Somewhere in the distant canopy, a howler monkey is howling. It’s a primordial, guttural moan, like an out-of-date soundtrack to the Jurassic. Meanwhile, down here on the forest floor, something is lolloping silkily in my direction. I freeze. It’s a tamandua (the Andrex puppy of the anteater world), and it hasn’t seen me. It’s fixated hungrily on the ground, and, still oblivious, saunters off into the packed undergrowth.
Minutes later, feet immersed in a rocky stream, I’m gazing at the improbable, spindly legs of a giant walking palm. The walking palm is an almost mythical being. It is said that, as the decades pass, the palm strides languidly through the forest by extending its numerous stilts - evolution’s answer to Miyazaki’s itinerant Forest Spirit. I stare at this unlikely nomad, trying to imagine its slow-motion (and controversial) passage through the trees.
Ruining the soundscape, I am loudly and aseasonally humming Good King Wenceslas. This is a dubious attempt to scare off lurking snakes. I feel slightly silly. It clearly isn’t working, because despite the racket I’ve seen two coatimundi, the flash of a deer, a curious-looking capuchin, and a wandering agouti. Snakes aren’t the only vague fear in this forest: ‘researchers,’ reads a serious-looking sign back at the guard’s hut, ‘are reminded of the possibility of encountering live ordnance’. American troops apparently tested their weapons here before dropping them on Vietnam. I decide not to think about it.
Later in the afternoon, the heavens open: as always, the morning sun has fuelled evaporation from the limitless trees, and the lost water has amassed as clouds before returning dramatically to earth. Sheltered slightly by the canopy, I watch an anole lizard position itself grandly on a log, and, as if from nowhere, extend a brilliant, peach-tinted fan of scales from the underside of his neck. He retracts and inflates the elegant billboard repeatedly, only stopping to nimbly chase an upstart intruder from his claimed territory. Is a female lurking somewhere in the shadows, coolly appraising this exuberant display? I do not know.
Maybe rainforests are addictive. I wrote the above in a gush of excitement - in the midst of a torrential storm - after coming in for the night from the forest. I’ve just spent two nights at one of our wettest field sites, and, after working alone in the forest for hours, it’s really hit me just how much there is to see. Perhaps rainforests are like Pringles: once you pop, you just can’t stop…
Adventures of a
Dr Patrick Kennedy, Radford Lab, University of Bristol | Zoology