Navigating through the Jungle
By Néfer Muñoz
The birth of a quetzal or a weasel's surprise attack on a nest in Costa Rica's cloud forest is now within the reach of the world's Internet users as part of a project aimed at conserving this unique ecosystem.
SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).- The clouds that envelop the mountainous jungle, dampening the leaves and allowing the proliferation of plants that grow over other plants constitutes a wondrous landscape, which can be visited via the Internet, thanks to the Could Forest Live project.
Very few of this type of tropical forest can be found in the world, and it is a unique ecosystem that is danger of extinction. The climate and geographic qualities of cloud forests give rise to an unusual biological wealth, whose secrets are revealed on the Internet by the independently run Tropical Science Center (CCT) in Costa Rica.
At the website www.cloudforestalive.org, the world's cybernauts have access to live action video footage, virtual tours, photographs, sounds and information about the Monteverde forest, a private nature preserve of the CCT, located 1,500 meters above sea level and 180 km northwest of San José.
"Our goal is to show people the importance f preserving these forests, especially given that there are so few left in the world," Wagner López, the project's director, told Tierramérica.
The website has been a success among nature lovers since April, in large part due to Central America's colorful quetzal birds, which in the last few months have been in their nesting season.
"We set up five special cameras in Monteverde inside boxes in the shape of nests so that the birds would lay their eggs there," said López. A symbol of the region, the quetzal is a tropical bird that measures 36 to 64 cm long and plumage of vivid green and red.
The plan is to record and broadcast via the Internet each moment throughout the hatching of the young birds, a period that is not exempt of dramatic moments.
Thousands of web users witnessed the arrival of the birds, which were ready to lay their eggs. But a squirrel and a weasel raided some of the quetzal nests, killing the recently-hatched young.
The scientists of the CCT do not interfere with this biological cycle, they just study the evolution of the nesting season using the images that they share with the Internet public.
Dozens of electronic messages arrive daily at the website's e-mail address: email@example.com, expressing sorrow about the death of the young quetzals or to seek more information.
Although the quetzal nests are the main attraction at the website, they are not the only wonder found there.
Another camera in the jungle follows the behavior of hummingbirds, and every week a new lesson about the cloud forest is published on the website, with illustrated information about a specific animal or plant species.
This humid mountainous forest has a cooler climate than the lowlands that surround it. The vegetation receives great quantities of precipitation from the clouds and from light rains.
"This constant source of water above ground means that the cloud forest is an excellent habitat for epiphytes," plants that grow on other plants, explains one of the lessons available at the site.
In Monteverde, there are at least 878 species of epiphytes, including 450 varieties of orchids.
The cloudforestalive.org site offers live tours, laboratory and library, and gives visitors the opportunity to collaborate with this non-profit initiative.
This "completely educational" project is an attempt to teach children, adolescents and adults to appreciate the conservation of biodiversity in the tropics, CCT director Julio Calvo told Tierramérica.
The initiative, begun in 1999 with backing from the World Bank and the Meso-American Biological Corridor, has been financed by the CCT alone since 2000.
The Center is seeking donations in order to improve the quality of the Internet transmissions, which currently are updated every three minutes. The goal is to "disseminate the images in real time," said Calvo.
In addition to the virtual visitors to Monteverde, some 50,000 tourists make the trip every year, where they enjoy tours conducted by 20 experts in biodiversity.
* Néfer Muñoz is an IPS correspondent.