I am often asked if I’m afraid when traveling to wild places around the world…
My biggest fear, I tell them, is to live with the illusion of security and miss out on life itself. The mindset that has brought me to the Amazon jungle again and again to seek out the great mysteries that lie within its beautiful darkness, comes from an old saying, “Fortune favors the bold.”
I am an arborist and a tree climber, with skills that have given me a unique ability to travel the world and access heights that few get to experience.
These adventures have helped redefine for me, what it means to be an arborist, and what I can do to help facilitate greater impacts in the wild.
This journey, that I am about to take you on, is a project that few people will ever get to experience. A journey in which we shall try to keep the spirit of Ernest Shackleton (polar explorer 1874-1922) alive, who so eloquently advertised for his great adventure:
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.”
I am owner of ClimbingHi on the island of Maui, where we have run a traditional tree care services business on the islands for the better part of a decade. Prior to living and climbing on the islands, I spent a good 15 years traveling the world, exploring every nook and cranny I could fit myself into.
My curiosity for knowledge has often led me into extreme situations, and has always given me a deeper understanding of our place in the universe. My journey into the Amazon has done that, but there is a far greater purpose than for my own satisfaction.
I first ventured deep into the Amazon when I was 18 in search of magic and awe. After spending a month crossing the entire length of the main river I found myself drinking ayahuasca with a remote village of locals during an event that would forever change my relationship with myself and the world around me.
Nearly 20 years later, in early 2017, I was back in the great rainforest of Brazil with a good friend named Tim Kovar, a master tree climber who teaches people all over the world how to access canopies. We were on an expedition, cruising up the Rio Negro, for several weeks to climb first ascents up giant wild trees.
Our guides, Leo and Vanessa, who run Tropical Tree Climbing were there to keep us from making any serious mistakes.
Leo, originally from Italy, is a professional photographer who has been exploring the Amazon for nearly 40 years on countless expeditions reaching far beyond the imagination.
Together with Vanessa and their 3 children they have been hosting people from all over the world since 2006, putting them on rope and in the canopy of giant tropical trees. The family owns and lives on nearly 700 acres of pristine forest north of Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian Amazon state.
This is where we have begun collaborating on a long-term conservation project called Jaguar Vision.
Before I explain Jaguar Vision, I’d like to paint a picture of how grand the Amazon truly is and its current state of affairs.
The Amazon is the world’s biggest rainforest, larger than the next two largest rainforests combined, The Congo and Daintree. It is roughly the size of the 48 contiguous United States and covers around 40% of South America.
The great Amazon River itself is by far the world’s largest river by volume and has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are longer than 1000 miles. There are estimated to be 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees in the forest. It is home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, perhaps 30% of the world’s species. It is a place that holds 1/5 of all the world’s fresh water, so vital to our planet, yet it is being destroyed at an alarming rate by deforestation.
As of now it is estimated that more than 20% of the rainforest is already gone, and much more is severely threatened as the destruction continues. The Amazon alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 sq. miles a year, and if nothing is done it could be gone within 50 years.
Can you imagine the total destruction of one of our Earth’s greatest resources in our lifetime?
This is akin to a planetary homicide, and if there was ever a calling to take action and help protect these global resources, that time is now!
After that great tree climbing expedition in early 2017, I returned again, later that year, to Tropical Tree Climbing in hopes of going deeper into the forest. Before my arrival Leo, Vanessa and I had been discussing a conservation project that they had in mind for quite some time.
So, when I decided to return to Brazil it was specifically geared towards solidifying our commitment to Amazonian conservation by developing a project that could help transform their 700 acres into a federally recognized wildlife reserve.
In order to do this we surmised that there would need to be strong public support and a way to make the virgin forest more valuable to the national economy than farm or ranch lands.
This is where their model of ecotourism seemed to fit right in. Vanessa had forged a bond with a well-established reserve called Mamirauá which is recognized by the International Ramsar Convention as a wetland of global importance and a Protected Brazilian Tropical Forest. With their 22 year history we felt confident they could help us navigate political and social terrains.
After much thought on how to initiate our new found project, Jaguar Vision was born!
We realized that if we could protect the largest apex-predator of the forest, then the entire forest as a whole would need to be protected. The idea behind Jaguar Vision is to track, locate, and monitor the local jaguar population.
The jaguar also has the ability to capture the imagination of the public and build a curiosity that could be promoted and utilized for eco-tourism projects.
Jaguars are designated as near threatened, due to a suspected 20-25% decline over the past three generations (21 years) in area of occupancy; yet this is only a guess and probably an underestimate as the population is inherently difficult to monitor.
The historic range, from the Southwestern US to Patagonia, is now only 50% of its original size. This being said our desire to protect this one species can help to regulate the forest habitat, as they play a proverbial role as “The Sheriff”, keeping a delicate balance amongst their jungle community.
By the end of 2017, we had purchased and installed many top-of-the-line motion sensor cameras throughout the property, and had immediately captured some amazing photographs of the elusive cat directly outside the jungle lodge.
What a thrill this has been to know that we are surrounded by jaguars and on the right track!
We have also partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society Brazil (WCS), a global nonprofit organization, to help receive funding and scientists from international sources.
At this time we are opening our doors to adventurous souls who are interested in taking part in the project, either directly or through donations.
Our citizen-based science projects will allow guests to enter the forest and canopies of the trees to help catalogue flora and fauna for creating a future nature reserve.
Making expeditions into the forest with indigenous guides and climbing giant jungle trees will allow our guests to observe and document the immense biodiversity that is present in this region and quite possibly encounter the elusive cat that we are searching for.
In the near future we are organizing to locate, sedate, and outfit several jaguars with GPS-tracking collars to document real-time data on their whereabouts and habits.
These collars also have the technology to contain small video cameras that will allow us to see into their everyday lives.
This is all something that you can participate in!
As for my own personal dreams, I am organizing with professional contacts to return to the jungle soon to assess suitable and amazing trees for building platforms/treehouses and canopy walks to view the forest comfortably from above.
We plan to make this project a unique conservation dream!
Eventually, with enough support, it will be possible to purchase more contiguous land tracts throughout the area to create a wildlife corridor that can be protected for perpetuity.
All of these projects are in the works and we invite all adventurous souls, who are willing, to participate in any way they can.
For more information contact me through my website www.climbinghimaui.com
or my partners at Tropical Tree Climbing www.tropicaltreeclimbing.com.
There is much adventure to be had and much work to do…so pack your saddle and ropes, and let’s get climbing!