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For our final installment in the Amazon Adventures series, I interviewed expedition leader Corine Vriesendorp about what it means to protect and conserve areas of the rainforest in spite of the overwhelming global demands for its natural resources.

This is a segment in a series about The Field Museum's Rapid Inventory No. 27, a journey through the forests between the rivers Tapiche and Blanco in Peru. Every year, the Museum's conservation group [the Action Center!] gathers together leading scientific experts across a number of disciplines (botany, zoology, geology, and anthropology) in order to gain an understanding of little-known areas of the rainforest. They work with local communities and their governments to help inform decisions made for conserving these unique, precious, and threatened parts of the world.

To learn more about the Rapid Inventory program, check out the other Amazon Adventures!

Read more about The Field Museum's Rapid Inventory programs:

This expedition would not have been possible without the generosity and help of Corine Vriesendorp, Nigel Pitman, Alvaro del Campo, Tyana Wachter, Ernesto Ruelas, and the rest of the Rapid Inventory team. Thank you for allowing us to join you on this journey, and for giving us the trip of a lifetime.


Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Writer, Editor, Camera:
Tom McNamara

Theme music:
Michael Aranda

Created By:
Hank Green

Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Filmed on location between the rivers Tapiche and Blanco in Peru.

Corine: So, Emily, this is one of the trees that was cut down here.  This is about 2 meters in diameter, it's just a huge tree that, who knows, maybe 2000 years old--

Emily: Wow!

Corine: --and--yeah.  And cut down for timber, and this is one of the sort of higher end timber species here in Peru.  Some of them, they actually take in barges and then they go to the Pacific Ocean, others they go Atlantic Ocean. 

Emily: So this tree is going to make quite the journey over the next couple of years. 

Corine: Totally, and the papers that will accompany it will never say that it came from right here. 

Emily: Really?

Corine: Yeah.  No way.

Emily: And this was, this was cut down by local indigenous peoples, not the timber industry, or were they working for the timber industry?

Corine: Yeah, so all of it is enabled by sawmills.  My name is Corine Vriesendorp.  For the last decade, I've had the total privilege of going into the some of the most remote parts of the Andes and the Amazon with an incredible group of scientists, conducing these rapid inventories. 

Emily: So, Corine, this is what number of inventory?

Corine: 27. 

Emily: 27.  27 inventories and you've been on how many?

Corine: 17.

Emily: 17. 

Corine: And the finds have been incredible.  So just last night, we all sat down as a team and reviewed the camera trap footage, so we set out these camera traps to capture pictures of mammals and what we found totally shocked us.  There is a dog that lives in the Amazon, there are actually two dogs and they're both really rare, but the rarest one of all was found on this camera trap.  It's carrying this huge fruit.  It's an animal we know almost nothing about, and it occurs here in this forest.  We're seeing a bird that was discovered in the 1830s, and has been rarely seen since then.  It's calling to us every day at dusk.  If you think about it, we're standing right here in a clearing that probably has 150 different species of plants right here.

Emily: Oh my God, yeah.

Corine: The sorts of birds that live here, insects, frogs, snakes, electric eels, all of those things, nobody is going to be the expert on all of this, and so you have to piece it together with help from others.  There's this team of people and everybody has their own unique talents, and all of it together is doing something much bigger than each one of us.

Emily: And I've really seen that collaborative effort, too, you know, you see a certain kind of flower in your fruiting tree here, and you know because that tree is here, that monkey's gonna be there, so you can go to the mammalogist and be like, hey, have you seen this kind of monkey?  And he's like, yeah, I have, and because of that, the bird guys know that that bird is here because it pollinates that tree, so it really does bring all those elements together when people say that everything is connected, like, this tangibly is so, and so what is the future of this program, how do you see these rapid inventories having an impact going forward?

Corine: So all of these finds are important, but if we think about sort of the higher level piece to this, this place would connect three other protected areas in Peru.  Part of what we'll be focusing now--on now is these corridors, is creating sort of--we've--we've had success in providing scientific support for creating certain parks and reserves, and now I feel like there are ways to link those together, and so I still have this dream that one day I'm gonna walk from the Pacific coast in South America all the way to the Atlantic just through protected areas.  They'll make a transect of South America, and I feel like because of what Brazilian, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Colombian governments have done, there's a chance to do that. 

Emily: What is going to impede your dream of walking from one coast to the other through untainted wilderness?

Corine: I think the threat is this incredible need for natural resources.  Some of it is gonna be about balance.  Can we manage this tension between innovation and sort of technological advance, and the need for fossil fuels and resources, and a real need to conserve these places, and I feel like there's gonna be--that that's the fight. 

Emily: That's the push and pull.

Corine: Yeah.  And this program is gonna continue fighting that good fight. 

(Crowd disperses after photograph is taken, overlapping chatter)


Emily: It still has brains on it.