A journey into the rainforest, was it a cat-astrophe? by Mark Thomas

It is 19:30 pm, the camp has just eaten dinner. Most people are scuttling off to the project room, or to find bananagrams. We are located in the buffer zone of Manu National Park, Peru, at a research station. Projects run day and night researching the regenerating rainforest.

A forest cut down for agriculture purposes, a forest abused of its natural resources. An image we still see so much today. However, in the last 50 years the trees have grown back and it is now teeming with life. A beauty that is hidden from the rest of the world, but not from those that walk out into it day after day.

In the project room, equipment is being organised for a night walk. The rainforest by day and by night is like two different worlds. The day is noisy, cicadas buzzing loudly, titi monkeys hooting, macaws screeching overhead. At night, we hear the croaking of frogs, night owls hooting in the distance, and the occasional noise you instantly think is a Jaguar, or Puma; but more than likely a group of pale-winged trumpeters humming each other to sleep.

We step out onto the trail, climbing the first hill leading into the rainforest. Trees above so large you can barely see them with our head torches. Connected, forming arches… natures umbrella. The leaves are moving in an orderly line on the ground, leaf-cutter ants tirelessly working. Amphibians jumping through the leaves as we move slowly along the trail, staying quiet as to not disturb the sleeping animals from their day activities.

We move along, crossing streams, climbing up and down hills. All of us looking around hoping to catch a glimpse of any animal. We stop about 1500 m from camp to have a look around. High up in the canopy we spot two green eyes. Excitedly but quietly we suggest it could be a margay, a small arboreal cat.

We check our bags for cameras. Damn, we don’t have them. I set off like Usain Bolt, wellies squelching through puddles, hurdling leaf-cutter ants. A stitch has already set in but the excitement of getting a photo of a cat is spurring me on.

I arrive back to camp, it’s quiet. I run to my room and collect my camera. On my way back I see a candle light in the office – People are still awake! I tell them what we found. They gather their things and follow a bit later.

My return run is more of a power walk. The temperature is still quite humid. After what seems like an eternity I arrive back, still angry with myself for never taking my camera. Ah it’s still there.

We move slowly towards the tree. Is that… a… PUMA! No way… As we slowly walk back, we are dumbfounded. The rest catch up, and we all stand there. Not knowing what to say. A puma.

How often can people ever say they found a puma on a tree at night. The puma just stares, never taking his eyes of us. We are careful to not disturb it any more than we have to, and soon after we return. Excited for the morning, so we can share our photos, our story of the night we found a Puma.

This once logged forest, 50 years later, has returned to some of its former glory. With such a careful balance of life, one thing relies on the other, and the other relies on something else; and we benefit from all of it for so many reasons. So, precious and marvellous.

About the Entry

Mark Thomas

My name is Mark Thomas, an ex-banker of 8 years, I have just finished three years working in the Amazon, and now I am an MSc student studying Conservation Biology. Life has some amazing unplanned journeys.

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