Peering into the Amazon Jungle
By “Awake!” correspondent in Peru
THE small jet plane is winging its way eastward over the Peruvian Andes bound for the vast Amazon jungle. Leaving the snowcapped peaks behind, we peer out the window. Below us stretches a vast carpet of hazy green. Examined more closely, the landscape resembles a mass of densely packed florets of broccoli. As in a work of embroidery, the “loops” of meandering rivers and the “eyelets” of lighter green, formed by the spreading tips of palm trees, add a pleasing variation to the scene. Soon the plane begins its descent. The green carpet transforms itself before our eyes into a staggering variety of trees of contrasting size and description.
The Amazon jungle is known as the richest plant area on earth. Tens of thousands of varieties have been identified. On just about every square mile (2.6 square kilometers), well over a hundred different kinds of trees flourish. Depending on geographical differences in altitude, there may be dense thickets of mangrove trees, ebonies, fine mahoganies, cedars and aromatic rosewoods, chestnuts, tall brazil-nut trees, various types of willows and the handsome rubber trees. Interspersed among all of these are numerous varieties of palms and tropical fruit trees. Branches drip heavily with vines and creepers. So thick is the greenery that treetops struggle toward a barely visible sky.
At ground level the array of plant life is simply spectacular. Unusually shaped leaves and grasses of every assortment and kind intermingle. Hugging the ground is an endless variety of plants, with foliage in combinations of green, red, pink, purple, yellow and white. Other low-growing plants serve as borders for tiers of pithy cactus-type spikes, short palms, bushes and large-leaf vegetation like the giant ‘elephant ears.’ Frothy ferns add a delicate touch in paler greens. Climbers greedily clutch at any remaining space.
In many areas vivid flowers brighten the scene. There are beds of blossoms in pinks and reds. Little yellow flowers peek out between gnarled roots. Clumps of bright orange, deep crimson and white blooms may be seen hanging from branches. Then there are gorgeous sprays of delicate orchids nestling against tree trunks or cascading from branches. Not a leaf stirs in the humid air.
Signs of Creature Life
What about creature life? Fat-bellied Tangarana ants swarm over the Palo de Santo tree. In return for a permanent dwelling, these ants protect the tree from the slightest touch of any invader. Down on the jungle floor, leaf-cutting ants march in single file, each carrying a sizable piece of leaf. Countless beetles dart here and there or quickly take to flight. Especially noticeable is the largest of all beetles, titanus giganteus, measuring about six inches (15 centimeters) in length. Occasionally one may catch the flash of a firefly, visible in the permanent dusk of the dense underbrush. Brilliant butterflies and huge, strange-looking moths take wing. Nearby, frogs are croaking. Underfoot, curious green and gray lizards dart away, while little salamanders scamper up trees.
Somewhere out there are giant anacondas—with measurements of up to forty feet (12 meters) in length and two and a half feet (.8 meter) in diameter being claimed for some of the largest of these snakes. Of the 250 kinds of reptiles said to dwell in the Amazon jungle, few are actually poisonous. Unless surprised or molested, the predatory varieties kill only for food, and man is not a part of their diet.
Contrary to popular opinion, the jungle is not entirely populated by large and dangerous animals. In the South American jungle, the largest animal is the hog-sized tapir, with pumas and jaguars as runners-up. Catlike tigrillos, long-snouted anteaters, armadillos and ocelots share the underbrush. Foxes, raccoons, little deer and many types of rodents find their niche on the jungle floor. Under ordinary conditions none of these are known to be a threat to humans. Of the 14,712 varieties of animals reportedly inhabiting the Amazon area, over 8,000 are said to be unique.
Creature Life in the Trees
By far the greatest concentration of fauna lives in the trees. Screams and raucous screeches identify worlds of parrots, macaws, toucans and multitudinous other known and little-known kinds of birds. Add to this the chattering of parakeets, the coos and warbles of doves, whippoorwills and the like, as well as the rat-tat-tat din of the woodpecker, and you begin to sense the busy world above you. Several kinds of quaint-faced, loose-membered monkeys swing nimbly from limb to limb, chattering and scolding. Circling high above the treetops, alert vultures await a meal. Their voracious appetites keep the area clean of decaying flesh.
Here and there are pools with giant lily pads hiding bright, tropical fish. Everywhere there are little streams of brownish, leaf-dyed water. Eventually everything flows to the Amazon, the highway of the jungle.
Life in the Waters
In the waters of the Amazon jungle, there are stingrays, electric eels, caimans, turtles and the sharp-toothed pirañas that may strip an animal of its flesh in just a few minutes of seething activity. One has to check with the local natives before swimming in any of these waters. Jungle waters are not necessarily good swimming pools! Nevertheless, you will see little groups of native children splashing in some of the sluggish jungle rivers. This brings us to the people of the “Great River” area, an interesting contribution to the temperament of the jungle.
Three or four centuries ago there may have been at least 230 different tribes of Indians inhabiting the region. They lived in small isolated communities, generally confining themselves to certain geographical areas. Among the domains of tribes still recognized today are those of the Jivaros, Aucas, Campas, Chamas, Machiguengas and Shipibos. Perhaps only twenty or so well-defined tribes remain. Their needs are few—perhaps a log home, a hammock or two, a blow gun and a spear. Their diet consists mainly of yucca, bananas, turtle and fish.
The Amazon jungle is indeed a fascinating area—a tranquil place. The still, humid atmosphere is occasionally disturbed by tropical thunderstorms. These and the exotic sounds from a great variety of animals, however, do not really ruffle the immense, placid jungle. Although many kinds of creatures make the jungle their home, it is not an environment fraught with tremendous perils for those who respect the “Do Not Disturb” signs.