As opposed to a fortnight ago when we were graced with the capuchin encounter, today we were lucky in a different sense. Oli decided to join us this time and was not impressed when after 2 hours the scenery was still young unremarkable successional forest. The trail was walled with ferns needing a cut back with the machete, along with steep muddy slopes requiring deft footwork, all amongst what seemed a hot clearing most devoid of any wildlife. This changed and soon Oli was with camera in hand when we ventured into the old growth where moss droops from the branches, lichens cover the bark, and fungi fruit from unlikely outcrops. Beth spotted a 3-foot snake resting in the middle of the trail, allowing us a gander at its features before slithering back into the brush. I was caught off guard by a chorus of yodels coming from down the bank followed by a few pairs of emerald toucanets fluttering between the trees.
Just like a fortnight ago, we were on our way up the hill to change out some camera traps. On the other side of the river our chew cards had been gnawed to bits by the opossum but the ones we chucked up at the top of this hill had no marks at all. It’s possible there are no opossum up here or that none of the animals around this area like peanut butter. On our way along the ridge-line we saw some fresh scat, a decent chunk of it at that, and upon reaching the camera, as Beth and I were crouching down to collect the data and reset the trap we heard a deep purr with a rumble to it. Beth thought it may have been me but as I asked her whether she heard it or not that thought passed her mind. ‘What was behind us,’ I thought as I turned around expecting a jaguar to be prone and ready to pounce.
“DK doesn’t do light reading,” Oli exclaims as we chat about books at dinner, and with titles like ‘War and Nature,’ ‘Strategy and Game Theory,’ ‘How war made humans cooperate,’ I can’t really contest, lol. Although I referred to Costa Rica disassembling her armed forces in the about page, she participated in the two world wars and also had a short civil war in the 50s costing the lives of around 2000 people. The Costa Rican forests, in these three cases, came off unscathed, but that is not usually the case for forests during times of war. War can bring many detrimental effects to forest systems including malfunctioning institutions that can’t support conservation efforts, over-harvesting from militants and refugees, deforestation for preparations like on many islands in the Pacific during WWII, destruction from intentional attacks, and all with gradations of severity and lasting duration. Vietnam has become the pin-up case for forest destruction due to war.
The two Indochina (Vietnam) wars from 1946-1954-1975, with the US joining in 1965, saw the southern forests, themselves, become the deliberate target as a strategy to strip the enemy of their supplies and shelter. On my travels through Vietnamese countrysides, my first thoughts on sight of these forests were in wonderment about why the US even bothered. Later I found out that the Mongols, conquerors of Russia, Persia, the Caliphate, the steppe, and China were not even able to come out victors against Vietnam. Good luck to any one else. The US chose a different strategy and instead of fighting guerrillas at their own game, they decided to drop 10 million tons of explosives on Southern Vietnam, alone. With a high percentage of these not detonating they remain in the ground as deadly remnants that still haunt the forests to this day. The common 240 kg shells literally rained across 70,000 km2 of South Vietnam, leaving craters 8 m long and 4 m deep, obliterating the flora and fauna, and damaging nearby life with shock-waves and shrapnel. To put that drop-zone area in comparison, Costa Rica is only 51,000 km2, Cantebury is 44,000 km2, Otago is 31,000 km2, and Auckland is 5,000 km2.
In addition to bombing the Vietnamese out of the jungle, the US deployed companies of 20-ton tractors called “Rome Plows,” a brute-force mob with the intention to scrap away the vegetation and expose the subsoil, mechanically eroding 3,250 km2 of South Vietnam’s land area. Just to top things off, from 1967 to 1969, operation Ranch Hand was conducted, sending squadrons of planes to spray swathes of forest (more than 30,000 km2) with growth regulators, causing destructive proliferation of tissues in plants or killing them by dehydration.
When scientists flew in to study the destructive after-effects of US military practice in Vietnam, the only available pre-war baseline data were economic conditions. There were no means of determining how the water regime had changed, how soil processes were disturbed, how the flora and fauna communities were altered, how any of the ecosystem processes recovered or how severely damaged they were. It would be another few decades before scientists could perform rigorous assessments of war when the atrocities of Rwanda and the Gulf wars ravaged the 90s.
Building a reliable catalogue of pre-disaster, during-disaster, and post-disaster assessments is one way of strengthening community resilience against severe disturbances and the ever more foggy view the farther one peers into the future. With precipitation patterns changing, with glaciers continually retreating, with soil fertility degrading, with urban communities rapidly expanding, with sea level rising, with conflict affliction recurring, it is crucial to possess a credible backdrop upon which to strategise. The access that places like Cloudbridge provide researchers is exactly this; the opportunities to document pre-disaster data and reference points for relative future assessments.