Nunez, Ticona, Saavedra, Fiscarrald
Percy Nunez, Gabino Callata Ticona, Miguel Troncoso Saavedra, Alcalde de Fiscarrald; in Spanish; Manu National Park; Politics
Time of Day: 1540
Time of Day: 1550
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
20 Oct 1999
Madre de Dios
- Manu River; Upriver from Boca de Manu
- -12.26556 -70.90972
- 5:10 - 56:27
Madre de Dios
- Manu National Park; Cocha Cashu Biological Station
- -11.88806 -71.40667
- 1:26:43 - 2:05:59
- SONY TCD-D7
- Sennheiser MKH 50
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Stereo=2: 1=L, 2=R; Decoded MS stereo; Sennheiser MKH50 Hypercardioid Mid Mic and MKH30 Bidirectional Side Mic through Sonosax Preamp into Sony TCD7
Log of DAT #: 2
ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good
Log of DAT 2
1.37.22 - 1.39.05
Sound fades in on Terborgh interview.
JT: My name is John Terborgh, I¿m a professor in the Dick University School of the Environment, in Durham North Carolina, and my field is tropical ecology. I found the best place in the world to do tropical ecology and nment, in Durham North Carolina, and my field is tropical ecology. I found the best place in the world to do tropical ecology and that is right here at the Cocha Cashu biological station in Peru¿s Manu National Park. The station has been here for about 30 years and there¿ve been hundreds of investigators who¿ve come and gone and written Ph.D Theses and books and articles and through all that effort we¿ve learned a great deal about the natural history and biology of the forest and its animal inhabitants - and yet there¿s still a great deal more we have to learn some of the big mysteries are still unresolved, for example whyare there so many species here? Just within this park for example there are almost a thousand species of birds, that¿s several hundred more than occurr in all of the United States including Alaska and Hawaii, and so scientists are naturally interested in why there are so many here and so few in other places, and that¿s just one of the big questions about the tropics. There are over 200 species of mammals, including 13 species of primates that live in the forest right around us and the number of tree species goes into the thousands, and so the richness of wildlife and nature here is really incomparable, I think there¿s not another formally protected area anywhere in the world that has as much biological wealth within it as the Manu National Park.
1.39.05 - 1.40.05
JN: And we¿re right in the center of the research area right now, could you just and then we¿ll go for a little walk, this is where they eat, what are these buidings?
JT: We have a very simple research site here, it¿s very remote and so we can¿t indulge in a lot of the amenities that research stations tend to take on when they¿re closer to cities - We have three simple wooden buildings that we constructed ourself from material obtained from nearby, fallen logs that we¿ve sawed into boards and thatched roof that we¿ve traded with our Native American neighbors who live upstream, wo their buildings area all thatched, and yet we find it¿s a very comfortable place to be, we have a dining hall, we have a set of offices, we have two libraries, we have a conference room, and so we¿re not bad off
JN: You have a phone!
1.40.05 - 1.40.31
JT: We even now, this year only lately, we have a sattellite phone, but we¿ve had a two-way radio for a long time.
JN: Well, let¿s go for a little walk here. And Leo, how would you like to.. This is the first time that I¿ve been to a tropical forest
JT: We better go down here¿
1.40.31 - 1.41.25
JT: (walking) Really, the tropical forest isn¿t greatly different from the forests we¿re used to in North America. They tend to be a little taller, the trees are often 50 or more meters high, that¿s maybe 170 feet but if you go to the Pacific North West the trees are taller than that. What makes tropical forests different is the complexity of their structure. In North America the forests have canopy and an understory and consequently a very simple structure, but here the forest includes as many as five superimposed strata of trees and so when you¿re inside it it all looks very jumbled and complicated and confusing if you¿re used to the simpler forests of our own country.
1.41.25 - 1.42.43
JN, JT, and Leo talk about how they are going to do the interview.
1.42.43 - 1.43.14
JN¿s footsteps through the understory. Crunching leaves.
1.43.14 - 1.43.55
Beautiful ambi, insects, some footsteps, and JT comes with the chairs to begin the interview.
1.43.55 - 1.45.07
JN: Okay, you said that Manu, well when did you realize¿ that this was the place, as Brigham Young did for Utah, I mean I seem to remember reading something about how you -
JT: Oh yes, it was a revelation of almost the same nature. I had been conducting research in Peru then, and that was 1973, already for 10 years, and during that period had traveled the country from end to end, and I had never seen much wildlife, and I didn¿t know how much wildlife one ought to see because there simply wasn¿t any in all the places that I had been until I came here, and then suddenly there were animals in a way that I had never imagined, in great abundance, and it taught me that the reason that I hadn¿t seen any animals before was that people had eaten them all, and it takes a protected area like this to prevent that from happening and so that¿s why I come here to do my research now.
1.45.07 - 1.45.43
JN: Was there a particular, you said, I remember reading about your primate experience, you thought for instance that it was hardly worth studying them because they ran away.
JT: Yes I thought it was impossible to study primates because the very few times I¿d encountered them, they¿d taken one look at me and fled, and that left me with the impression that they were impossible to observe. But when I got here, on the very very first day, the primates simply looked down out of the trees as if they could care less, and and I suddenly realized I was seeing a completely new phenomenon I had never seen before, and that was very exciting.
1.45.43 - 1.46.17
JN: And as with the primates I imagine it¿s the same with other species, they¿re less inclined to keep their distance and at the same time more abundant.
JT: They¿re certainly more abundant, but animals vary a lot in how willing they are to relax in front of humans. The primates are better learners and they¿re more long lived. Some of the Capitan monkeys here for instance live almost to 60 years in captivity, so these are animals that accumulate knowledge and experience over a life time.
1.46.17 - 1.47.21
JN: There was an existing structure.
JT: Yes. I did not create the research station here, that was built by a coalition of people from the Frankfurt Zoological society, and the National Agrarian University here in Peru, and they built a simple one story building, and it was occupied two years by a German and a Peruvian who studied the Black Kaimen. At that time the scientific and conservation world was alamed that the Black Kaiman was disappearing, it had been effectively open season on it for decades and it has extremely valuable leather on its belly, and so they were all being used for pocketbooks and shoes and this was about the last place on earth that it was known that there was a surviving and reasonably healthy population and so that was the original study that was done here.
1.47.21 - 1.47.50
JN: ¿This park is unique in another s - I gather the exception to the rule when we look at tropical parks, it is for the time being in much better shape, which raises the question, what¿s happened if we can say this generally to all those other places?
1.47.50 - 1.48.51
JT: Tropical parks are parks in name in very many cases. More than 60, 70 percent of them have no administration, they have no staff, they have no budget they¿re simply figments of the imagination that simply exist only on paper, and so they¿re often refered to as paper parks, and around the world paper parks are a legion far more numerous than serious parks that do have a staff and a budget. Fortunately Manu is one of the latter, it has a staff of more than 30 guards and a modest administration, and through this support it¿s able to function effectively maybe not perfectly, but effectively as a real park. It administers tourism, it administers science, and it deals with the native people that live inside.
1:48:51 - 1:49:50
JN: We¿ve met some of the guards. We¿ve met, I think 5 so far. I¿m thinking here for a minute. Now we were just listening to some howler monkeys a minute ago, where are they back there? What were they doing here? I mean, what were they doing?
JT: You head the howler monkeys because two groups came close together and saw each other, and that set off a territorial contest. Neither one wants to be too close to the other, because they both want to eat in the same fruit tree and they both can¿t eat there at the same time and that creates a certain amount of friction and that friction can lead to prolonged shouting matches. Sometimes you can hear it go on for hours at a time, and you¿re lucky that didn¿t happen today, because it gets a little monotonous.
JN: Well, it¿s nice to be in a place where the howler monkeys get monotonous, I would think.
1:49:50 - 1:51:56
JN: But, tell me the names of some of the people who are hear now, and if we can even thumbnail what they¿re doing, some of the ongoing research at this very moment.
JT: There¿re a small number of senior investigators, one of them is Dr. Mercedes Foster who works at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, studies birds especially little maniquins as they¿re called, they¿re small fruit-eating birds of the forest understory that have the curious property of forming singles bars, they¿re called ¿lecks¿ in the scientific jargon, but they¿re places where the males come together to display competetively in hopes of attracting females, so there¿re a whole lot of issues about why these birds have such unusual behavior, she¿s been pursuing that for a long time here. Then there¿s Dr. Dina Davidson, a professor at the University of Utah, who comes here to study ants and plants. Ants have a lot of very intricate relationships with plants in the tropics, and these relationships are co-evolved in that the plants have features that are expressly designed to accommodate ants, such as hollow stems with little openings to provide entrances, such as special little granuals that they produce either inside or outside that are offered as food items for the ants and that keep the ants resident in the plants, so you must be thinking, what do the ants do for the plants if the plants are doing all this for the ants. And the answer is the ants defend the plants from insect that eat their foliage and so there is a very well worked out reciprocal relationship in that both sides benefit quite well from the interaction.
1:51:56 - 1:53:41
JN: And just those two? No others?
JT: ¿ant-plant relationships¿
JN: no, researchers¿
JT: Oh yes, well we have lots of students here, we have students from Europe, from North America, various different institutions, we have a lot of Peruvians here who work sometimes as researchers and very often as research assistants to get experience, some of the research, well there are a lot of different projects. One of them has to do with the another ant story. There¿re ants that swarm across the ground as predetors, they eat other insects. We call them army ants. Their swarms can be very impressive, cover 20, 30 feet across just a swarming mass of ants, and that onslaught drives before it lots of terrorized insects, spiders and cockroaches, grasshoppers, all sorts of things that are attempting to escape the advancing ants and in doing so they expose themselves on the surface and make themselves easy prey for a collection of birds that devotes its whole life to associating with army ants, because the prey abundance is very high at the head of these swarms. And so I won¿t go into all of the scientific ins and outs, but that makes an interesting study, it¿s again a study of mutualisms between quite different species of organisms that benfit from each other.
1:53:41 - 1:55:25
JN: And with all of those particular investigations and all of the particular investigations over the years, we are still stuggling to answer really basic questions that you might need to put all of the particulars together for, such as how come there¿s so many different kinds of plants and animals in the tropical forest. It wasn¿t until I read your book that I knew it was a mystery I thought it was because of the ice age, and the lack of winter.
JT: Well, even more basically than that, one of the questions I¿m very much interested in right now, and it has very broad applications to conservation, is whether the ecological system of the forest operates from top down, as scientists are prone to say, or from the bottom up, now I¿ll explain what that means. If the system is regulated from the top down then the top species like the jaguar, puma, and the harpy eagle and a few others, the top predators, are controlling the abundances of the prey that they eat. If it¿s bottom up then the numbers of prey are not regulated by the predators, but instead they¿re regulated by the amount of edible plant material there is produced by the forest, to provide the food resources. And as simple as that dichotomy sounds, is it going from the top down or the bottom up, it turns out to be a very difficult question to answer and when we¿ve worked on here by our studies of Jaguars and Pumas which were done with Louise Evans another Smithsonian Biologist.
1:55:25 - 1:55:46
JN: We saw a Puma coming in.
JT: Did you! You were really lucky. Walking on the beach?
JN: Mm hm. Having a drink of water.
JT: Very nice. Now you¿re even with me - I¿ve only seen one in my whole life.
JN: My work is done. Me and John Turborgh.
1:55:46 - 1:57:01
JN: Well, it¿s my understanding that this is a question to which the answer has really profound consequences in terms of how you manage forests and what you need to do and, for instance, what does it mean if it¿s top down? I mean, it means if you take out the top predators, what¿s the consequence?
JT: There are, if the top predators are gone or persecuted by humans to the point that there not in the system any more, we think there follows what¿s called cascade, and that is a whole avalanche of effects that follows the missing function that predators represent. One of the first thing that happens is that the herbivores become abnormally common, we¿ve seen that across large parts of North America with the explosion of White Tail Deer that¿s taken place in the last few decades. White Tail Deer are estimated now to be in much of the eastern US to be 10 times or more abundant than they were before the colonials arrived a few hundred years ago.
1:57:01 - 1:58:43
JN: And that¿s because the things that ate the deer are gone.
JT: The wolves and mountainlions that ate the deer are gone, yes and so the deer are eating people¿s gardens and creating headlines that way, but much more seriously from the point of view of the natural system, is that the deer eat lots of plants that normally grown in the forest and their browsing pressure is so high that these plants are dissappearing in huge areas, it¿s really quite surprising and something that hasn¿t been really well understood until the last decade or so.
JN: And the investigation here is designed to figure out whether that¿s something that happens in tropical forests as well.
JT: We think it does. We think the same processes operate everywhere. Another thing that happens when there¿s no top down force to keep the prey populations in check is that there is an explosion of smaller animals that are part-time predators, things like racoons and opossums at home, that they¿ll eat some plant matter, they¿ll turn over garbage cans and eat almost anything inside, but when they¿re out in the woods they like to find frogs and birds¿ nests and if there¿re too numerous they begin to eliminate these other things that are part of their diet normally but when they¿re too common they impose an excess pressure that these other animals can¿t stand.
JN: You have a Silence of the Frogs.
JT: A Silence of the Frogs - lots of things hitting the frogs these days, it¿s not just racoons.
1:58:43 - 2:00:58
JN: Is it too much to ask you to try and paint a picture here - let¿s say we took the top predators out of Manu tomorrow, which is not that, if you take tomorrow a little broadly, it could happen. You know, if a bush meat trade were to explode around here, or any number of things were to happen, if the population of the people living in the park were to get much bigger, how would it look differently, what would happen to what¿s around us, or what do you suspect or think?
JT: I can only make an educated guess, in fact I have a project in Venezula that does exactly this, we are studying - I¿ll wait for Susan to go by - We are studying islands in an artificial impoundment that was created by a hydroelectric dam, and as the water came up it flooded a hilly landscape and created hundreds and hundreds of islands, all sizes, all distances. And a lot of these islands because of their small size in fact have no predators, and so the creation of that lake has been an experiment, an enormous experiment that is helping us understand how these processes work, and on these predator free islands on this Venezuelan lake, the things that are going out of kilter are appalling. Herbivores, that is animals that eat plants, have increased by as much as a hundred times above their normals levels.
JN:What kind of animals are we talking about?
JT: We¿re talking about howler monkeys, we¿re talking about common iguanas, and leaf-cutter ants, ants that chop up leaves and put them in compost heaps under the ground, leaf cutter ants especially have exploded to hundreds of times their normal abundance, they are literally eating down the forest so, this just shows that when the natural processes go awry, the whole system collapses.
2:00:58 - 2:02:09
JN: Are you seeing any signs that that, could it happen here, is it happening here?
JT: I mentioned that I think it¿s happening in east, in a lot of the United States where we don¿t have wolves and bobcats and mountainlions and those things any more and we think it¿s very important that those animals be brought back in North America so that there restoring a full function ecosystem, whereas right now we don¿t have that. It¿s a little harder to speculate about other places because nearly everywhere humans are intervening in lots of different ways, as is true in North America, we may not have top predators but we have hunters, and so the hunters play part of that role but they don¿t do it in the right way and they don¿t do it as well, and they hunt some animals and not others and all these things create distortions, it¿s not the natural system it¿s a very distorted system, and distorted systems don¿t function very well and they tend to lose their biodiversity, that¿s the real concern.
2:02:09 - 2:06:02
JN: What are the threats to this place. Tell me about them, I mean I gather that even though this is a spectacularly rich environment, that you¿re very worried about its future, in 10, 20, 30 years it could be a radically different place, what are the threats?
JT: The threats are various kinds. Parks are a new invention in many developing countries and that¿s true here in Peru, I¿ve been here for more than 30 years and I¿ve seen a lot of governments come and go, governments with radically differnet ideas and policies about many many things and we may have a government right now that supports the park, but some previous governments here have not supported the park, the budget has almost collapsed and the whole defense system that protects the parks, the park guards, the administration and all that was temporarily disbanded because there simply wasn¿t any budget, and so there are problems at the national government level, that, problems of instability that are a matter of concern. But more here on the ground, I think the greatest threat to the park is that it right now contains between a thousand and two thousand human beings who are living here perfectly legally. Our concept of a park in North America is a place for nature. Humans are welcome as long as they don¿t leave anything more than footprints, but humans are not expected to be living in parks, whereas in much of the rest of the world it¿s simply very very difficult to draw a line around a large piece of realestate that doesn¿t already have people in it, and that¿s the case here. The people are Native Americans belonging to at least five different tribes, these people have more or less contact with the outer world, some of them have never seen a Peruvian, they don¿t know they live in Peru, they¿re living in total isolations, those are not the ones that really threaten the park right now. The ones that threaten the park are people in transisition, people like our neighbors upstream who belong to the Machiginga tribe and who know enough about the greater world they live in to want to change their ways, and that is where the threat comes in because they are now discovering that their second class citizens, that they live in a place where they¿re not allowed to have chain-saws, where they¿re not allowed to have out-board motors, where they¿re not allowed to have guns, and all these restrictions are something that has been imposed upon them but which don¿t apply to their kin and their tribes tribal conrads, I¿m not saying this very well, but that don¿t apply to their next of kin who happen to live outside the park, and so they are very much second-class citizens and resentment of that fact is beginning to build up. It¿s hard to look very far in the future and not see trouble brewing for that reason and because these people are increasing in numbers at an extrememly rapid rate. I¿ve been here for slightly over 20 years and during that time the number of Native Americans living in the central part of the park has more than doubled and it will double again in another 20 years. Ask yourself how many times can that go on before we have a park that¿s just full of people.
2:06:02 - 2:06:16