The view of the Serere Reserve from Casa Grande, where we shared meals, plans and stories with the amazing people of Madidi Travel who are using eco tourism to fund conservation in the Bolivian Amazon.
The Rainforest & A Vermont Furniture Store
Where is the link? Well, in the time it takes to read this series of blogs, an area of the Amazon rainforest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed. Can you believe that? Much rainforest destruction is done illegally, to feed the US markets for furniture and flooring. Hmm... Vermont makes wood furniture. With our 200 year tradition of using local, sustainably harvested wood, we can provide an excellent alternative to illegal furniture imports. At Vermont Woods Studios our mission is to raise awareness about the rainforest and persuade consumers to avoid illegal wood products (made from rare tropical woods like mahogany, teak and ipe) in favor of sustainable furniture and flooring made from North American woods (like cherry, maple, oak and walnut).
Riley is on the left, taking a break from his volunteer work to explore the rainforest with me and Severo, our knowledgeable (and entertaining) guide.
Finding A Way To Help
At VWS we've supported rainforest conservation since Day 1. But quite honestly, donating our profits to reforestation NGOs (impressive and legitimate, as they are) operating 5000 miles away was not very satisfying. We wanted to be more closely involved. We wanted to see (and be a part of) the progress being made through our contributions.
My last post was about how my son Riley happened to end up volunteering for the legendary conservationist, Rosamaria Ruiz, of Madidi Travel in the Serere Reserve of the Bolivian Amazon Rainforest. Perfect! Kendall (my other son) and I went down to see Riley and offer to help Ms Ruiz with her efforts in reforestation and "conservation through eco tourism".
This troop of Yellow Monkeys crashed through the rainforest right in front of the Casa Grande where we were eating lunch. They seemed as curious and unafraid of us as we were of them.
Many Faces of Rainforest Destruction
After flying over huge expanses of the Amazon and trekking through the Serere Reserve, I realized there are many different rainforest destruction problems and approaches to solving them. Some areas have simply been clear cut, the worst possible fate. But "luckily" the Serere Reserve was ravaged by illegal loggers who were just interested in large, high value trees. For example, I did not see a single mahogany tree other than the saplings planted by Madidi Travel. Cedar was also completely wiped out. The good news is that, otherwise the Serere Reserve is still intact, extraordinarily beautiful & teaming with wildlife.
The little spider monkey next to me is having a word with that 200 pound tapir nosing up to him. The two are rescues who've taken sanctuary at Madidi Travel's Serere Rainforest Reserve. In many cases, rescued animals have lost their parents, flocks, herds or other companions to illegal loggers who shoot them for food or sell them as curiosities.
It's an amazing place, filled with exotic birds, monkeys (we saw troops of howlers, yellow monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins and a nocturnal monkey all in one day) fish and other wildlife. Serere is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet-- it's a nature lover's dream. Rosamaria says that wildlife is so abundant here because the animals feel safe.
Although illegal loggers cleaned out the huge, high value trees from Madidi Travel's Serere Reserve, there are still plenty of massive 200 and 300+ year old trees that will amaze you.
Conservation Through Eco Tourism
Last week I learned there's more to rainforest conservation than planting trees. In places where the rainforest is still standing, the goal is to protect what's left and restore what's been stolen. Illegal loggers are a constant threat so rigorous patrolling and enforcement are always required. That takes money. Rosamaria Ruiz is showing rainforest communities around the world how to raise that money through eco tourism. Devoted wildlife and nature lovers pay to experience the wonder of the rainforest, thus providing jobs for indigenous people to conserve and defend it.
If you love being up close and personal with nature, check out Madidi Travel and their eco tourism opportunities at the Serere Reserve. It's the last little corner of the Garden of Eden. Get down there soon. The rainforest continues to disappear at an alarming rate. The clock is ticking.
On my way to the Bolivian Amazon, I'm holding the National Geographic article I read 15 years ago, about Rosamaria Ruiz and her rainforest conservation work in Madidi National Park. It influenced me to create Vermont Woods Studios. On the right, I'm in the Amazon, helping Ms Ruiz's team members who are re-planting mahogany trees. It was a good feeling!