|Conor with ears the size that|
humans would require to have
the hearing equivalent of a bat.
We began with a visit to the Bat Jungle for an informational tour on how bats contribute to the cloud forest ecosystem. Our tour guide was incredibly passionate about bats, and began with a brief introduction to the different types of bats that are present in the area: nector bats, insectivores, fruit bats and even small vampire and false vampire bats. She explained the unique body structures each kind of bat has, from varying ear size and placement to their “ear horns” on their noses and wingspan. Most interestingly, our guide explained the role of bats in Costa Rican society and economics. Without bats, Monteverde would not be able to support its current biodiversity.
|A fruit bat roosting|
After a walk through of this bat “museum,” we moved on to a live bat exhibit. Despite it being extremely dark with a very dim red light, we got to observe over one hundred bats of various species through just a thin pane of glass. Our guide talked us through each species habits in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, from pollinating piña and banana trees to controlling the insect population. Farming for certain fruits practically requires bat boxes in order to stay profitable as the climate changes. She highlighted individual bats and told us their histories, introducing us to their personalities. One of the bats was convinced a model bat roosting on the bark of a tree was its mate, bringing it an extra piece of fruit every day. Another bat was mischievous, going out of its way to wake up its sleeping friends and cause them both to fall to the floor. The cloud forest’s ecological framework relies directly on bats to stay as beautiful as it is.
Our next stop was at a station of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. Here we had the opportunity to meet and get lectured by Dr. Bob Law, a major player in preserving the biodiversity in Costa Rica. Reminding many of the students of the grandfather-like figure of Pixar’s Up, Dr. Law moved to Costa Rica around forty-five years ago and became involved with a lot of the development in Monteverde. Unlike most of our guest speakers, our lecture took place outside, in the very forest that Dr. Law was talking about protecting.
|Our outdoor classroom|
The beginning of technologic growth in the Monteverde area was way ahead of other areas because of the Quaker involvement. In the 1960s, they even had a telephone system despite the fact that mail was only delivered every two weeks if they were lucky. With the Quakers, natives established the Monteverde Preservation Society to protect the forest and promote ecotourism. Dr. Law spent most of his time discussing the economical background of this organization and how the Children’s Eternal Rainforest is able to continue to expand.
In Costa Rica, the area around Monteverde was originally open for homesteading by whomever came here. You could claim whatever land you wanted - even that which was “owned” by other people if it did not appear to be being used. In the 1980‘s the people living here began to protect the watershed area near the lake by attempting to buy up the surrounding land. Education programs in local schools spurred an entire generation of environmentally focused youth.
Dr. Bob Law discussing the Children's Eternal Rainforest
Because of Swiss teachers teaching in Monteverde and then going back home and teaching their students about the importance of rainforest protection. The Swiss children’s movement for the Children’s Eternal Rainforest raised a million dollars, which was then matched by the federal governmental of Switzerland. This money was able to grow the protected area of the cloud forest from 3000 acres to more than 56000 acres today.
Farmers donated land in 1987 that later became Bajo del Tigre, the visitor’s center that we visited. In the 80s, the Monteverde Preservation Society was able to recieve many grants to fund their educational goals. As more and more environmental issues came onto the scene in the 90s, money was much more hard to come by, and they began to rely more on ecotourism for revenue.
At this time, maintaining the security of the preserve became more difficult because of the homesteading laws. They require security throughout the preserve because technically if its not going to be used people can move in on it: they protected the natural environment from hunters, irresponsible hikers and people who want to collect orchids and songbirds to sell. Unfortunately, the only response by local law enforcement is a light slap on the wrist.
Going forward, the Monteverde Preservation Society is looking to continue expansion through indirect governmental funding. There are no official national preserves - they are all privately own; however, to combat development in more rural areas they created a gasoline tax. This tax creates a fund that any person can apply to use if they have more than five acres of forest land. The money for an educational program ran out around fifteen years ago, yet they are reestablishing a teacher in the schools specifically for environmental protection and the responsible use of their bountiful environmental commodities.
|Butterfly at Bajo del Tigre, Children's Eternal Rainforest|
|At the outlook of Bajo del Tigre|
Dr. Law provided a different perspective on the environment that was not as concentrated on ecotourism and the economic development. The idea of conservation of our resources has major ramifications on the idea of development, and how you can truly measure success in communities where this paradigm appears.
As we travel throughout Cuidad Colón, San Jose and Costa Rica and then onto Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, you can find my own personal travel blog posts like this one, as well as more pictures at http://viajedelverano.tumblr.com/.