If you watched I Bought A Rainforest this Sunday, you’ll no doubt have been fascinated by Andy Whitworth and the world of the Crees Foundation. When Charlie Hamilton James and his crew – the hilariously entertaining Adrian and Hector – arrived at Crees we were in the middle of the monthly Leaf Drying. Crees is running a 20 year long Biomass study with Oxford University, to investigate the content and abundance of leaf litter on the forest floor.
Every month, leaf litter is collected from designated areas all over the reserve, for the volunteers and interns to separate, dry and weigh. It takes days, because the bags of litter have to be sorted into seeds, leaves and sticks, then dehydrated slowly in a drying oven, and weighed after each stint until they stop getting lighter (this final dry weight is then the one that gets recorded). This is why so many of us were home in the middle of the day when Andy was showing Charlie a deadly Arboreal Pit Viper, known locally as a Loro Machaco. We crowded round, excited to watch the photography unfold.
As Andy briefed Charlie on the snake, we all began to wonder if getting him getting this close to something so deadly was wise – Charlie still had almost an entire TV series to film. Lexi, another staff member, ran off to our enormous first aid box (a necessity when the nearest doctor is a 40 minute boat ride and 30 minute hike away) and brought back the anti-venom kit. It sat on the side of the Project Room, reassuringly present during the filming.
The snake (who is still one of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen) has a seriously awesome tongue. Charlie really wanted to get a photo of it as it flicked out. But snakes don’t just flick their tongues for fun. They do it to scope out warm prey, and there was only so many times that expertly brave Andy could move his hand towards the snake before the risk got too high. He suggested we warm up a banana in the leaf drying oven, to simulate a body that would pique the interest of the viper’s heat sensing pits. I ran off to the cage we kept the bananas in (yes a cage – no other way to keep the insects away!) selected the snake’s victim and put it in the heated wooden box. After a few minutes we removed it, and Andy waved the fruit near the snake – it was immediately alert, its tongue curiously tasting the air for the source of the warmth. Charlie got some stunning shots, and we returned to our afternoon of leaf drying whilst listening to a combination Reggaeton, and each other’s iPods.
Charlie’s programme was eye opening, moving and incredibly important. He’s given us a rare opportunity to see every aspect of the incredibly complicated issues that the Amazon, and the people in it, face. The lesson to be learned is that the people who will ultimately save the rainforest are the people who call it home. All we can do is use our monied privilege to help in any way we can.
I am a past volunteer of the Crees Foundation and an avid supporter of their incredible work. This post was written completely independently of them and was done from memory – so apologies if I got anything wrong! If you want to read more about Crees click here. If you want to help them support the development of a sustainable Amazon, click here. And if you want to read more about Charlie Hamilton James’ work in the Amazon, click here.