By Rowan Sharp
What’s so special about rainforests? How do they distinguish from other forest types? Why should you care about protecting them?
Rainforests, found in regions close to the equator where temperatures are highest, are thought to contain as much as 75% of the world’s biodiversity! Countless invaluable species, medicines, food sources, energy resources and much more are found within these dense wet forests, and yet very few of us get the opportunity to see them for ourselves.
I have been fortunate enough to spend time in both the Amazonian rainforest and the wet Indonesian rainforests of Borneo, and doing so has been completely life-changing. Growing up immersed in books and films about primates, I spent my childhood dreaming of life in the rainforest, and I have never been disappointed.
Nothing compares to the feeling of riding in a klotok (a wooden long-boat), coasting the surface of the sheen black rainforest rivers, breaking your way through dense mangroves and buttress roots. Looking up, tall and vibrantly green trees shade you from the sun – the light of which merely sparkles through the leaves, leaving you to feel enclosed within or engulfed by the forest. I spend most of this time watching the ripples in the water, eagerly mistaking small logs for crocodiles. The oil-coloured surface of the water tells no secrets of the mysteries lurking beneath, and you can’t help but feel that we’re only learning half of the story travelling above ground.
On land there are no clear paths; instead the ground is ridden with thick roots forcing you to clamber around and hold on to hanging branches for support (only after quickly confirming that they are indeed branches), which reminds you how very far you are from human civilisation. This distance (both psychological and literal) from my metropolitan lifestyle is perhaps why it’s so easy for me to find comfort in the rainforest. That’s not to say the rainforest is a source of peace and quiet – far from it. Nowhere are the cicadas louder nor the birds more active; every break of a twig hints to some life beyond your line of vision. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of orange in the tree-tops, and argue with your companions over whether it was an orangutan or a maroon langur monkey (or, more often than not, some cruel trickery of the light).
Rainforests are often referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet’ (with their trees producing a large percentage of the world’s oxygen), and I must say…you can feel it. The constant moisture in the air just adds to this undeniable feeling that life is all around you; this is an environment where nature flourishes – where any measure of life can grow and evolve freely.
Of course not all rainforest life is a joy to encounter. As someone whom mosquitos seem to have a certain proclivity for, I can’t pretend the experience is purely luxurious. You’ll sweat off your repellent within minutes and your clothes will never feel properly clean again. However this does nothing to deter me from returning to the rainforest – particularly at a time when the world is undergoing a mass extinction event, with human activities largely to blame.
It’s now more important than ever that people take an active interest in rainforests all over the world and fight for change in the current rate of habitat destruction. That is why I myself and the Orangutan Foundation take part in events like Rainforest: Live, joining wildlife conservation organisations across the world to raise awareness and encourage action in the general public to protect these fragile rainforest ecosystems.
Join us on social media and be a part of Rainforest: Live.
Follow the hashtag #rainforestlive all day TOMORROW (June 3rd) to see what we’re all posting LIVE from the rainforests all over the globe!
You can catch the Foundation’s live updates directly by following us on Twitter (@OrangutanFndn/https://twitter.com/OrangutanFndn) or keeping an eye on Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/orangutanfndn/).