In-depth: The Amazon

AMAZONAS, Brazil — “There’s nothing bigger than ARPA,” says Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF, of the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program. “It’s one of the biggest conservation projects of all time. You hear people all around the world talk about, ‘this park is roughly the size of Belgium’ or ‘roughly the size of the state of Iowa.’ ARPA,” he says, “is one and a half Californias. It’s immense.”

Roberts knows the Amazon firsthand. WWF has been working in the world’s largest rain forest for more than 40 years, and he’s personally visited it many times. Telling a story from one such trip, he describes flying over an unbroken sea of trees in the upper Amazon right before the rainy season. As he headed to bed that night, a storm of “Biblical proportions” started. The next day, after leaving the forest path to follow a strange, loud sound, he found an unbelievable sight. “These pools were dripping with frogs,” he recalls. “There were frogs—just a multitude of species—on every leaf. Every inch of the pond was full of these amazing amphibians in every color of the rainbow. It was that moment,” he says, “when seasons turned and the Amazon came alive.”

In order to keep the rain forest thriving the way it did that day, ARPA has rallied a global effort to set up new standards, guidelines, protected areas, collaborations and expectations of scale for over 10 years. But its biggest ambition and true end goal has been to create a powerful new model that will protect these areas in a way rarely envisioned by conservationists before ARPA: with secured funding for all time.

Standing knee deep in grass on the shore of Balbina Lake, near the mouth of the Uatumã River, Gilmar Nicolau Klein squints as he points down the gravel road back toward Vila Balbina, the Amazonian town where he lives. The midday sun is particularly fiery; despite it being the last month of Brazil’s dry season, the slight breeze off the water doesn’t do much to cut the heat.

Klein shields his eyes with his hand as he looks up at a tree where black birds splashed with neon yellow twitter and squawk as they flit about. “Almost every day I see a group of monkeys. I note where they are with a GPS, where they stay, where they cross the road. It’s really great,” he adds. “In the morning you head out, get on your bike and you see the animals. For me, my day is completely different after.”

As an environmental analyst with the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and head of the Uatumã Biological Reserve, Klein knows the region, its rivers and the species that dwell here just as well as he knows the people who live in his own close-knit community. Although he is normally soft-spoken, his face lights up with laughter and a broad smile when he talks about the creatures that breathe life into Uatumã as they hum, buzz, bellow and chirp.

“What we heard just now was a howler monkey,” Klein continues, referring to the deep, throaty howl echoing across the water from one of the nearby islands. “He was just getting started. If he were to sing the whole thing… .”

Read the rest of this story and more in World Wildlife magazine’s Summer 2014 issue.

By Jill Langlois

Originally published in World Wildlife magazine and online in May 2014.

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