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Rainforest conservation links
 
Amazon Conservation Society - protecting the Amazon rainforest.
Australian Rainforest Conservation Society - protecting the rainforests of Queensland.
Cristalino Ecological Foundation - rainforest purchase, education, political lobbying in Brazil.
Iwokrama - research and protection of rainforests in Guyana.
Mongabay - detailed up to date news about rainforest destruction.
Rainforest Concern - protecting rainforests and cloud-forests in Ecuador and elsewhere.
Rainforest Portal - ( Ecological Internet ) link to all of the major rainforest conservation agencies.
Seacology - protecting rainforests on islands.
World Land Trust - purchasing and protecting wildlife habitats worldwide.
Rainforest
the most precious environment on Earth
A rainforest experience, described by Adrian Hoskins
 

It is 6.00am, and we are awoken by the raucous echoing call of a troop of howler monkeys. They are perhaps 2 km away, but the sound fills the forest around us.

 

Dawn is breaking as we venture along a trail through the primary rainforest. Mysterious butterflies flit around us. I spot where they have settled, but their amazing camouflage makes them almost impossible to locate. Some, like Taygetis angulosa, look exactly like dead leaves. Zaretis itys even has little "windows" in it's wings resembling the holes nibbled by beetles. Others like Haetera piera, Cithaerias pireta and Ithomia agnosia are almost entirely transparent.

 

Enormous Caligo Owl butterflies flit from one tree trunk to another. Their wings have a feathery appearance, and are marked with false "owl's eyes", enough to startle any predatory bird, and give the butterfly a chance to escape.

 

Every butterfly species here has it's own distinct personality. The zebra-striped Colobura dirce sits motionless on tree trunks as it feeds at sap runs, but if disturbed, instead of taking flight it scuttles around to hide on the opposite side of the tree. The striped hairstreak Arawacus separata sits facing sideways on a leaf, but as soon as you get within a metre, it rotates to show you it's posterior ! Like many other butterflies it seems to take delight in taunting human observers, but it's odd behaviour is simply a survival strategy - by rotating it narrows its profile and is much harder for a predator to spot. Butterflies use many strategies to hide themselves from predators, some use camouflage or disguise, others such as the Eurybia Riodinids, and the Nascus skippers, hide under leaves, darting out periodically to investigate intruders before disappearing again beneath another nearby leaf.

 

Temenis laothoe

Caria mantinea

Rhetus periander

Adelpha mesentina

Hypoleria lavinia

Marpesia petreus

 
We come to a small glade, the site of a peccary mud wallow. Hundreds of butterflies are swarming around us - gorgeous black and yellow swallowtails, brilliant red and black Callicores, luminous orange Julias, and Morphos - dazzling metallic blue butterflies the size of saucers.
 

The muddy soil in the glade is carpeted with male butterflies, which settle to imbibing the mineral-rich moisture. They obtain vital chemicals this way, which they pass to females during copulation. There are so many butterflies here that it is impossible to walk without treading on them. Amongst them are brilliant metallic green Caria Metalmarks, red Marpesia Daggerwings, black and orange Riodina, and the stunning purple Rhetus periander. At the edge of the glade we watch a Starry Night Hamadryas velutina basking head-downwards on a tree trunk. It is possibly the most beautiful butterfly we have seen today, its large velvety black wings adorned with hundreds of shimmering blue spots.

 

11.00am - It is hot now, and the forest resounds with the call of giant cicadas. The sound begins as a slow hesitant clicking, gradually accelerates to a rattle, then a hum, and escalates into a haunting siren wail which fills the air for a few moments before fading again into silence.

 
We have been here for 6 days, and seen nearly 300 butterfly species, several of them previously unknown to science. Every step along the trails reveals exciting new finds - huge helicopter flies, strange hemipteran bugs, weird beetles, stick insects, and praying mantises.
 
A little later we climb the canopy tower. As we ascend we notice that every layer in the forest has it's own characteristic butterfly fauna - Pierella Lady Slippers and Taygetis Dead-leafs at ground level, Tiger-mimics at about 3 metres, Heliconius at 10-20 metres. Many species, particularly the hairstreaks and metalmarks spend their lives almost entirely in the tree tops, and only rarely descend to ground level.
 
After a tiring climb we finally arrive at the top of the tower. We spend a relaxing half hour watching red and green macaws, great egrets, snail kites and oropendolas flying past. It's difficult to drag ourselves away, as the view across the vast expanse of pristine rainforest is awe-inspiring, but it is time for lunch, so we descend to ground level and slowly wander back along the trails to our base. Unsurprisingly we are so distracted by the myriads of butterflies seen along the route that we arrive late, and are so busy talking about the marvels we have seen that we barely find time to eat.
 

a group of Dryas iulia males imbibing moisture from a sandbank on the Rio Madre de Dios
 

In the afternoon we travel upriver by dugout canoe. Amazon kingfishers swoop past, a harpy eagle hovers high in the sky above us. On a nearby rocky island we see a caiman basking, and along the riverbanks we see sun bitterns and the very beautiful capped heron.

 

Strings of bright yellow Phoebis butterflies fly in follow-the-leader fashion along the river's edge. Sometimes hundreds gather to imbibe moisture on the sandbanks, erupting into flight as our boat passes. We notice how most species of butterfly congregate with their own kind - there are clusters of Marpesia Daggerwings, groups of Heraclides Swallowtails, tightly packed clusters of Protesilaus Swordtails, and gatherings of bright orange Julias. Many different species arrive and depart during the course of the day, until late afternoon when swirling swarms of Eunica Purplewings oust almost every other species.

 

We stop at various places along the river to explore the trails. Imaginary snakes wait to strike from behind every tree - but they are not all imaginary. Clambering up a riverbank we are suddenly confronted by a gigantic anaconda with a massive head and a body perhaps 8 metres or more in length. Luckily for us it has already eaten - it's belly greatly distended by the capybara which became it's breakfast !

 

As the day cools down, we journey back along the river. Beautiful birds fly across our path - green ibis, ringed kingfisher, striated heron, kiskadee, paradise jacamar. A giant river otter inquisitively pops it's head out of the water next to the boat. A capybara, looking like an enormous guinea pig, looks across at us from the riverbank. During the next half hour we see a dozen tapirs, amongst the most enchanting and gentle of all animals, emerging from the forest at different spots along the riverbank.

 

Back at our base the light is fading fast, and the howler monkeys roar again. We sit down for our evening meal, comparing notes about the wonders we have seen, and agree that this is probably the most wonderful place on Earth.

 

Rio Madre de Dios, Peru

 

The next morning we travel downstream for an hour, disembark from our dugout, and get into a jeep. We leave behind the beautiful pristine rainforest, travelling through secondary forest, and then for several miles through cattle pastures, until we come to the town where we catch a plane to our next destination.

 

For 4 hours we fly across what was formerly rainforest, but all we see is a huge expanse of semi-desert. The forest has all been burnt down and turned into cattle pasture, but the pasture only lasts for a few years, and all that remains now is a barren dusty landscape dotted with termite mounds. Looking down from our plane we see a dead parched world, devoid of life.

 

We have been told that our next destination is an oasis - an "island" of pristine rainforest that has miraculously survived amidst a desert of failed cattle ranches in the state of Rondonia. Our plane lands and we board a bus. For the next 5 hours we are driven across 200 miles of devastated land. The forest has gone, the cattle ranches have failed, and the air is hot, dry and dusty.

 

By the time we arrive at our base we have a feeling of the most intense grief. Many of us, all grown men, are in a state of stunned silence, close to tears. We have left the most wonderful and precious environment imaginable, and now realise the full horror of what is happening in Brazil. The foul air around us is thick with smoke, our eyes are watering, and we are struggling to breathe.

 

Pristine rainforest deliberately burnt for conversion to cattle pastures

 

The spot where we are now standing was once the richest butterfly site known on Earth. Just 30 years ago it supported over 1500 butterfly species, but now they are very scarce. Within 5 years they will almost certainly be lost forever. For 4 days we search the tiny fragment of forest that still remains here, looking in vain for butterflies, muttering in disbelief at what has happened here.

 

The incredibly rich forest, teeming with life, has been devastated, the life is gone. The remaining tiny fragments protected as nature reserves are under threat from land grabbing national and international companies who seek to destroy the rainforest for quick profit.
 
Please help to save what little remains, by signing on-line petitions and lobbying politicians.
 

Soybean plantation. 10 years ago this was pristine rainforest.
 
Over 10,000 square miles ( 2.6 million hectares ) of the Amazon rainforest is deliberately burnt down every year, primarily to make way for cattle pastures.
These pastures are very poor in nutrients, so support only very low densities of cattle. The land is burned annually to promote new grass growth and to destroy cattle parasites. The fires often rage uncontrolled, setting fire to further areas of forest.
Deforested areas are considerably hotter and drier than the rainforests. As a result the average temperature of the entire Amazon region rises and the humidity falls even more dramatically. This causes major changes in the vegetation structure of the remaining areas of forest, leading to reduced biodiversity even in protected areas.
 
Worldwide, 50,000 square miles of rainforest ( roughly the same area as Greece ) is deforested every year.
Tropical deforestation accounts for 20 percent of global carbon emissions.
Every second a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is destroyed.
Every day 86,400 football fields of rainforest are destroyed.
Every year 31 million football fields of rainforest are destroyed.
Although they cover less than 2 percent of the Earth's surface area, rainforests are home to over 50 percent of the world's plant and animal life.
A typical 5 square mile area of Amazon rainforest supports 1,500 flowering plants, 750 species of tree, 450 species of bird, and over 500 species of butterfly. But soon it will all be gone.
 
The Amazon rainforests and the cloudforests of the Andes together account for about 40% of all butterfly species on Earth. If deforestation continues at it's present rate, the rainforests will have entirely disappeared within 50 years, and almost half of the world's butterfly species will by then be extinct, with nothing more than museum specimens and photographs remaining.
learnaboutbutterflies urges every person viewing this website to take immediate action - please visit the rainforestportal and mongabay websites where you can find more detailed information, and take part in on-line petitions to save the Amazon and the rainforests of Africa and Asia.
 

aerial view of fires burning in the southern Amazon

 

Deforestation in Rondonia, Brazil. Just imagine what the 2009 map looks like !

 

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