One of the reasons that working with Fauna Forever in the jungle is so incredibly satisfying and fantastic is because of how many senses of a person it satisfies. When walking around in the jungle you are constantly being stimulated in so many ways.
The sounds of the jungle are so very enriching. Other than the noise that you and your hiking buddies make, only the sounds of nature surround you. You have insects, birds, mammals, herps, the elements and more coming together in a wonderful symphony. Every morning and night I would hear the red howler monkeys calling in a territorial call. At night the owls (including the awesome Greater Potu) and the frogs joined in symphony. One night out on the lake we could even hear the territorial bellowing of a caiman. On monkey follows there were the cute calls of the monkeys, different for every species. During the day my favorite song was from the screaming Piha which is very complimentary, wolf-whistling at you despite your jungle appearance.
Being able to identify the sounds around me and actually use them to help with work was really fun and challenging. By the end of my time I could tell pretty well if the crashes in the trees were the sounds of monkeys, simply a tree fall, macaws or other birds, or even just the wind or rain. I can identify quite a few bird calls as well the calls of the monkeys. I know what a Tapir sounds like if you surprise them in the dark. I know whether a hawk moth or a bat has just flown by my head. So cool!
Of course a large part of the human experience for many people is largely visual. It is one of our most obviously utilized senses it seems and that is no different in the jungle. During the day seeing movement in the branches of the trees is incredibly important for being able to follow monkeys and track their location. On mammal transects you have to be able to identify organisms after only getting a fleeting view of them. And I have gotten so much better at determining the difference between monkeys, squirrels, birds, and more.
Binoculars definitely enhance this experience. It is so much easier to determine whether a monkey is eating a leaf or a fruit (one of the things we record) when you magnify it. Birds as well are much better seen through binos (the affectionate abbreviation).
At night visuals take on a new meaning. After the colors fade and movements become more difficult to detect, eye shine becomes your key to the night. Suddenly you are aware of spiders everywhere. I have learned the difference between a spider, month, frog, mammal, and bird eye shine. In the beginning I wasn’t sure if it would ever happen, but it did.
Though not quite as prominent as the other senses, smell is still a fun part of the jungle experience. The “neutral” smell of the forest is quite pleasant, I think. Swamps have their own characteristic scent. The smell of yourself, your clothes, and fellow jungle mates is not so pleasant with notes of mold, sweat, and damp. Howler monkey shit also gives off a characteristic odor and you can also smell peccaries. On Mega Otter Fossil trail there is one turn in the path that is especially distinct to me because it always smelled of overripe fruit because of a nearby tree. DEET and bugspray are also common smells indicating an imminent venture into the forest. Rubbing alcohol indicates that you have just returned from the jungle and are fighting a mass of chigger bites. The smell of mosquito coils reminds me of sitting on the porch of the bungalow before or after dinner.
Okay, I suppose if there is one sense that is not really utilized in the jungle it would be that of taste. The food was good though. I especially enjoyed trying piranha and various fresh fruit juices. Though actually, on one of my last days I did try one of the fruits the monkeys enjoy, that of Astrocarium, and it is not half bad. But generally you are discouraged from sticking many things in your mouth in the jungle. It’s just not a very good idea.
Of course there are many physical feelings that one enjoys while in the jungle. Going out into the field often comes with feeling hot and sticky and sweaty. Not really the most pleasant feeling, but definitely worth it. You also feel tired from walking, the water under your feet in streams. You feel the bugs around you. Getting stung and bit by Tangarana ants is not so pleasant. However, all this makes you appreciate the cold showers, the feeling of being clean becomes quite a treat.
Also interacting with a few creatures has also been a treat. Holding a baby caimen in your hands and feeling its tough scales. Feeling the strong muscles and smooth scales of a parrot snake and blunt headed tree snake. Feeling the smooth skin of a bicolor frog, triangulum, and more.
Probably my favorite “sense” that I experienced while in the jungle is that of emotional feelings. I love the excitement that comes from seeing something new or just something that you love. The satisfaction that you can remember the name of that bird that is calling or the fact that you just found a frog in the dark 10 meters off the path. The wonder that comes with watching a monkey that is watching you and wondering what it is thinking. The feeling of being blessed to be able to have such experiences. And the hope that the work you and Fauna Forever does might help these experiences be available to people for a long time.
Can you tell I’m in love with the jungle?