right! Snakes and spiders fly now! You’ve probably heard something about it by now. I know I’m always on the look out for the next nightmarish spider to come out of hiding, so I heard about this pretty soon after it was discovered. And then immediately forgot about it because my brain just couldn’t handle the fact that spiders fly now. But as freaky as they are, I thought it would be cool to learn more about them, if only to prepare ourselves for the moment we meet one (if we happen to go to the wrong rainforest).

Flying snakes are something I can better handle, but they’re still creepy. What’s good to know is that they’re thought to rarely leave the forest canopy which means it’s unlikely that you’re gonna be walking along and randomly get one stuck in your hair as it goes whizzing by. Another good thing to know is that they don’t fly, they glide “using the speed of free fall and contortions” according to National Geographic. And they only seem to exist in the jungles of south and southeast Asia, so if you don’t want to come across one, just don’t go there! (I’m sure you’d be missing out on a lot of cool things if you don’t go though (rainforests are cool!))

There are only five identified species of flying snakes so far. Also, according to National Geographic, they dangle themselves off of trees and form into an S-shape, and then flatten themselves to about twice their normal body width, which then gives them a C-shape that can trap air. They can maneuver in mid-air. They’re technically better gliders than flying squirrels! That’s crazy.

They range from 2 to 4 feet long and they eat bats, birds, rodents, lizards and frogs, but lizards are their main source of food. They’re daytime hunters so, yes, it is possible that you could see one if you’re walking around one of these forests. They a little venomous, but not to humans. It’s thought that they glide for a number of reasons, like to escape from predators, to hunt pray, and my personal favorite is that they are thought to glide because it’s easier than slithering all the way down to the forest floor (so they’re lazy).

Now, on to the real horror show. Flying spiders. Ick. I understand that spiders are good for the environment and they eat a ton of other bugs, but do they really have to fly? Jumping spiders are bad enough!

These spiders are called Selenops and were very recently discovered so there’s not a whole lot of information about them yet. Scientists called them “flatties” because even though they can get pretty big in size, they don’t get much thicker than a nickel, and some are even thinner than that! Some are so perfectly camouflaged that scientists had to actually climb the trees they were on until the spiders moved and gave themselves away.  They found the spiders in the Panamanian jungle and the Peruvian rainforest.

Scientists discovered them by randomly dropping them out of containers, hoping to find insects that could “glide with precision,” according to National Geographic. They weren’t expecting the spiders to have the ability to glide, as they usually have a web that keeps them from falling. The scientists said that the spiders are fast and it looks like they steer themselves with their two front legs, though that hasn’t actually been proven yet.

And there you have it! Now you know a little bit more about flying snakes and spiders! You also know where they are, so just prepare yourself if you go to any of those jungles.

Photo courtesy of Chinmayisk.

How to Get to Costa Rica on a Budget

If you’re in college, you probably know how I’m feeling right about now–STRESSED AS HELL. One way I’m managing my stress is by daydreaming constantly about what my life would be like if I just got on a plane to some random island and never looked back. I always imagine myself as a waitress at some random restaurant and I’m happy and worry-free ’til the end of my days (’cause we all know that being a waitress on a remote island is the pinnacle of existence). For some reason I imagine that life would be easier than facing finals yet again. Of course that’s not the case, and in reality I’d probably end up a homeless beach lady cooing madly at sea gulls as I slowly starve to death. Which is the only reason I haven’t actually gone and done this (yet).

But it’s really fun to daydream and to think about what it’ll be like when I finally DO get to visit a beautiful island or rainforest. I’ve wanted to do a post like this for a while, and I think now it’s finally time. I’ve looked into how to get to rainforests at a reasonable price and now I’m going to show you how to get to a rainforest while spending as little money as possible, but still getting a great deal.

Costa Rica has been a place I’ve considered for a couple years now (because even though I don’t have money, I act like I do and plan out vacations that I can’t go on). So I’ve done some research on Costa Rica and the best rainforest to visit, and I’ve come up with: Monteverde. This rainforest is a cloud forest, which is the type of rainforest I’m most fascinated with. I want to visit a cloud forest the second I have the opportunity to do so.

A cloud forest is a rainforest that is always (or seasonally) covered in low level clouds that create a permanent fog in the forest canopy. They’re mystical-looking and full of life. The moisture makes sure that all the plants have more than enough water to thrive, which is why there are a ton of bromeliads, orchids, and lichens (at least in Costa Rica). These habitats are not found anywhere else on Earth, but global warming is threatening to change them fast. With temperatures rising, these forests could dry up and the ecosystem could drastically change, which is why you should visit a cloud forest as soon as you have the ability to. They may not be around for much longer.

Now let’s talk about how to get there!

My first piece of advice is this: check Travelzoo.com. Travelzoo has amazing deals and many of them include flights as well as hotel stays and meals. Right now they have a deal for 6-8 nights in hotels for prices starting as low as $1077 a person, but depending on where you’re starting out, it can get up to a little over $1,400 (still a great deal though). The offer  also includes flights and breakfasts at most hotels. They’ll take you around to see the Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, and the Guanacaste Beaches. You’ll get to see Monteverde and a whole lot more! Click here if you’d like to check this deal out.

If there’s no deal when you check Travelzoo, don’t worry! You can still find ways to save money on this vacation!

My favorite site to use for checking flight tickets is Cheapflights. They let you compare a ton of different ticket prices with little effort, and they actually find some of the best deals. Expedia is also good; they can bundle deals with hotels for you.

Some ways to make sure you’re getting good deals on flights is to make your flight leaves between Tuesday and Thursday. It’s also good to try to visit Costa Rica during the rainy season, because less people want to visit during this time. The rainy season for Costa Rica is June through September, and sometimes October. Also, when giving your travel dates for the flight, check that your dates are flexible. Sometimes you can get great deals just by doing that (up to half off!) (this doesn’t always work quite that well, but it does sometimes!). Also, be sure to clear the cookies on your browser when you’re looking for flights. Websites will record that you’ve been looking at flights or have bought tickets in the past and they’ll jack up the prices because they know you’re going to buy a ticket anyway. If you clear your cookies, they can’t do this.

You can stay at hostels for about $13 a night. For nicer ones, you might have to pay up to $40. I’d also suggest that you take public transportation wherever you can because it’s much cheaper than cabs. Check out this neat travel guide to Monteverde to learn more about the amount of money you should expect to pay (if you’re pinching your pennies). He says to expect to pay about $40-45 a day.

Travel guides are kind of expensive, but it’s recommended you have one, just so you’re more likely to spot more animals. Just be sure to go on group tours because private tours are like 300X more expensive, no joke. Most hotels have a tour desk in their lobby, and if they don’t, it’s still super easy to find a tour guide because the tour guiding industry is the biggest industry in Costa Rica.

Annnnd that’s all I’ve got about getting to Costa Rica on a budget. I really hope this helps you get to a rainforest. Let me know if there are any useful tips that I missed. And if you use this to help you plan your trip, let me know how it goes!

 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Best Rainforest Documentaries on Netflix

I have a hard time finding decent nature documentaries. Some have terrible quality shots or bland narration, and some are just downright boring. However, documentaries are a great source of information, so I decided to watch all the rainforest documentaries I could find on Netflix so I could recommend the best ones to you. I chose Netflix since most people seem to have an account, so there’s easy access to them. I’ll be basing this off of my own personal taste in documentaries.

In the past week I have watched 15 documentaries (two of them are not on Netflix, but I have to mention them!). Here are my favorites, in order:

Planet Earth, Episode 8: Jungles

Planet Earth and Planet Earth II are my favorite documentaries ever. They have spectacular imagery, excellent narration, and wonderful editing and music. The HD shots are beautiful and unmatched by any other documentary I’ve found. This documentary manages to make even fungi interesting (and they caught some really cool shots of it, too!). This episode starts off with birds of paradise, which are always interesting, and ends with a chimpanzee raid. There’s not a single boring moment in-between.

Planet Earth II, Episode 3: Jungles 

Planet Earth II is not yet on Netflix, but you can probably easily find it online somewhere. It starts off with a touching family moment between two spider-monkeys and then you’ll see a hummingbird with a beak longer than its body. This one also goes over some birds of paradise. Wonderful HD shots and perfect editing, music, and narration.

Planet Earth II, Episode 1: Islands 

Again, gorgeous HD shots and amazing editing, music, and narration. You learn that there’s an island where 2,000 komodo dragons live and you’ll see one of the fanciest-looking birds in the world. The whole episode is not only about rainforests, but parts of it do cover certain rainforests, like in Madagascar. You’ll still learn a lot and have fun while you do!

Wildest Indochina, Episode 1: Malaysia: Freaks of Nature 

Very good camera quality, editing, and music. It has good humor and manages to make some scenes tense and entertaining. Gives you information about how the land was formed, where it is, as well as all the plants and animals that exist there. It makes new information exciting. And it talks about orangutans! You also learn a lot about caves and mangroves. This is my favorite documentary outside of Planet Earth.

Wildest Indochina, Episode 2: Thailand: The Wild Heart 

This one catches some really pretty shots. About 20 minutes in, it starts talking specifically about the rainforest. Quality narration and editing, but not always the greatest choice of music (for me anyway). This one goes over a lot of freaky bugs, wildcats, and monkeys. You learn a bit about Siamese history and belief system as well as hunting tactics.

Wildest Indochina, Episode 4: Phoenix From the Ashes 

This gives you a brief history of Vietnam as it relates to the land. It also covers how the Vietnam war destroyed a lot of Vietnam’s land and animal species. Apparently, a lot of animals we thought were extinct, some for even up to 60 years, are reappearing (in small quantities). This documentary also talks about the daily resources the rainforest gives to indigenous people, which I think is always good to learn about. Good quality and editing, and smooth narration.

India’s Lost Worlds, Episode 2: Kipling’s Paradise 

You’ll learn about the jungle that inspired The Jungle Book. This episode talks about India’s spice trade and tea business, as well as the conflicts between people and elephants, as well as tigers. This touches on Indian belief systems. It also talks about certain groups of Indian people and how they interact with the world around them. You’ll see something called the “Tiger Dance”. Seems to be as much about the people as it is the land. This documentary has beautiful shots, good music choices, and interesting narration.

 Wildest Latin America, Episode 1: Amazon: One Jungle, Many Worlds 

This documentary covers a lot of creatures I haven’t seen in other documentaries. Their music choices can seem odd and the editing isn’t the greatest, but the narration is pleasant and you get a lot of information in just a couple of minutes. They use their time wisely and give you a good sense of the Amazon’s magnitude and biodiversity. It also covers indigenous peoples and their daily life. What I really liked about this documentary is learning about a bullet ant ceremony that the particular tribe they cover does.

So that’s it; those are the documentaries I would recommend from Netflix! I hope you enjoy them and learn a lot. If I missed any good ones, or if you want to suggest any, feel free to comment! And let me know how you like these documentaries!

Fun Ways to Get Your Child Interested in the Rainforest

If you love rainforests and want to instill a love and understanding for them in kids, then this is the post for you. There are lots of fun ways to integrate the rainforest into your child’s life, and I’ve written some of them down for you here. I’ve also linked back to blogs and sites that have other great suggestions for those of you who want even more!

Books

There are five books that I would personally recommend, the first being The Cat in the Hat’s If I ran the Rainforest. This one is meant for beginning readers, but it gives a ton of information about the rainforest in a fun way. It talks about transpiration and the different kinds of rainforest. It goes over the different layers of the rainforest and the animals that can be found in each layer. It’s definitely a book you should get for your child.

The next I would suggest for beginning readers is The Magic School Bus Presents The Rainforest. This book talks about all the animals in the rainforest. It also mentions how rainforests are being destroyed without putting the weight of the world on the kid’s shoulders. It introduces the problem so they can start thinking about saving the rainforest at a younger age. I would say reading this by 1st grade would be a great time for this book.

Orangutan Orphanage by Suzi Eszterhas would be great for older readers, closer to 3rd grade. It spends about a page dealing with the reality of orangutans going extinct. It does mention how they’re losing their habitat and being poached, so the reader understands why an orangutan sanctuary is necessary. The book goes over the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine and how it saves baby orangutans. It details how they’re taken care of by foster moms and what their daily life up to adulthood is like. It’s definitely something that could inspire a love for orangutans, if not just teach them more about this particular ape.

The Amazon by Eyewitness is filled to the brim with information on every page, even Amazonian myths! It’s so full of information on every page that I think 3rd or 4th grade would be the best age range to read this book. It’s definitely meant for an advanced reader–and one who appreciates the rainforest.

The Most Beautiful Canopy in the World: Exploring the Rainforest Canopy by Kathryn Lasky is probably meant for more advanced readers, maybe around 3rd grade. It has a lot of neat pictures and talks about the life of a scientist in the rainforest. This book is also probably more for kids who already have an interest in science or the rainforest.

Crafts and Activities

Here are two crafts and two activities I chose because they’re simple, easy, and something I can see doing with my own kids one day. (I always hated doing complicated crafts as a kid.) But there are links at the bottom to more fun crafts.

Paper Plate Monkey

This one’s super easy. You’ll just need some glue, scissors, paper plates, and brown and beige paper. As you’re doing this craft, you can tell your kid some cool facts about monkeys in the rainforest. To see this craft, click here.

Jungle Slime

This one is a little messy and takes a little bit of effort to make, but it turns out kinda pretty and it’s super fun to play with! Just don’t play with it around carpets. To see it, click here.

Rainforest Yoga

These are fun yoga poses that your kids can do. I think ages 4 and 5 would love it. To see this activity, click here.

Rainforest Coloring Book Pages

This one is a link to free coloring pages for your kids. There’s quite a few of them. You could give fun facts about each animal they color! Click here.

Here’s the Pinterest page I found these activities and more on. Scroll through and see what calls to you!

This is a great blog post with a ton of resources for rainforest activities and information to share with your kids! Definitely check it out.

This is a great blog to find more fun and easy crafts to do with your kids.

Mongabay is a great resource for both kids and adults. If you want some information to share with your kids, go here.

It’s important to nurture a love for the environment in kids. They’re the future, and if they care about keeping the rainforest safe and our water clean, then they’ll fight to make those things happen.

Photo courtesy of Colleen O’Dell.

You Should Care About Palm Oil

You might have heard about palm oil recently, but you may not know what it is, or why it’s important to pressure companies to either find healthy alternatives or to source it responsibly if they’re too dependent on it.

For starters, palm oil is a massive reason why Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests are facing incredible rates of deforestation, and the reason they have the world’s longest list of endangered wildlife. Palm oil is the reason the Sumatran orangutan may be extinct in the next 150 years. The Sumatran tiger, rhino, and elephant are also critically endangered because of palm oil. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found in 2007 that “palm oil plantations are the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia.” Another study done by a Swiss institution and Princeton stated that “between 1990 and 2005, up to 60% of palm oil expansion occurred at the expense of primary tropical rainforests.” Palm oil plantations absolutely demolish rainforests and the demand for palm oil is only getting steeper.

In 2006, a U.S. government regulation required food labels to list its trans fat because it’s a major contributor to heart disease. Food processors decided to substitute trans fat with other oils like palm oil. Now, palm oil is used in practically everything. It’s in basically all of our packaged snacks, cookies, cosmetics and toiletries, soaps, shampoos, detergents, and toothpaste.

Unfortunately, it’s not much better than trans fat. Health authorities like the World Health Organization have indicated that palm oil promotes heart disease and urge people to reduce their intake of oils such as palm oil.

There’s a lot of labor abuse that goes into palm oil as well. Currently, the Rainforest Action Network is petitioning PepsiCo to stop turning a blind eye to their partner Indofood exploiting their workers on palm oil plantations.  According to the Rainforest Action Network, “Indofood is cheating its workers out of fair pay and benefits, threatening workers’ health with toxic chemicals, and compelling workers to hire children and bring their spouses to work through an unjust wage system.” If you would like to read the full article (which isn’t very long, I promise) and/or sign the petition, click here. A lot of these companies will force indigenous peoples out of their homes and then those people will get thrown in jail for protesting the situation. And the ones who try to go about it the legal way get ignored by the government for years.

There are easy ways to boycott palm oil, or at least seriously reduce your intake of it. There are two apps that you can download onto your phone that lets you scan the barcode of the item you’re wanting to purchase and they’ll tell you if it has palm oil in it. These apps are Buycott and Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping. I would recommend getting both. They work well together, but they both have their flaws. Buycott is easier to scan items with, but doesn’t tell you if the product has responsibly sourced palm oil or not. Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping takes a while scan, but if you find that an item has palm oil, it’s good to double check if it’s responsibly sourced. If you would like a full list of all the different names companies put palm oil under, click here.

Companies don’t think we care about sustainable palm oil. It has destroyed (and is still destroying) so much rainforest, it’s killing several different species, and companies treat their workers horribly and force indigenous people out of their homes. Their governments aren’t fighting for them, so it’s important for us to do so. Find petitions and sign them, boycott palm oil as much as you can; speak out somehow. Companies need to know that people care or they won’t stop their abuse.

Photo courtesy of CIAT.

Orangutans in the Balance

Rainforest destruction, usually due to the demand for palm oil, is driving one of humankind’s closest relatives to extinction: the orangutan.

Orangutan means “person of the forest,” because when the Indonesian and Malaysian peoples first noticed them, they thought they were people hiding in the forest to escape becoming slaves or having to work for a living. They turned out to be one of the four kinds of great apes, and the only great ape to originate from Asia.

They’re amazing creatures that do a lot for the world around them. They’re considered gardeners of the forest, because their food waste spreads seeds and decomposition around the forest floor, which plants new trees and feeds the ones that already exist. Unfortunately, that world around them is slowly being razed away and it’s taking them with it. Their main threat is habitat loss, and palm oil is the #1 reason their homes are being destroyed.

Orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans and are almost as smart as chimpanzees, which are humankind’s closest living relatives. Some groups are able to fashion tools that help them acquire food, and some groups of orangutans can even make themselves umbrellas out of giant leaves to avoid heavy rainstorms!

Orangutans are unique in several ways from other great apes. They are the only primarily arboreal apes. They rarely touch down on the forest floor, preferring to live in nests in the trees. They’re used to swinging in branches and their bodies aren’t used to being on the ground, so it’s dangerous for orangutans to leave the trees. The males are generally larger and therefore more likely to wander around on the forest floor than females.

Orangutans can live up to 50 years in the wild! They also have the longest gestation period of any other animal besides humans. Their young stay under their mothers’ care between 7 and 11 years of age, meaning it can take up to 10 or 11 years for them to have another child. At most, they have a baby once every 5 years. This is a big reason their populations are hurting so bad–they don’t have the ability to replenish it as fast as it’s being destroyed.

There are only two groups of orangutans left: the Bornean and the Sumatran orangutans. It’s hard to find a consensus on the number of orangutans left, but the estimated amount of Bornean orangutans left is at about 105,000 and the Sumatran orangutans are estimated at 7,500, making them critically endangered. Now, I’ve heard and read a lot of things that say that orangutans are expected to go extinct in 40 to 100 years. Several sources seem to think that they might go extinct within our lifetimes. And though this may be true if things get much worse, the book Orangutans: Geographic Variation in Behavioral Ecology and Conservation did thorough studies over many years and looked at several different outcomes and scenarios and estimated that the Sumatran orangutans have about 150 years left (now 140, as this was written almost a decade ago) and the Bornean orangutans can have about 1,000 years left if their conditions don’t continue to degrade.

So now you may be thinking, Phew, I’m not going to see the end of orangutans! Yeah, maybe not, but your children might see the end to at least one species. They still desperately need your attention. They need advocates to stand up against irresponsibly sourced palm oil and poaching and the illegal pet trade. Luckily for us, we have the time to make the change. There are organizations like the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that are making people aware of the threats orangutans are facing and fighting to make life safer for these wonderful creatures. If you want to help orangutans, I would start by donating to one of these organizations. The next step is to figure out what companies source their palm oil responsibly and support them and make it known to other companies that you care about palm oil. They don’t seem to think anyone cares enough, so most companies have no plans to change their behavior.

Besides habitat loss, mostly due to the need for palm oil, orangutans face a multitude of threats. Orangutans up to the age of seven are sought for the illegal pet trade. In the process of stealing the young, the hunters usually kill the mother, making the illegal pet trade a serious threat to wild orangutan populations. I want to emphasize to anyone out there who wants a primate as a pet that primates do not make good pets. They are not easily domesticated. They’ll probably ruin your house, bite you, throw poop at you, and be far too feral to control. And there’s a ton of animal abuse that goes into the illegal pet trade. For example, the pygmy slow loris, which is a tiny, round, teddy-bear-like creature that’s super cute, actually secretes a poisonous toxin in its arm pits. It helps the loris in its hunting, and to use it, the loris licks its arm pits with its tongue and the toxin gets all over its bottom teeth (their tooth comb). Because the toxin is also poisonous to humans (though I don’t think it’s fatal to us), and because they’re likely to bite you, their tooth combs are ripped out before they’re given to the buyer. There’s a reason certain animals are illegal to own, and taking part in the illegal pet trade just adds to animal cruelty and population decline.

Even protected areas aren’t secure enough to protect orangutans. The boundaries of Borneo are not clearly defined, making them difficult to patrol. Most parks are understaffed and underfunded, so palm oil companies and logging firms have intruded into all parks.

In some areas, orangutans are hunted for food. They’re also killed when they move into agricultural areas and destroy crops, including on plantations used for palm oil. Horrible pesticides are sprayed on the food and they die a terrible death for their crime of eating.

Orangutans are facing a lot of hardships and need help before their numbers get much lower. They need more protected land and the Bornean and Sumatran governments need more money for better patrols. More importantly, people need to start protesting the use of palm oil. It’s in practically every packaged product, so convincing companies to resource it responsibly will be quite the fight. It’s not impossible though! Teaching others about palm oil and the importance of fighting it is the first step to making a difference, and the fate of orangutans hangs in the balance.

Photo courtesy of Chem7.

Visiting Ecuador’s Rainforest

Last week, I interviewed my friend, Kim, who attended the Yana Puma Spanish School in Ecuador last year. I thought it would be nice to hear about what her time in the rainforest and in the program taught her.

She participated in the program for three months, from January to March of 2016. The school is meant to expand one’s knowledge of the Spanish language by having the participant visit and volunteer for different indigenous communities so that they can become immersed in the culture to learn the language. She went to the rural parts of the western Amazon in Ecuador.

She says her favorite experience was learning about all the trees and flowers that she planted as a volunteer, “‘Cause a big part of it, you know, you’re told you’re going to be reforesting a section and planting indigenous plants, but…that doesn’t necessarily mean that much to you until some of the locals start telling you about some of the plants, like, some of the medicinal properties, and if it’s good building material or if it bears fruit or something, and it’s just really interesting to learn about all these wild plants that we don’t have in North America.”

I asked her what she learned about the rainforest. “I think a big part of the trip [was that] we focused in on a lot of agricultural aspects which I found that in smaller communities, agriculture and conservation are really tightly wound together, so I think that was a really eye-opening experience because I feel like in North America, we’re kinda told that we need to encourage sustainable farming in third world countries and everything, and I think for me it was really eye-opening to see, like, these communities do wanna be farming sustainably, but it’s economic pressure that bigger corporations put on them that make that less of a reality for them.” Sustainable farming is so important because indigenous people contribute to deforestation in order to survive, and poverty keeps them unable to obtain the advanced technology that would keep them from having to resort to destructive ways of living. Large corporations, just like Kim mentions, keep indigenous people poor by destroying their homes and evicting them from their lands and using their resources.

Would you say visiting a rainforest gave you a better appreciation for rainforests? What did you think about them before your visit? “Yes, I would absolutely say that actually experiencing it gave me a much more broad understanding of how the ecosystem works…And I think for me, seeing how the communities interact with the forests and the animals was also just so different.”

Would you recommend this program to others? “Yeah, I definitely recommend programs like this. I think immersive, long-term programs can be really eye-opening and life-changing for people because you’re forced to experience things from somebody else’s perspective for long periods of time, so you start to notice the nuances about it.”

Any tips for anyone who wanted to participate/visit a rainforest? “This is kinda gross, but the best advice I was given as far as medication goes…you want IB Profin, obviously, and then something to make you stop and something to make you go, ’cause there’s all sorts of weird parasites that you’re definitely gonna get. It’s unavoidable.” She also suggested long, light-colored clothes to protect from mosquitoes, to cover all of your skin, and to buy sunscreen before you visit because the indigenous people don’t buy it so the prices are ridiculously high. She also mentioned to always wear shoes, depending on where you’re staying, as there could be spiders everywhere you step, and the way she described them did not sound like something you’d want to walk through barefoot.

Would you visit another rainforest if you could? “Yeah, absolutely.”

Why? “I keep saying this, but it’s just such an interesting and different experience than any forests or ecosystems we have over here, so I can really build an appreciation for  the diversity of nature.”

Do you think you are going to visit another rainforest? “Yeah it’s definitely a goal of mine. I honestly wanna go back and visit some of the people in the same area I was. And also I want to compare different areas.”

Would you say you’re invested in the fight for rainforests now? “Yeah, I would definitely say it is something…so my trip focused a lot on agricultures, so that’s something that I think has changed in my life. I’ve gotten a lot more conscious about sustainable agriculture, even in regard to rainforests…Something I’ve noticed is that I know everybody says you don’t need to buy organic fruit or buy organic bananas because the pesticides don’t get through the peel, but just for sustaining the environment they’re grown in, it is really good to buy organic bananas. And again, seeing how they’re grown…with bananas you just put a bag over it so the insects don’t get to it instead of spraying it with pesticide which is so easy.” Pesticides are a huge problem in the rainforest. They kill insects, but they also kill the surrounding plants and animals, and some of the poison gets into rivers that more animals eventually drink and end up getting poisoned.

Would you say that agriculture is a major issue facing rainforests? “Yeah, I would say it’s definitely the most prominent threat.” She has a point. Agriculture is the third largest reason for rainforest devastation, just after logging and cattle ranching.

It sounds like visiting a rainforest is definitely something everyone with the means to do, should do. It’ll teach you about the problems facing the rainforest, get you invested in the fight for them, and it’ll be an eye-opening and life-changing experience (if you go through a long-term program, at least).

Photo courtesy of Leosanchez2011.

Rainforest Safe Banana Desert Recipes

So many yummy things come from the rainforest! Unfortunately, a lot of those delicious foods also put the rainforest in jeopardy. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to integrate the taste of the rainforest into your life without adding to the damage being done to them every day.  Here are some fun, tasty banana recipes that you should try when you get the chance!

Chocolate Banana Blintzes

These are probably my favorite. They’re chocolate banana crepes that use Rainforest Alliance approved bananas and chocolate. You’ll want to give yourself an hour of prep time so you can chill the crepe ingredients, and the recipe also recommends that you have wax paper on hand, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary (but it will make things easier). For the recipe, click here.

Banana Ghosts

This recipe is meant for Halloween, and it’s super cute! You’ll need some popsicle sticks, some tiny hard candies for the eyes and mouths, and some wax paper. These are made with white chocolate, to make them look like ghosts, of course. However, I think you could substitute the white chocolate for milk or dark (make sure the chocolate is Rainforest Alliance approved though!). You could make them werewolves or something if you don’t like white chocolate (like me). For the recipe, click here!

Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins

This recipe comes from Chiquita Bananas, which is a lovely company that collaborates with Rainforest Alliance. They have a ton of yummy recipes! This one is fairly quick and easy. The bake time alone is 15-20 minutes. I’d say give yourself 45 minutes to an hour to make them though, with mixing the ingredients and then letting the muffins cool afterward. Don’t forget to use Rainforest Alliance approved chocolate! For the recipe, click here.

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

I love banana cream pie! This one is a bit tougher to make. You’ll need to be on top of it constantly to make sure everything turns out right, but the reward is worth the effort. (Pie always is!) This one will take several hours to be prepared. For the recipe, click here!

For more rainforest safe banana recipes, I would suggest checking out the Chiquita Bananas website. They have a lot of fun things to try!

When cooking with bananas, make sure they are Rainforest Alliance approved. That’s all you have to do to do your part in keeping rainforests safe (in this one area at least). Try to look for approved chocolate, coffee, and any other fruit you use in your meals as well. If you try these, let me know what you think!

Photo courtesy of Larry.

Cool Things You Didn’t Know About the Rainforest

Rainforests are majestic and elusive places that we still don’t know too much about. They’re filled to the brim with neat things, so I thought I’d share some with you!

Here are 20 fun facts:

 

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Photo courtesy of Yannick Ott.

 

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Photo courtesy of Tony Rodd.

 

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Photo courtesy of Backparkerin.

 

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Photo courtesy of Vasse Nicolas.

 

There’s a ton of cool things about the rainforest. This barely scratches the surface.

 

Featured photo courtesy of Snowmanradio.