Associação Mico Leão Dourado (The Golden Lion Tamarin Association)
"Be careful," Andreia says in Portuguese. "I tripped over this log once and broke my leg."
One of the rules of the rainforest is this: don't drag your feet, lift them. Another is: step gingerly. You never know what you're going to step on. The forest floor is always a surprise. Spongy? Sturdy? Muddy? Clandestine puddle? Fire ants? Driver ants? Giant hole under the leaves? Enormously toxic snake taking a nap?
The rainforest is full of life. And also, it is full of death. Sometimes nature makes me sad, other times jubilant. I have learned that to paint her in only one light - for instance, JUST cruel, or JUST full of rainbows, or JUST about survival - is to rob Mother Nature of her vibrancy and dynamism, and therefore a gross malnourishment.
Conflicts will happen; that they do isn't bad (or good). For instance, a lion chases a gazelle. For the lion to get what she wants, the gazelle has to die - but the gazelle wants to live. The two have a conflict of interest. Nature is full of conundrums like this, right? When I was little, I would pray to God and ask, "Please make all lions vegetarians so the gazelles don't have to die." Then I realized that the plants would still die. "Please make every living creature not have to eat so that nothing dies." But then we would run out of space on the planet. "Please make the Earth grow bigger and bigger so that it can accommodate everyone and no one has to suffer ever. I know this is a big request, but you are God. If anyone can do it, You can."
Then I felt like God said, "Since when is dying such a bad thing?"
Death is an inherent and precious piece of life. The rainforest exists because of death, feeding on the decomposition of its own creatures. For instance, if you clear-cut a forest and plant a mono-crop, the anemic soil will not be able to support life in a decade or so because all of the forest floor debris would have been removed. The topsoil alone cannot sustain such a massive organism like the forest; it needs lots of help. When life passes in the rainforest - floral or faunal - the microorganisms who call the forest floor home decompose the ones who have passed. Their excrement becomes nutrient-rich fodder for more floral creatures to burst onto the stage of life. The living, breathing flora provides nutrients and shelter for the animals of the forest, who then feed the forest with their own bodies when they die.
A magnificent story.
I am in the rainforest again (YAY!) visiting the Golden Lion Tamarin Association, located in the Mata Atlantica - the Atlantic rainforest on the coast of Brazil. Andreia, the woman who broke her leg, has been a field biologist studying the tamarins (GLT's) for thirty years. I was honored to be with her in the forest. I am in awe of women like her. They are strong in the way that lionesses are strong: cross their animals and you shall learn why hell hath no fury. And yet, their greatest strength is the love and tenderness they have for their charges.
The Mata Atlantica is a hotspot: a highly endangered ecosystem. Over 93% of the forest has been destroyed in the last sixty years. Sixty years in a geological time scale is nothing: like the breath of a baby when it is first born. The biggest catalyst for clearing the forest seems to be to make room for more cow pastures. Beef. Not trying to have an agenda at all, just saying it how it is.
If you have worked in conservation for any length of time, you know that sometimes the work is exhausting. It is not always as glamorous or sensational as ramming whaling boats or arguing with poachers. It is also about contracts, meetings, negotiations, and emails. Sometime you have to do things like get people to sign papers and donate money or go out every single day in the blazing sun to repopulate the Atlantic Forest ONE tree at a time. This is what the Golden Lion Tamarin Association has been doing for the last twenty years, all so that our planet still has some GLT's. Thank you, Golden Lion Tamarin Association.
Twenty years ago, there were less than 200 GLT's remaining on our planet, and that number was rapidly dwindling. Their fate seemed sealed: they would go extinct. But there were people who simply were not okay with letting that happen. So through a combination of securing protected land, reforestation, and introduction of captive-bred tamarins back into the wild, the tamarin population is now at 1,700. But until deforestation stops, the continued existence of these 1,700 souls is dependent on the work of the twenty or so individuals at the GLT Association.
If you would like to find out how you can support them, please visit their website. In the meantime, please enjoy pictures of these hairy little garden gnomes, also known as Mico-Leão-Dourado, or the golden lion tamarin. And yes, they actually are that color. :)
Amazing set of photos of an amazingly beautiful endangered species. Your prayer for protection of all living things from all suffering is a great backdrop to the realities of rainforest death and life. Always a treasure to read and view your work. Such passion and humility are a great combination.
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