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  Field Notes From
Hotspot: Brazil

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Hotspot: Brazil On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Virginia Morrell

Hotspot: Brazil On Assignment

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From Photographer

Mark W. Moffett

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Saadia Iqbal (top) and Claudio E. G. Patto


Hotspot: Brazil

Field Notes From Author
Virginia Morrell

Best Worst Quirkiest
    Following a troop of female muriquis, or woolly spider monkeys, through the forest canopy was especially exhilarating. They had an advantage over us because there were no downed trees in their paths or steep mountains to traverse, so it was something of an effort to keep up with them. Once, we were very lucky, and a troop of females, many with babies, passed right over our heads. A couple mothers had tiny newborns, and you could just make out their pink faces buried in their mothers' fur. One mother stopped to rest right above our heads in a tall tree. There was a hole in the tree where a limb had broken off, and she reached her hand inside and lifted it out with water dripping from her fingertips. She tilted her head back and let the water run into her mouth. That was her aerial drinking fountain—this tree hole—an absolutely delightful thing to see.

    I'd spent a morning with some field biologists watching the golden lion tamarins in the Poço das Antas Biological Reserve. After the tamarins moved on, we walked out of the forest and climbed up a hill in a farmer's pasture. And there, on the horizon, was a fire, burning its way toward the tamarins' forest. Some of that forest had only started to regenerate a few years before; it was part of the area that ecologists hope to restore for the tamarins. And it was now being cut down by the flames. The fire may have started naturally, but the scientists were sure that a person had set it, or perhaps a fire someone was using to burn trash had escaped. Either way, it was hard watching the flames lick their way through the forest, given the amount of destruction the Atlantic rain forest has already experienced. In many places, all that is left are grassy patches and unproductive red dirt.  Much of what was rain forest is now a desert in the making.

In the forest with the muirquis, we also spotted a rare bird of the dark understory, the macuca. She was the size of a large pheasant and was perched on a low stump, her chocolate wings spread protectively over her nest. When she saw us, she raised her head in alarm and flew a short distance away, revealing two turquoise blue eggs.  We all caught our breath at how beautiful the eggs were, lying in the hollow of that black stump. And then, not far behind us, a motorcycle ripped down a road that winds through the forest. It was such a startling sound. For a moment, while we watched the macuca on her nest, it seemed as if we had stumbled into a patch of virgin Atlantic rain forest. But in reality, we were only minutes from a highway and towns.


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