Cusco, Peru

Jungle Adaptation

Andi Cross
Adam Moore
February 21, 2024
6 min read
Audio generated for accessibility using AI. Intonation does not express the true level of awe and stoke.

Five days into our Amazon adventure, adaptation sets in. You find yourself more attuned to the environment, experiencing the natural world in ways you never thought you could. The incessant itch of bug bites becomes an afterthought, and the constant sweat feels almost natural. Mud-stained clothing? It's simply part of life here, with the added benefit that damp attire offers a welcome respite from the heat. The transition from glaring sunshine to torrential rain now feels routine.

Your observation skills sharpen, guiding your eyes to the treetops, riverbanks, and dense foliage in search of wildlife. Every moment is an opportunity for discovery, and a lapse in attention could mean missing the elusive "double-breasted pink feather duster" bird—an encounter only possible in this unique ecosystem. Yes, I made that name up. It’s not a real one. But it certainly alludes to the wild bird names out there that we’ve been encountering throughout our entire expedition! 

An untimely glance in the other direction, and you stand the chance to potentially miss something extraordinary. The jungle's food offers fresh, straightforward nourishment. You come to embrace fruit juice all over your face and hands, relishing in the messiness. 

Amidst this adjustment, the Amazon becomes a place of tranquility, beauty, and perfection to you. 

However, alongside these newfound skills of adaptation, comes the sobering realization that immense beauty is often accompanied by significant destruction. But it's within the boundaries of Manu National Park that the reality of this dichotomy truly hits home. As one of the largest protected areas in Peru, as well as the whole of South America, Manu is governed by an extensive set of rules and regulations. It attracts scientists for research and employs guides and rangers to oversee its preservation. But despite these efforts, the park is not immune to the forces of destruction that affect our planet. 

As we navigated through the Buffer Zone, home to several small Amazonian communities, we were met with one remarkable sighting after another. We observed a family of capybaras navigating the turbulent river, howler monkeys lounging in the treetops, white caimans hurrying from the shore into the jungle, and spider monkeys moving from branch to branch. Our journey also included a brief pause at a natural spring, our first opportunity to bathe with hot water in weeks. This moment of relaxation was uniquely framed by the continuous wild activity surrounding us from every direction.

Transitioning from boat to car, our next stops offered a stark contrast to what we’d already seen. The Dos Loritos Animal Rescue Center serves as a sanctuary for a wide variety of orphaned animals harmed by the result of human activity. Despite having visited numerous such centers before, Dos Loritos certainly hit differently. 

As soon as we arrived, a teenage spider monkey leapt onto Adam, wrapping itself around his head as if claiming a new perch. Coincidentally, the monkey was also named Adam, suggesting an instant, albeit unspoken, connection. Following this, Hachita, a four-month-old endangered woolly monkey, seemed to decide I was her chosen companion. She clambered onto my head before signaling her desire to be cradled in my arms like a baby.

Gazing into the eyes of these monkeys, a profound sadness was unmistakable. 

Their resemblance to humans was uncanny, with the hands and expressive faces of not too distant relatives. The baby monkey, who now relies on the safety of this sanctuary, seemed to still be searching for the mother she had lost. Each attempt to encourage her independence by placing her back on a branch was met with resistance; she clung tighter, grasping my hands and letting out soft cries. The realization was heart-wrenching—without her mother's guidance, her chances of survival in THIS wild were slim.

The endangered status of these monkeys varies from species to species, but more broadly woolly monkeys are under serious threat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the common woolly monkey as vulnerable and the gray subspecies as endangered. The situation is even more dire for the Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey, which is critically endangered—the very same monkey that I was cradling in my arms. Their slow reproductive rate, with intervals of three years between births, exacerbates the concern for their dwindling populations.

The center was home to a diverse group of animals: a baby sloth, a massive female tapir, one capybara, two caimans, two macaws, and two mud-loving pigs. The goal is ultimately to release them back into the wild, budget permitting. Reintroducing animals to their natural habitat is neither simple nor inexpensive. And this assortment represented the maximum number the local family operating the center could support.

The situation is dire: in the Amazon and across South America, the scale of destruction defies description. Day by day, vast swathes of forest are cleared, erasing habitats. Young monkeys are orphaned, their futures left uncertain. The survival of the Amazon hinges on the preservation efforts of protected areas like Manu National Park. Without change, we face a future where deserts encroach upon these isolated havens of megadiversity.

Not to mention, the shadow of the illegal drug trade looms large within the jungle's depths. 

Coca plantations, while not solely cultivated for cocaine, often find themselves in hidden locales, operating outside the law. Here, leaves are harvested, clandestine labs process the product, and small planes navigate the night skies, ferrying goods through the intricate network of drug trade routes crisscrossing South America. And this network of drug trading runs very deep, affecting both the wildlife and indigenous communities. This situation isn’t just isolated in Peru, it’s happening all over South America

The myriad of threats facing the rainforest can overshadow its enchantment. Holding this expressive, intelligent baby woolly monkey, whose presence felt so akin to that of a human being left me wondering: "What more can we do?"

And truthfully the answer is a complex and challenging one: collective action and societal transformation. This means we all have a part to play. Governments need to prioritize environmental legislation, businesses need to overhaul their supply chains, funds need to be directed wisely, educational institutions need to shape informed citizens, employers need to create eco-centric jobs, communities need to advocate for change, and individuals need to examine and adjust their lifestyle choices. Oh, and the drug lords ripping up the Amazon? They probably need to be stopped, not supported. Every sector has a part to play in shifting our collective priorities and the blame is entirely our own. 

But perhaps one much smaller, yet actionable step is to simply immerse ourselves in nature. Experiencing its magic and confronting the devastation offers a stark perspective for us to sit with and really think about. Conscious exploration, with a principle of leaving no trace, can enlighten and inspire us in ways that we never thought possible. Witnessing the world's wonders and wounds can catalyze belief in change and hasten our adaptation to a rapidly evolving environment. If you can see it, you can start to believe it, and your own adaptation to our changing world might happen a lot quicker than you thought.

To be continued … 

[Special thanks to Manu Ecological Adventures and their Jungle Specialist team (shout out to the Biologist Jose Medina) for crafting what was undoubtedly an exceptional itinerary, allowing us to experience the breadth of the park to the fullest.]


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