The Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica – Video


I took a hike through Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud forest with Danilo Wallace, a park ranger born and raised in what is now one of the world’s foremost rainforest preserves. He said that when he was a child he shot Toucans with a slingshot, cut off their bills and made necklaces. For his parents, the forest was a servant, from which they extracted building materials and food. That has changed.

Danilo showed me a plant-thing that grows in the forest canopy, an epiphyte, it is called, on which seemed to reside a botanical United Nations: sprouts from seeds brought in on the breeze from Death Valley, the Sahara Desert, Argentina.

Yes, it is a small world. The Monteverde Cloud Forest, this protected environment up in the cool mountains of Costa Rica, above the steamy tropical jungles, above the beaches where real estate agents swarm like killer bees flogging raw land and condos, above the coffee plantations that grow beans of Middle Eastern origin because, despite the reputation of Costa Rican coffee, the local bean is not very good. Above the airstrips from which now Fox News correspondent Ollie North ran his Iran-Contra gun-running scheme in the 80s. Above this fray, up a really awful rocky, muddy road, there should be a biological Walden, right?

But, no. All of these lovely impatiens you see lining the footpaths don’t come from here either, they’re originally from East Africa and according to a study published recently in the journal Nature, it is not only winds and birds and stuff tracked in by people, climate change is altering the ecosystem here too.

Danilo told us about the Golden Toad, how one year in the late ’80s thousands turned up to mate. The next two years, only one lonely male appeared. Since then there have been none. A photo in the visitor’s centers shows once such Golden Toad humping a stick.

The study says that the deaths were caused by a virus that a changing climate may have allowed to flourish, offering proof that global warming not only damages biodiversity, but does so by promoting infectious disease. Danilo says 41% of the amphibian species at Monteverde have gone extinct in the past 20 years.

Monteverde frogs

You wouldn’t know this backstory if you took a walk in this forest, however. The trees cut down by the Quakers who settled here in the 1950s to escape the cold war mentality of the US are growing back quite well. And there are still primary rainforests hosting at least 420 species of orchids and 400 breeds of birds including the rare Resplendent Quetzal. The adjective is part of the name of the bird, I did not add it, but it fits this long feathered jungle dandy, idolized by the Mayas, perfectly.

Our take on the elusive Quetzal

We saw the back end of a Quetzal. But birdwatchers who come from all over the world for the experience often aren’t so lucky.

Like most rainforests, you often don’t see much during the day, aside from Coatimundis, often, like racoons, raiding garbage cans, or hummingbirds, more than 50 different colors and sheens. There are hummingbird feeders set up next to the gift shop at the entrance to the preserve along with a guide to identify each foppish specimen.

Or howler monkies, the second loudest mammal on earth next to the blue whale. One piece of advice: don’t walk under howler monkeys. Their sense of humor is, shall we say, scatological.

To really see the forest for the trees, you have to go out at night with a flashlight. And don’t touch any of those colorful frogs. Like dangerous women, more makeup often means poison.

This biological mosh pit has always been with us. Winds have always blown across oceans and as the old Gershwin song goes, , “fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly”. But cars don’t gotta pollute and factories don’t gotta spew. Those are within our control.

The frogs and toads and the other creatures of the night are sounding the alarm.


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