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04/19/2011
Searching for the sloth

The second part of our trip to Costa Rica was focused, as I mentioned earlier, on the sloth. At last, Missione Natura looks for an animal that doesn't run away, is easy to film and not dangerous. With one problem: it lives in many different habitats, so we had to hunt far and wide for it. Costa Rica is a small country, but the roads are winding and not in great repair, so after ten days at sea, we spent thirteen fairly rough days in the car, or rather, the minibus.

 

From the cloud forests in the mountainous Monteverde reserve to the long beaches on the Atlantic coast of the Cahuita National Park. These incredibly beautiful places are well worth the journey; biodiversity really is at your fingertips here.

 

 

Monteverde is a region of protected areas, mostly private or managed by NGOs, and it lies between 1500 and 2000 metres above sea level, to the south of the Arenal volcano, one of the most active in Costa Rica (which counts over a hundred of them, pretty impressive! And of course, the legendary Cocos Plate in the Pacific is pushing right towards it, slipping under the Caribbean Plate, and lifting Costa Rica by 10 mm every year!)

 

An area of primary fog or cloud forest, with its distinctive low, damp fog that are a feature for much of the year; the idea of saving it from deforestation came from a group of Quakers from the United States, who escaped to Costa Rica in the Fifties to avoid military service. They are still there to this day, and they spend their lives producing cheese, whilst tourism increases apace all around them. But it is a simple kind of tourism, made of walks, and nature watches in the woods: quetzals, toucans, hummingbirds and an endless variety of other birds, some rare, others more common. In addition to the multicoloured butterflies, of course, which can be seen pretty much everywhere.

 

 

We get a bit of an adrenaline rush from the canopy, or rather, from flying at high-speed on the forest zip-lines that hang amidst or above the vegetation. This means of transport was invented here in Costa Rica a few decades ago, and the canopy tours here are of the highest level: in the Selvatura area we followed an itinerary with cables as much as 1 km long, like travelling by helicopter. No animals, you may be thinking, but you'd be mistaken. While I was waiting for my turn at one of the wooden platforms (set at about 20 to 30 m above the ground in a tree), a honey bear or kinkajou (a small mammal related to the raccoon) decided to use the cable to get from one tree to the next, showing remarkable tightrope-walking skills.

 

The other kind of animal that was very much in evidence, as is true throughout Costa Rica, were amphibians, and especially the many different species of frogs: brightly coloured, large and small, some slightly poisonous. Wonderful! However, to see them you need to go down into the canyons (at Catarata de La Paz we equipped and descended a splendid waterfall, 38 metres high, with a flow of 4 cubic metres per second), or more simply, go and visit one of the many ranarios or frog ponds scattered all around this country, which, don't forget, decided as long as 60 years ago to abolish the army and spend those funds on nature and environmental education. Food for thought.

 

Right, the sloth. Well, we saw several, some in pretty high trees, but we had ropes, harnesses and climbing equipment to reach them: but I must say that in a hypothetical race between a man with ropes and a sloth, the sloth is the faster climber... It looks slow, but it can actually get quite a pace up, especially if it is a mother carrying her little one. But if it is sleeping, as it often does, you can get within half a metre and pull faces at it without it so much as stirring...

 

In the area of Cahuita, during the final days of the expedition, we visited an animal sanctuary (set up by an Italian) in Puerto Viejo: they often bring both large and small sloths here, perhaps found on the road, or threatened by deforestation. This was our opportunity to actually touch them: they are the gentlest of animals.

Vincenzo found one in a tree on the seashore, overlooking the big breakers; it was a truly beautiful scene.

Costa Rica really is a wonderful place. We look forward to telling you all about it in the three episodes that we are preparing, which will be broadcast on La7 starting on 12 June.

 

Now I must get back to trying to sort out what time zone I think I'm in. My body clock is completely lost. I will be giving it a final blow in a few days time, when I have to take a quick trip to Mexico. It's a hard life!!

 

Tullio Bernabei