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By Nic.Korte

I hear a soft scuffle behind me. Holding my breath, I wait. A Puma? A Jaguar? More likely a Tamamdua (silky anteater) or an agouti (a large rodent). A healthy jaguar population exists a very few miles away, but here at Costa Rica's Las Cruces Biological station, I am probably too near the village of San Vito. The scuffle is that of a young jogger--probably a graduate student working with the tropical plants for which the Las Cruces Biological Station is famous.

(Visitor cabins at Las Cruces)

Light on her feet, she trots on by with a smile and a wave. A young woman running in the jungle led me to think of the novel, Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson. The book, set in the American Neotropics, is a fable about how the innocent are often misunderstood and destroyed. One of the book’s main characters is Rima, a young girl who lives in harmony with the wilderness. Other inhabitants find her confusing and frightening and decide she is the cause of any misfortunes they encounter. Eventually, they find her and kill her. The plot is an apt metaphor for what I have been seeing. The overwhelming fecundity and beauty of the tropical jungle is easy to romanticize. Unfortunately, my next realization is how much has been destroyed because it wasn’t understood.

A few decades ago, the jogger would have been dodging either cattle or coffee plants. But, just thirty years before that, this area was wilderness. In the 1950s and 1960s, settlers, including Europeans and North Americans, decided the area was suitable for agriculture. One of those early settlers, now in his 80s, has published two books about their struggles. He begs forgiveness from future generations. "We didn't know what we were doing," he says. He explains that if they had understood the soil, and the complexity of the natural environment, they would have known their efforts were doomed. The area was too steep, the soils, as always in the rainforest, were too poor. Now, much of the area consists of exposed and eroded soils and shrubby, brushy areas indicative of unwise land use.

Fortunately, some of the nearby highlands were not so heavily settled, and are mostly preserved today as part of the La Amistad National Park—a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of more than 570,000 hectares in the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica and Panama. At lower elevations, there are still a few forest remnants, and there are restorations such as the location where I encountered the jogger.

 (Green Honeycreepers are common at Las Cruces)

This area was reclaimed by Robert and Catherine Wilson who had owned a tropical nursery in Florida. Hence, another name for the Las Cruces Biological Station is the Wilson Botanical garden. Through their knowledge and hard work, and with financial support from an English patron, the Wilson's established a world-famous garden.

 (Lush tropical vegetation abounds at Las Cruces)

In 1973, the garden became part of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), a nonprofit consortium of universities and research institutions from the US, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, South Africa, and Australia. Subsequently, the OTS purchased some nearby forest remnants such that the location has become well-known for its birdlife as well as its plants. 

(Can you guess the common name of this butterfly? How about an 88?!)

The OTS does important work educating the next generation of tropical researchers, and also provides training for teachers and students from all over the world. I have visited all three of the OTS locations in Costa Rica. I am always encouraged when I encounter some of the researchers and students. I am delighted these places exist for their benefit and ours. The work of the OTS is essential if we are to prevent future land use errors and restore some of the mistakes of the past. If you would like to become an "amigo” of OTS, check out their website:

This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!]


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