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Natural History



Torments and the True Horrors of the Rainforest

The Myths of the Rainforest Bogeys Dispelled

By Jeet Sukumaran

Reproduced from Frogweb.org

Torments and the True Horrors of the Rainforest

To me, the rainforest is a retreat and a sanctum - a place of sanity and safety away from the horrors of human society and civilization. Especially at night - in the day, the heat, humidity and bugs can take a little away from the experience! To many people, however, the rainforest - night or day - is a dark and dangerous place. To different people, the rainforest holds different terrors. To some, coming across the slightest hint of the presence of a tiger in an area - pug marks, a loud sound, a funny smell - is enough to induce them to cut short a trip as far. For others, it is the thought of venomous killer snakes coiled and ready to strike from above or from the leaf-litter below that. For yet others, it is the idea of nasty, fat, hairy spiders, ready to crawl into your clothes and inflict savage injury.

All these conceptions are sadly misplaced. The fact is, that the rainforest, while far from a comfortable place, is pretty safe animal-wise. And while you should certainly exercise caution, there are a whole host of other things that you should be more concerned about before you start fretting over tigers, snakes and spiders - not getting lost, not falling down a hole, making sure your drinking water is safe, and so on.

That is not to say that tiger attacks and snake bites do not happen. Surely they do. It is just that they are so uncommon, and so unlikely, and, with a simple understanding of the ecology and behaviour of these animals, so near impossible, that worrying about them is like worrying about catching a flu while riding a rollercoaster. I address the specifics of this in three separate articles on large carnivores, and snakes.

Tigers and other large terrestrial vertebrate predators are not an issue - with the exception of some species such of the saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, humans are simply not seen as prey, and rather things to be feared. In fact, if at all, it is some of the other large vertebrates, such as elephants or wild boars, that should solicit a little more alarm.

Snakes are even less of a threat. They are so secretive and shy that it is a relatively rare occasion that you do encounter them, since most of the time they escape notice, or, if they notice you before you notice them, they simply escape. And if you do encounter them, then basic caution and respect will allow you to appreciate the beauty of one of the rainforest's more interesting animals in mutual safety.

So what are the torments and horrors of the rainforest? Based on my experience and knowledge of the Malaysian rainforests (a "your mileage might vary" caveat), I am going to tell you what you should worry about.



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