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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

12 July 2011

Happy kid

10th July 2011

As a child I had loads of enthusiasms, especially for weird and cool wildlife (and dinosaurs and astronauts but that’s not so relevant here). The kind of things I never expected to see, except while fantasising about becoming a wildlife film-maker. Today has been a really good day for fulfilling childhood ambitions.

We saw an anaconda! The world’s largest snake, with big specimens able to eat a fully grown alligator and even records of some hapless humans victims. This one seemed fairly huge, and had a bulge in to show it had eaten something recently. It was found right around the lodge but the cacophany of American kids got to it before us, so we just had glimpses of it slithering away into the undergrowth.

And I saw a Hoatzin! Several in fact. What’s a Hoatzin? Ah. It’s a bird, but a very strange one. Firstly, it eats only leaves. This may not sound odd, but take a moment to try and think of any other bird that lives in a tree and actually eats leaves. Secondly, the Hoatzin is really bad at flying. It flaps like mad, makes a load of noise, but it can still only manage a few yards (I’m not kidding) and definitely not more than a hundred metres. Thirdly, the Hoatzin has a claw on the ‘elbow’ of its wing, rather like a vestigial finger.

These last two facts in particular led scientists to believe that the Hoatzin was an extremely primitive bird, a link between the dinosaurs and the birds, a sort of living Archaeopterx. I thought they were very cool, and the kind of exotic creatures that only David Attenborough ever got to see. But we’ve seen a bunch of them here, every bit as weird as I expected. They hang around on the lakeshore squawking like asthmatic ducks and flapping their wings. Our guide had to burst my bubble a little though: scientists have more recently discovered that Hoatzin are not a primitive missing link at all, but are related to cuckoos.

We also saw Squirrel Monkeys, which I loved the very first time I saw them at the zoo. One minute we were drifting in silence down one of the winding waterways through the flooded forest, the next minute we were surrounded by little monkeys springing through the trees above us and ahead of us. They were delightful and I hardly knew where to point my camera, not helped by the squirrel monkeys which have a fidget rating of 100% and wouldn’t sit still for more than a second.

Oh, and we saw a poison dart frog. I used to be fascinated with the idea of these brightly coloured frogs that tribesmen could wipe their blowgun darts on and have enough toxin to kill a dozen men. Okay, so the species we found was apparently only toxic enough to make your fingers tingle, but it was still a poison dart frog.

Anyway, good day.

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