JBL Expedition in 2012 to Central America and Galapagos

Costa Rica, second visit

After returning to Lake Nicaragua, we visited what is sure to be the most remote national park in Costa Rica: Cano Negro Refugium.

The river of the crocodiles

There are very good chances of watching caimans in the Cano Negro National Park, just an hour's drive south of Lake Nicaragua, making it Costa Rica's most remote national park. Once again, we used a boat for transportation. After about half an hour, we noticed that only 15 participants were on board. Of course, it was our ornithologist, Klaus, who was missing, presumably because his passion for birds had led him far away from where we had boarded our boat. As turning back wasn't an option, all we could do was continue to search for crocodilian reptiles. Three different species of crocodiles live in Central America: The American crocodile (Crocodylus arcutus), Morelet's crocodile (C. moreletii) and the spectacled caiman, also known as the white caiman or common caiman (Caiman crocodilus). A bony ridge between the eyes showed unmistakably that the animals we were looking at were spectacled caimans. Heiko was all bent on testing how spectacled caimans react to an approaching human. So, very slowly, without frightening the animal, he got out of the boat and slipped into the water and swam toward the caiman at the surface of the muddy brown water. When he had gotten to just 50 cm from the animal, the caiman submerged in slow motion. The humps on its back prevented us from seeing exactly where it had submerged at the surface. They prevent eddies of water very effectively. Heiko tried to establish contact by sight underwater, but to no avail, due to the murky brew. The caiman's reaction confirmed what's written in the literature: Only the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) has been reported to attack humans. The other species are not dangerous to humans.

In addition to many different bird species (Klaus would have been delighted if he hadn't been sitting on the shore waiting for us), we saw several pond slider turtles (Trachemys scripta) bathing in the sun on the shore. Their egg-laying season is during the dry season (Dec. – May), during which the females dig 15 cm deep at sites with sun exposure and deposit up to 25 eggs.

Survival strategies in the cloud forest

We spent the last two nights in Costa Rica in Heliconias Lodge near the Tenorio volcano. We wanted to finally experience the famous swinging bridges in the rain forest and learn something about the rainforest ecosystem here. A local biologist guided us directly from the lodge into the surrounding jungle and explained the survival strategies of the plants to us. Strategy No. 1: A tree tries to reach light with the help of friends (other plants). Namely, the battle in the rainforest always centres on light, water and nutrients. Strategy No. 2: Without friends: The tree has a smooth bark, which it peels off regularly in the bottom section, in order to prevent other plants from adhering to it, so that it grows upwards towards light alone and fast. Strategy No. 3: Use your friends: Epiphytes grow on other plants instead of on the ground. Strategy No. 4: Grow at the top and stretch your roots long downwards. Lianas are doubtlessly the best-known example. Strategy No. 5: Grow faster than the others by staying hollow on the inside - that saves time. Strategy No. 6: Twine yourself around another plant and creep upwards. We saw countless examples of each strategy and began seeing the rainforest with different eyes. In the jungle, everything is for a specific reason: A colour, a shape, holes in the leaves, etc.. With this insight, a hike in the forest becomes a tour of discoveries, even if, unfortunately, we barely saw any animals. A nocturnal venomous Eyelash viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) was all we were able to find. Several people are killed by this viper every year in Costa Rica. Our guide warned us: If anyone is bitten, they must see a doctor within 3 hours. But the closest doctor was 4 hours away!

Costa Rica – transhipment point for shark fins for Asian cuisines

As a result of our collaboration with the shark protection organization in Germany, SharkProject (www.sharkproject.com), the director of the organization, Gerhard Wegner, was able to establish contact with activist Randall Arauz in Costa Rica and arrange for him to give us an hour-long informative presentation on the local protection of sharks. Randall had even had an opportunity to present the topic of shark protection to the Queen of Sweden and American President Barack Obama. Randall's presentation was so enthusiastic that we would have liked to accompany him to his headquarters to actively support the organisation (www.pretoma.org). For example, Randall had the phenomenal idea of obligating fishermen to comply with the law of bringing in whole fish (incl. fins) with reference to sharks as well. This would make it illegal to cut the fins off of the live shark (finning) and force fishermen to bring in the whole shark (of no value) before cutting off its fins. But this would require too much space, so that it would no longer be lucrative. Randall was simply fantastic!

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