I woke up this morning and had to say goodbye to my roommate Kermit – a tiny green tree frog that lives in the shower stall of my room at the Refugio da Ilha. Although I have a phobia about frogs and toads, this little guy didn't bother me. I'm not sure where my irrational fear of frogs comes from, as they rarely kill people (actually, as far as I know no one has ever been attacked by a frog), but in the tropics frogs and toads can grow to be gigantic, so this is something I always have to come to grips with when I travel to rainforests and wetlands.
VIDEO: Watch our amphibian experts as they talk frogs
We drive three hours to our next stop – the Caiman Refuge, an ecotourism resort. On the way, our hosts, Erika and Lysa, tell us about what they do.
Erika is Conservation International's Pantanal Office biologist. Her current projects include reaching out to farm owners in the region and informing them about the risks and benefits of fires on their land, as well as making recommendations for fire management strategies to benefit wildlife. She is also putting together an outreach campaign educating Brazilian Indians about the Corridor Project.
Her colleague, Lysa, is in charge of Conservation International's communications efforts on behalf of the Corridor Project. She just moved from Rio de Janeiro, and is new to CI. Her work includes creating media and educational campaigns about the region and the importance of the wildlife found here.
The trip to Caiman goes quickly. Like the Refugio da Ilha, the Caiman Refuge was once a large plantation for cattle, but now the owners also have a thriving tourist business catering to both Brazilians and foreigners wishing to vacation in the wild. As we pull up to the Refuge, we come across two large caiman lying in the road. Apparently the resort is well named.
The resort hosts the Hyacinth Macaw Project – a program created to assess, conserve, and monitor hyacinth macaws in the Pantanal biome. Because this project is one of several that Anheuser-Busch Adventure Park's Discovery Cove supports in the Pantanal, Julie is particularly excited to find out more.
SPECIES: Discover the birds of the Pantanal
The largest of the macaw species, this blue bird with yellow markings has as few as 3,500 individuals left in its Pantanal population (the other two ranges, North-eastern Brazil and Amazonia have never been researched, but are believed to be highly endangered as well). But 3,500 birds is a huge improvement considering that only ten years ago when this project started, there were as few as 1,500 hyacinths in the Pantanal. This incredible comeback has been credited to the Project that has used valuable research findings to suggest new timber management plans, reduce poaching through education and community support, and hang artificial nest-boxes – all to the benefit of the hyacinths in the region.
Julie almost causes the pilot to drive the plane into the marsh when she starts screaming wildly, "Capybara! Capybara! Capybara!"
Two researchers on the Project invite the four of us to join them in collecting data on a chick. Little did we know that we had to walk through almost a mile of warm, knee-to-waist high murky water to reach the cerrado where the birds were located. The walk is particularly distressing as not only are caiman and poisonous snakes in this wetland, but there are mosquitoes everywhere and every few yards cow dung floats by. I am only wearing sandals on my feet (yuck).
We finally make it to the tree, where we watch the researchers pull a 90-day old hyacinth macaw chick out of its hole and collect a variety of data on it before putting it back in its nest. This information will hopefully contribute to macaw conservation strategies meant to increase survival rates among wild macaws.
TOOLS: Learn more about techniques for collecting data in the field
After seeing this amazing project, we hurry back to the Caiman Lodge where the plane to the Fazenda Rio Negro awaits us. The little Cessna 4-seater plane flies us over miles of wetlands to the Fazenda Rio Negro. As we land on the grass "runway" Julie almost causes the pilot to drive the plane into the marsh when she starts screaming wildly, "Capybara! Capybara! Capybara!"
Unfortunately, I don't see the capybara, as I am too focused on the pilot to be sure he has recovered from Julie's shouting and can still land.
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