Children of the Jaguar

2012, Nature  -  51 min Leave a Comment
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Until just 30 years ago, the Huaorani people, even for their closest neighbors, were more like ghosts than real people. They controlled an area of around 20,000 square kilometers and fought off much larger tribes and even the all-powerful oil companies and the government itself. Despite this, little or nothing was known about them. The Huaorani had no past, no history... they came from the darkest depths of time.

The majority of the Huaorani now live in the jungle of the Yasuni National Park, a reserve in Eastern Ecuador, which covers one million hectares of tropical Amazon forest. Yasuni is dating from the Pleistocene and it is one of the ten places in the world with the greatest biological diversity.

The Amazon ecosystem, and especially the rain forest, is considered one of the world's most complex animal and vegetable habitats. Its most important characteristics are the sheer number of different animal and plant species, and the extraordinary variations in macro and micro-habitats. In this park alone, over 100 species of tree per hectare have been identified. To give us some idea of the scale of this number, in the richest, densest jungles of Central America, the equivalent figure is no more than 40.

But it is not this but rather the incredible diversity of animal life that prompted UNESCO to declare it the world biosphere reserve in 1989. The most recent investigations have come up with spectacular statistics: over 500 species of bird, 62 snakes and over a 100 amphibians (43 of which are tree frogs alone). A 173 different mammal species have been officially recorded, though it is thought that the true figure could be over 200 - seventy percent of all the mammals in Ecuador.

The canopies of the trees are almost exclusive territory of birds and monkeys. Up there they find safety away from the dangers of the dark forest floor. Down in the world beneath the canopy of the forest danger is ever present and vigilance is constant necessity. There is always someone stronger and faster on the lookout for something to kill... and to eat.