I stood still, silent. Around me the forest creatures chirped, squawked, trilled and croaked. The longer I stood the more I could hear, unknown numbers of infinite species. I had been in the Amazon Rainforest for just a few weeks and already two new frog species had been found. One was new to the area but already documented by scientists, while the other, with a lime green body and bright yellow toe webbing, was an entirely new discovery. It was staggering to witness first-hand this abundance and diversity of life, to see a hundred different kinds of butterfly in one day, to hear fifty different birds call in one morning.
The lush greenery pressed in from all sides; moss covered branches, enormous leaves, and thick tree trunks all moist with the clean, humid air. Between the trees I could make out the peak of a mountain in the distance, coated in the undulating canopy of ancient forest. I heard the high, wavering call of a Tinamou, gentle yet louder than the small insects and amphibians around me.
I was in the Amazon Rainforest. But the trees that stood tall, supporting this massive collection of life, were only thirty years old. Before that, in the sixties, the area was a cattle ranch. You can still see the remains of a stone building at the top of a hill, perhaps an old outpost or cabin. Known as regenerating rainforest, when the cattle ranch closed the forest was left alone, allowed to grow back without restriction.
Trees put down roots, undergrowth spread, and mammals, reptiles, insects, birds and amphibians returned in their droves. This area is proof that the rainforest can be saved, that we can fix the destruction our greed and ignorance has wreaked on the lungs of the earth. It takes time, of course, but animals make the most of the thick undergrowth that covers the regenerating forest floor. Birds and monkeys even put the smaller trees to good use, moving easily through the thinner canopy. Animals can happily adapt to these minor changes – whilst still enjoying their original pristine rainforest just as much as the newer parts.
In fifty years time, the canopy in this area will be as high and dense as nature allows, the floor will be dark, and what was once new growth will again be part of the ancient, wild, wonderland we call the Amazon. However, there will come a point where the jungle can no longer grow back, when we cut too far for it to heal. But it hasn’t happened yet. If we act now, we can save the rainforest.
I was inspired to write this post by the new BBC2 series ‘I Bought a Rainforest‘ which has been highlighting the massive, complex issues facing the rainforest. If you would like to learn more about CREES, the amazing conservation charity I was involved with, please take a look at their website and current fundraising campaign, which will help the Amazonian people to live sustainably.