Brazilian Amazon

Jungletour at Jungletour at
Fri Jul 17 05:29:15 EDT 1998

Well, I can see the point that there are not enough serious amateur
entomologists interested in exploring the Amazon to make permitting, etc.
economically feasible, and therefore, setting up some easy form for permitting
is just not in the cards right now. But I miss the Amazon very much, and I
miss my Brazilian friends who live along the Tapajos River. At night after
long rambles in the forest, we would watch Soccer games on TV and exchange
stories about life in the United States, and about life in the Amazon. I would
spend hours practicing my Portuguese and in turn give English lessons to the
children who were very eager to learn. So much more than just butterflies and
insects transpires on Brazilian expeditions, but it was clearly my interest in
neotropical butterflies that originally drove the excursions. I have not yet
taken any groups down to the Amazon, and I do not intend to pursue that
venture. But I enjoy my solo expeditions and I now have many friends to visit
in the state of Para. 

Last year, the forest along the Tapajos was extremely dry and the butterfly
populations were very low. I did not collect any butterflies, but I did set
traps with a variety of baits for observation purposes. It appears that the
female and male Agrias and Preponas will feed on fruit baits, however, only
the males will feed on rotting fish and meat. A particularly good bait is
sugarcane juice mixed with banana and beer.  I also took a 12 hour bus ride
south of Santarem to a city called Itaituba, however, I ended up on a ranch
with secondary forest that was very dry with very few butterflies.

It turns out that one of the primary food plants for Agrias is Erythroxylum
Coca, the plant used to process cocaine. It is my understanding that there are
coca fields hidden in the depths of the jungles, and I have heard of  one
commercial collector who is escorted into these areas to collect valuable
Agrias, and then legally export them to Japan.  So it appears that the people
in it for the money always manage to get what they want one way or the other.
But for a small yet adventurous guy like me, who has studied Agrias for a
variety of totally non-monetary reasons including their beauty, behavior and
elusiveness, it seems that my ventures are quite easily going to be cut short.

I can hear Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russell Wallace right now, slamming
their fists on the walls of heaven and saying "For God's sake!, someone down
there on earth, please let this young man explore the depths of the Amazon
totally unhindered". In many ways, humans have come a long way scientifically,
but with many mysteries such as creation, or infinite versus finite universe,
still unresolved, we as a species are not that far advanced from the time when
some thought of the earth as flat. We need as many minds as is possible and
economical to help shed light on some of these issues, and it is my belief
(and Walter Bates' belief as well) that the studying and observation of
butterflies could help in answering some of these mysteries. 

In the meantime, I am going to try and shift my emphasis on economic ideas for
the region such as ethnobotany and futuristic farming techniques. Anything
that will perk my interest and allow me to maintain the friendships with the
wonderful Brazilians that I have met so far. And believe me, Brazilians are
some of the most friendly people in the World. I hope that I did not diverge
too far off from the subject matter of this list, and although some of these
thoughts may seem a little far fetched and dramatic, one would be surprised at
how simple the answers can be, even to the most complex of questions. 

Jim Hanlon

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