Created in 2006 by science journalist Paola Catapano, MINIDARWIN aims at taking groups of children on scientific expeditions coached by real scientists and science communication professionals.

On the occasion of International Year of Biodiversity 2010, theMiniDarwins are ready to leave on their third expedition, to the Amazon Forest, devoted to biodiversity and its socio-economic spin offs. The MiniDarwins will be coached by biodiversity scientists and an ecological socio-economist specialised in ethno-ecology to experience life with an Indigenous population in the Amazon Forest

During the trip, we will publish on this blog a diary of the expedition and some of the photos, videos, interviews and texts we are producing for later publication on our website, book, reportage and documentary film.

7 August 2010

Howling in the forest

Sat. Aug 7  (from Alberto’s diary)
Our first night in the heart of the Amazon forest was a short one. Falling asleep thinking of all the black caimans under our beds in the floating cabin of the Uakari lodge was not easy. Soon as the tiredness that goes with living on the equator won against the worst nightmare, but not for long. Although remote and very distant from the noises of civilization, this place never stops living and at night you hear all sort of animal sounds never heard before at our latitudes. With the first lights of dawn, an eery scary snore woke us all up. It could have been a caiman snoring under the floating cabin, right under our beds… or a new monstrous forest animal whistling from a distance .. or even wind from a distant storm, getting stronger and stronger as it approached. A continuous roar reverberating through the entire forest, a … howl coming from all directions at once !  Three of us children got out of the bed to knock at professor Ab Osterhaus door to find refuge .. and an explanation !  Guess what it was ?

Of course, we should have remembered ! One of the characteristic sounds of the Mamirauà reserve is the howler monkeys ! They are territorial animals, but not very fast since they eat leaves from the forest trees and it takes time to digest them ! So, Ab told us,  to scare off other animals from their territory, the males developed a hollow bone at the tip of the tongue and that’s where the howl is produced. A smart evolutionary adaptation to life in the forest !

I forgot to say who is professor Ab ! He arrived this morning to join us for a few days. He is veterinarian, so he knows a lot about animals, but he is also a leading virologist. From the virologist perspective, humans and animals are not so different. Virtually all viruses which make us sick, have originated in animals. So studying the life and health of animals is important for more than one reason. One of his specialities are aquatic mammals. He was already enthusiastic when he stepped out of the boat yesterday afternoon. « First I saw one pink dolphin, then we were in the middle of a group of at least sixty of them, » he said. « This place is fantastic. » And we all agree about this !

from Kai’s diary
Meals in the Uakari-lodge are delicious, with lots of tropical fruit, fish, fresh juices and manioc, a product made from roots from the rainforest. I have noticed that life for the local people in the communities around here is often hard, but enjoying your meal at sunrise in the Uakari-lodge, you could easily think you’re in paradise.
Surprisingly (or not), at breakfast we all had to admit that we had been scared during the night. It gets dark early, because Mamirauá is close to the equator. When the sun has set, the jungle becomes even more alive. Lying in your bed, you can hear animals everywhere.

The roaring of howler monkeys, the whooshing of the big Pirarucu fish surfacing to breath air, birds hitting all possible pitches, bats hitting us when we cross the bridge to our floating cabin, other flying animals tripping over the roof of the cabin. At some point I heard « crick, crick » as if an animal was entering the cabin. And, in my imagination, I  saw a caiman that had landed on the boardwalk !

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