Articles posted by Renee Bish

All posts by Renee Bish

The Pantanal – Reptile Heaven

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I have no idea why I am so fascinated by reptiles. I’ve been associated with them all my life. My first pet was a snake at a tender 4 years old. I am a director of the public Vivarium in my home of Quito, Ecuador, I am entrenched with the Orianne Society who are dedicated to the preservation of the Eastern Indigo Snake and on it goes.

So, when I walk into a drying pond, as I have done several times, in the Pantanal, to become surrounded by hundreds of Spectacled Caimans (like the one above), just a few feet from me, I get an overwhelming sense of peace, joy, fascination, awe and wildness – but not dread. It’s therapeutic and, I believe necessary to our psyche. They are indeed remarkable creatures and survive in their many hundreds of thousands in the Pantanal, Brazil, one of the great wildlife areas still left on the planet. When they go on to catch a graphically marked armored catfish and pose with it a couple of meters from me then I love them even more! Watch out for me guys, I’ll be back in September!!

Pete Oxford

One more reason to travel

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There are many reasons for travel but this time, for us, it was something new. Pete and I have lived in Ecuador now for 30 and 24 years respectively and we have known our best friends, Tom and Mariela, for almost that long. Much more parochial than us in their travel, they have seldom ventured to foreign shores. Recently they visited with some news. After a routine medical check up Tom was diagnosed with a leaky heart valve and needed surgery urgently for $250,000+ in the US, where he was a citizen, but with no medical insurance. It was a budget which blew that idea out of the window OR, $25,000 here in Ecuador but with a minimum of a 10% risk of dying and no fixed heart operating team (but he was told that they could cobble one together). Stuck between a rock and a hard place I made a suggestion. As a trained nurse in my previous life and having been in a hospital in India, on the point of death by all accounts, with Cholera, I recounted the tale of my unbelievable medical care and how impressed I was. I ventured an alternative. To our surprise, Tom went for the idea. Now suddenly, Pete and I felt responsible so decided to help guide them through the chaos that is the India we love so much and we booked tickets too. Having phoned a good friend in India for a reference for a cardiologist, then haggling for emergency visas, a week later we were en-route to Delhi! Mariela’s 50th was celebrated at 30,000 feet at the back of the jumbo drinking champagne with our new friend Christine, a truly benevolent flight attendant and before we knew it, Tom was in surgery! The care was fabulous and the equipment as modern as anywhere. The surgery team was a highly practiced unit, and performed a slew of such operations on a regular basis! Worse than we thought however the valve had to be replaced not fixed and Tom now is part pig! No more eating pork in that household. Recuperation time was 3 weeks, so having satisfied ourselves that all was well and it was only left for Tom to take it easy we set off in the interim to visit a remote head-hunter tribe in the far north east of India. Back in Delhi, after our sojourn, with a now perky Tom we decided he was fit enough to take him south to the Taj Mahal to sight see. Hence the classic tourist snapshot above to prove that he was there (wheelchair and all). The joys of medical tourism, Tom gets a new heart valve, a look at one of the seven wonders of the world and it only set him back $13,000 (excluding airfares)!! I guess that’s one way to see the world!

~Reneé Bish

Anticipating Jaguars!

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OK, I know its not until September this year but already I’m getting excited about my next trip to the Pantanal in Brazil.

When I first used to go, some 10+ years ago not many foreign visitors were to be seen.

Having got to know the area well I was called in, by the same operator we still use today, to try to photograph wild jaguars that his team was seeing in a new area he was operating in from a floating hotel on the river! The guide and I traveled, we calculated, more than 1000 km on the river over many days, scouring the river banks. We hardly saw another human soul but the wildlife was spectacular. For fun, in my head, I would count the number of caiman I saw. I always got to 500 before lunch and would stop counting! Giant otter families were common, as they still are, along with a host of birds, from the huge jabiru storks, to fish-catching hawks, toucans, macaws and herons. Capybaras are common, sitting stoically on the sand banks, scanning, like us, the scene for jaguars.

On that first jaguar trip I saw 7 individuals which, for the time, was unheard of. I took the images to National Geographic Magazine where the editors began by not believing they were wild animals (Most previously published jaguar images, posing as wild, were actually done in the Belize zoo!). Indeed the magazine had had a photographer for months trying to photograph them, only succeeding, I believe, with a single individual at night using a camera trap. They snapped up my images even producing a fold out double page spread. I later also learned that I got the cover, in at least one region, when a friend in Spain mentioned it to me by chance.

Jaguars are now commonly spotted (excuse the pun) and visitors are often able to spend quality time with them at a sighting. By now I have personally seen a score or more of different jaguars and come away with some once-in-a-lifetime memories. The big one, the sighting that still eludes me, is to watch a jaguar take down a large caiman in the water. (I did watch an adult female chase a skink all the way down a sand bank into the water once but it wasn’t quite the same!). I am just itching to get back there, to South America’s greatest wildlife spectacle and hoping that this year will be it! Care to join me?

Pete Oxford

Forest Fund

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Reneé and Pete have known and followed Sophia since birth. She shared the Ecuadorian coast with them and, due to inadequate schooling options attended a school set up, in large part, by her mother. It is easy to remember how freely she lived in those days and what an incredibly ‘worldly’ education she received. She was always a sponge, soaking up knowledge and wisdom. Recently she graduated from Harvard University.

Sophia joined us on our 2016 Pantanal trip in Brazil and wowed us all with a talk on her Forest Fund initiative that she started. As per our Focus Expeditions policy, we donated US$100 per passenger which was more than matched by all trip participants. We feel proud to give something back to such a worthy cause.

Forest Fund is an online platform born in a Harvard dorm room that makes conservation direct, transparent, and accessible to everyone. Our conservation targets privately owned areas in the Brazilian Amazon.

So far, most conservation efforts have focused on working with indigenous communities, protected areas, and forest management. We want to work with private owners to conserve and restore private forests. To put this in perspective: there are 325 million hectares of standing forest in Brazil. 125 million ha are on public lands; 50 million ha are on conservation units; 50 million ha on indigenous lands; and 100 million are on private lands. That’s 30% of the Brazilian Amazon for which conservation efforts are falling short.

We are living in a time where what we want to do is finally possible: all rural properties in Brazil are being demarcated, georeferenced, and registered legally; satellite imaging has improved in quality and is updated regularly; and internet technologies and social media allow us to connect people across the globe in an unprecedented way. We will know who owns each hectare, its state of deforestation, and have the ability to share this information widely.

Our solutions are direct. We are here, in field, understanding local economic realities. This allows us to formulate and pioneer efficient and fair conservation strategies.

Our solutions are transparent. Everything we do is documented in close to real time.

Our solutions are accessible to everyone. We work directly with donors and landowners on our crowdfunding platform. Both stakeholders will mold every new solution we pilot. The pilots that work, we scale.

We have all played our part in driving the destruction of our planet’s forests, now it’s time to break formation.
SUPPORT FOREST FUND

Galapagos wows again…

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Having led or guided hundreds of trips to the archipelago over the decades this last one stands above the rest. We knew the Super Group were all as keen as mustard from day one but had no idea we would have 100% participation in all activities every one of which was pushed to the max. The bar has been raised to new heights.

 

 

 

Just being on the beautiful sailing vessel, the SS Mary Ann eating meals on deck under clear skies with frigates flying around and the sounds of sealions calling from the shore already seemed enough. Spending so much time out on deck is the perfect platform to view a host of cool wildlife.

 

Highlights on land were as diverse and wonderful as the islands themselves. Where everything seemed to happen within a meter or two. We watched a short-eared owl feeding on a Galapagos petrel, oyster catchers changing the guard on their nest, tortoises lumbering past to their mud wallows. All 12 of the possible Darwin’s finches. Carpets of marine iguanas (many of them bright red and turquoise), flightless cormorants performing a courtship ritual. Penguins braying like donkeys. Sealions suckling new born pups. All three species of boobies and the magnificent waved albatross.

 

 

This trip however it was the ocean that came into its own and surprised us continuously while snorkeling or viewing from the vessel. Our encounters included a squadron of more than 100 spotted-eagle rays. The dark stain in two feet of water that turned out to be about 40 white-tipped reef sharks, mobula rays leaping synchronously next to the boat. A once in a life time encounter with oceanic sunfish in the deep waters off Isabela Island. Huge pods of dolphins, some taking turns to bow-ride below us. Some rare whales. 30 turtles in a field of view underwater while snorkeling. Penguins and flightless cormorants pecking at us and looking into our masks.

 

It was hard to say goodbye to the group but such a pleasure to have found new life-long friends. Thank you ‘Super Group’ (and the ‘Rat Pack’) and the crew and Captain of the Mary Ann.