Mooney Goes Wild, Sunday January 24th 2016
The Rainforests Of Costa Rica - Revisited
Since the start of the millennium, Mooney Goes Wild has presented a range of series featuring wildlife documentaries, focusing upon different nature stories from all around the world. Now as 2016 is underway, we’re bringing you some of those special programmes once again, but this time with an update on significant developments.
So for the next hour, allow yourself to be transported to Central America and the tropical country of Costa Rica, in a documentary entitled The Rainforests Of Costa Rica, which was first broadcast in February 2001. It's presented by Mooney Goes Wild panellist, Eanna ni Lamhna...
One of the walking palms mentioned by Eanna; for more information, visit www.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Selva_Biological_Station
So what have been the developments since that programme was made and what could happen next? Well, to find out more, Eanna ni Lamhna spoke to Joseph Armstrong, Professor Emeritus of Botany at Illinois State University in the United States...
For more information on La Selva and the flora and fauna that can be found there, click here.
The Rainforests Of Costa Rica - Original Programme Notes From 2001, by Eanna Ní Lamhna
“It’s always spring in Costa Rica”, said the woman on the plane as we changed flights in Miami. And so it proved to be – at least at first at any rate. Looking out the hotel bedroom window next morning early, it looked like the start of a fine sunny Irish May morning. Blue skies, green landscape – perfect!
Costa Rica is just smaller than Ireland, with a similar sized population. It is the second most southerly country in Central America, separated from South America just by Panama and bounded by Nicaragua to the North. It lies ten degrees north of the equator and it still retains 45% of its original vegetation – Tropical Rainforest – the reason for our visit. Our driver Walter was waiting for us – at six am – days are short at this latitude and you can’t waste three hours of light lying in bed. Over the next week we visited two types of rain forest – cloud forest at 3000metres and tropical wet forest down at sea level.
There is enormous variety of plant and animal life. A quarter of the world’s known butterflies live here, with over 850 species of birds and thousands of plant species. Compare that with our 28 resident butterfly species and our 815 plants and 354 birds! Costa Rica promotes its Rain Forests as tourist attractions, and therefore it is very easy to visit one and be guided around by very knowledgeable and competent guides.
Derek Mooney and myself began the day at first light, with the dawn chorus. Many of the rain forest birds are very brightly coloured - for example toucans, parrots, macaws and parakeets - so they do not need sweet melodious songs to attract mates. They have loud raucous calls making the dawn chorus here quite a different affair to our musical one.
And the plants ... I’m a botanist by profession and it was a real eye opener for me to be surrounded by trees, ferns, flowers, mosses and grasses of all sorts and not be able to put a name on a single one. Oh, except the busy lizzie which was quite common – this is where this household plant originates. Plants grew with unimaginable luxuriance on every possible surface. There were bromeliads – pineapple like plants on the branches of every tree. There were lianas growing down from above and climbers growing up from below. There were walking plants and strangler figs. And above all were the canopy trees themselves some 20-30 meters tall forming a green tent over the whole area. All this plant growth needs lots of water. All morning it had been getting hotter and hotter, and promptly at 12.15pm the rain started. And this was RAIN. Three hours of a continuous downpour the like of which you would only experience under the power shower at home.
The howler monkeys immediately complained, although God knows you’d think they would be used to it, as it rains exactly like this at exactly the same time every day in the wet season from May to November. Howlers are one of four species of monkeys found in Costa Rica - apes never made it to the New World. Other species of mammals familiar to us from zoos are sloths, peccaries (wild pigs) and agoutis - the biggest rodent in the world (think rat the size of a medium dog). Even when the rain stopped it wasn’t dry in the forest as the abundant vegetation dripped on us all evening.
The hot sweaty conditions were ideal for the insects. We were gleaming with insect repellent cream but the insects loitered by our hairlines, and once the perspiration caused the repellent to slip downward they were in like SAM missiles. But they didn’t carry yellow fever or malaria (or if they did it hasn’t struck yet!) so we continued valiantly for the highlight of any radio programme on rain forest: the dusk chorus. Dusk falls promptly at 6pm - no lingering twilight here - and it is now the kingdom of the amphibians the frogs and the toads. The sounds they made are indescribable. Standing there in the dark with all the torches switched off, the churring, croaking, throbbing choir was unearthly. And the volume seemed to be inversely related to the size of the chorister. Tiny tree frogs, red and navy poison arrow frogs, leaf frogs with big red eyes, they were all there looking for mates and we were there with our microphones to record it for the Irish radio audience.
Costa Ricans are all descended from the Spaniards, who came here with Christopher Columbus. The native peoples came out to welcome him dressed in their best finery, which was wonderful gold jewelry from mines in Guatemala. Columbus was very impressed, called the country the “Rich Coast” and promptly slaughtered all the inhabitants to get the possession of the land. There are very few native people left today and they live in reserves in the south of the country. Walter our driver was very proud of his country, and diverted on route from one rain forest to the other to show us the Pacific Ocean at Puntarenas. Whilst we dipped our toes in the ocean, he bought us a snack from a roadside vendor – luke-warm pork on a salad with creamy dressing, all presented proudly to us on a banana leaf. What could we do but eat it? Fortunately for diplomatic relations, it was only later on that evening that we discovered from our guidebook that Puntarenas is the only place left in Costa Rica where cholera is endemic! Sometimes you’re better off not reading the guidebooks.
These rain forest regions are the most diverse habitat in the world, with half of the world’s species of plants and animals coming from here. The Costa Ricans appreciate their heritage, and are managing to encourage tourism without damaging the very attraction the tourists have come to see. Access roads are deliberately narrow and badly surfaced to discourage coaches, and to make it impossible for the motorized tourist to get in and out in a day. A day to get there, a day to see around and a day leaving brings higher revenues with fewer numbers. This is surely sustainable tourism at it best.