This is an extract from my book Anthropocene Apocalypse – it is a Biologist’s tale (me) of what he has seen happening to the environment over the years.
I wrote it because something needs to be happening fast before it is too late.
I put my views on what needs addressing in the book.
Deforestation and extinction – Peru
We flew out to see our friends John and Katherine with their son John. Lived lived in Lima in Peru and had been on at us to visit. We took the chance.
As Lima was reputed to be not the greatest of experiences for an extended visit we worked out an itinerary to see something of the country. This involved some internal flights, train trips, boat trips and coach. It was quite an experience and took a fair bit of planning.
We started off by heading for Puerto Maldonado which was supposedly a city but looked more like a ramshackle town in the Amazon rainforest.
I’d always wanted to get into a real rainforest and this was it. We set off in a small boat as parrots flew overhead and a small family group of capybara foraged along the water’s edge. I was actually heading up a tributary of the Amazon. It was amazing. I was so excited I thought I was in paradise.
We got settled into our room on stilts. It only had two walls. On one side was the jungle. At night you lay in your bed, safe and snug under your mosquito net and listened to the thousand voices of the jungle as the local ecosystem gave full vent to its feelings and passions. At night it felt as if you were surrounded by a million different animals ranging from tiny to huge. They stridulated, croaked, whistled and roared as they sought mates, protected territory, called to each other for social cohesion, or simply yelled out for the sake of it.
Insects and bats shot through our room and you felt you were in the midst of it. It was exhilarating. You could hear insects exoskeletons being crunched up in the jaws of predators invisibly all around you in the dark.
Needless to say I did not feel the need to get up and visit the toilet until morning.
The morning eventually came and I spent a while before breakfast watching the weaver birds going in and out of their elaborately woven basket nests in the palm trees. The parrots squawked, insects stridulated and the air was hot and heavy with the electricity of life. Even the air smelt rich and fecund.
We walked down trails through the jungle marveling at the stilted trees that supposedly walked through the jungle. They actually did. They grew new stilts on one side and moved to the side in search of light. It was slow-motion walking.
Everywhere was the singing of fecundity. It the afternoon we paddled up the tributary to a lagoon, found huge bulbous hairy caterpillars in the trees, huge colourful red winged birds in the trees, caught piranhas and baby alligators and watched the sun set in a great orange glow just before it rained on us in a torrential tropical downpour and we were soaked. Fortunately it was warm, as warm as a bath even though it was now night, and we did not mind being soaked.
We paddled back to the jetty and clambered out of the canoe – our guide shone his torch round to show us what was around. My heart stopped when he showed us these enormous long-legged spiders with eighteen inch span, straddled on the stone wall of the jetty. As we made our way back I made sure I did not go anywhere near any walls.
The next day we climbed a huge tower that took us above the canopy. I was able to look down on the most amazing sight as the heads of all those tall trees jostled with each other to reach the light. There were monkeys in the tops of the canopy calling and swinging around in search of fruit, mist drifting through and parrots flying in groups from tree to tree.
When we flew out of there I looked back down on the forest. It was incredible. It stretched on and on. Yet when I looked the other way there was endless desolation. The land was laid out in endless patchwork squares where thousands of square miles of jungle had been cleared. There were burning pyres on freshly cleared land, crops growing in new fields and a desolate, barren landscape stretching behind into the distance where the cleared land was no longer fertile resembling the lunar surface over the hills as far as you could see.
My mind flitted through the thoughts of all the billions of plants and animals that had once lived there and the future inevitable soil erosion and the joy evaporated. I found myself leaving with a heavy heart.
It was as if I was looking into the future.