Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
Since it became unoccupied due to mud slides three and a half years ago, Bosque en Medio de Las Ruinas revegetation park in Maria Auxiliadpra barrio has been slowly evolving as a habitat. Our eyes have been trained on the progress of planted grass, brush and trees with only momentary interruptions from other life forms. Once there was a small cloud of over a hundred white and black butterflies that rose when I approached the hobo tree they were resting under. Tanjero birds sometimes pass through in startlingly fast, rust and white colored bursts. Wasp nests double the width of an adult’s lower leg can be found wrapped around tree limbs.
Winged species aren’t a surprise because of their nomadic ability to in-migrate rapidly from nearby woods. Ground-borne animals are different in that they have to overcome myriad obstacles to walking, crawling, or slithering at a slower pace into a new home terrain. Once arrived they need a safe base of operations to hunt and raise their young. There has to be enough food within the circle of a chosen or built den to sustain their families. The presence of resident wild mammals would establish that a major step in restoring whole ecosystems had been achieved in the Bosque.
A night-time photograph was taken a year ago in Maria Auxiliadora of an adult oso hormigiero, the anteater whose long, sharp claws, tapered snout, black eyes, and hairy brown fur somewhat resemble an oso (bear) cub. It was on its hind legs in the distinctly bear-like process of sniffing the lid of a garbage can left outside the once-squatted but now-permanent house on the ridge that forms a border of the park. From outstretched toes to the top of the head, it was about a meter and a third (four feet) long. Mammals aren’t numerous in the dry forest. They are akin to populations in deserts rather than rain forests. Typically, they are smaller than counterparts in the same family elsewhere, and except for a few such as howler monkeys and tigres, are ground burrowers. They’re bodies are characteristically close to the earth, and sleekly streamlined in a rodent-like way. Naturally elusive, in recent times they have become even harder to see due to continual threats from rifles and traps for food, to be sold as pets, or killed as pests.
Yesterday Darcie Luce and I were taking photos of plants in the park at various locations that have been used since the beginning to record plant growth and landscape conditions. A thick green cloud of leaves has filled the formerly dry bosque interior, crowding trails with overgrown grass and solidly coloring in spaces between trees, In spite of nearly continuous rain since a week ago when we were last there together, very little new erosion has been added to the few inches of percolated clay ooze or small slides of residual pebbles that appeared after the first heavy rains fell a month ago. There aren’t any new gullies and the worse ones from before have been filled in by staff members with soil and grass seedlings that are all doing well. The surface of a natural basin within the park area that has fortunately been catching soil material displaced by the rain and keeping it from leaving the park is not more than an inch higher. Overall erosion seems to have been slowed by revegetation to a creeping pace that precludes mud slides for the rest of this year even if there is total overall rainfall near the top of the normal range. All of the log stairways have retained their earlier repairs, so the park should withstand serious alteration of any kind into the dry season beginning two months or so from now.
At a point in the trail directly downhill from the successfully squatted shack, I glanced up to see a miniature cave in the middle of a mud-parenting slide. The semicircular hole was notable for having clean edges without roots or duff and might be a den. I passed by, then stopped to point out the hole and slide to Darcie. There at her feet in fresh mud from the night before that painted over the trail, were two footprints. Both had four clear toe marks with a nub for the fifth on side of each palm that faced the body. Each of the four forward digits ended in distinct, deeply incised claw marks. They were undeniably footprints of an oso hormigiero! Is it new or last year’s “bear”, returned for the rainy season? Perhaps it never left. Darcie eagerly took photos of the lone prints as an undeniable example of how hospitable revegetation can be to a wide array of wildlife, even a few blocks from the heart of the city. This place was formerly called “El Tigre”. Can we hope…?
George Tukel has nearly completed the first alternative energy report for Bahia. It is mainly concerned with two central issues: how individual homes and offices can be re-designed for cooling and use solar energy for heating water; and how the municipality can generate electricity using renewable fuel. Both can be achieved through proven means. If the report is accepted by the city, we will attempt to find financial aid. The expense of obtaining up-to-date equipment is an even bigger issue here than in more economically advantaged countries. It will take truly enlightened, unusually generous outside aid to make a public transition to sustainable energy. Meanwhile, George’s pursuit of various forms of data from city agencies and general availability for discussion and conversation has definitely reinvigorated the Eco-Bahia vision. Residents enthusiastically grill him about the practicality of various energy forms and apparatus, and have given formidable assistance when asked.
Lisa Kundrat is undertaking a personalized approach to planting at the remaining houses in Fanca. Impatient with production oriented and less interactive methodology, she gets involved with each household in a holistic way. Together with family members and young volunteers, she accompanies plants and compost from the Fanca Produce site to each house, talks at length with whoever is there about the project and particulars of their individual circumstances, and helps position the fruit tree seedlings in favorable spots outside individual houses. She will stay on as the main representative for our projects when Darcie, George and I leave at the end of this month. A new volunteer, Laura Commike, will assist Lisa and join her to live in the Planet Drum Foundation office/apartment for a couple of months. Laura has Spanish conversational ability and went with me to discuss and look at erosion on one land parcel in Leonidas Plaza with Georgy Guitterez, head of the estuary agency PMRC. Today I hope to pick up a delivery of seeds donated by Fundacion Pro-Bosque in Guayaquil, and tomorrow all of us will visit two new landowner sites to appraise the possibilities for the new revegetation plan (see Report #3, Dancing Public Revegetation onto Private Land). We deserve a day off and will take it Friday in Canoa, the small, funky beach resort a short ferry and bus ride away, where we can walk on the sand without rain boots.