What in Upstate New York scares this Amazon Jungle Guide more than wading in a hungry pool of pirañas?
Wouldn’t it be ironic that after ten years living in the Amazon rainforest of Peru, it takes a tick from upstate New York to cripple this expedition leader.
In 2005 I moved to the Peruvian Amazon to start an Eco tour company that attends to international tourists looking to delve into the largest rainforest and river in the world. I operate an ecolodge on the shores of the Amazon River. We attend to hundreds of adventurers each year. I fish, hunt, birdwatch, plant collect and lead treks deep into the rainforest in search of the most underdeveloped regions of the earth. I am the kind of person that finds great peace sitting silently observing, listening to the sounds that the forests have to offer. While some may sit in tents hiding from hoards of stingless bees, bullet ants, mosquitos and black flies, I am sitting on the bare rainforest floor shirtless, shoeless, sharpening my machete or tying hooks for fishing.
I have a minimalistic approach to my outings so insect repellent is not on the list of things to take along . While I have only had dengue fever ( caught while in the city of Iquitos in 2009) I have frequently removed ticks from my body. The forest is strange in the way that you can walk days through the woods and not get a single tick. Other occasions all you need to do is pass a small infected path and you get covered with hundreds. As of now, there are not many recorded tick borne virus cases in Peru ( possibly because of lack of study or mistaken for something else). I sleep without mosquito nets at my lodge and have no record of malaria nearby.
I can now say I know more people affected by tick born disease in upstate NY than I know people affected with tropical diseases in Peru. There is even a newly discovered virus called possawan that is worse than lyme disease because there is no cure or treatment yet. Both are viruses that are transported by ticks that infect the host after biting. Everybody I know in NY is freaked out about ticks and there is plenty of reason why. Twenty years ago, it was almost unheard of that a neighbor or a loved one had this disease, now almost no one can say they don’t know anyone who has or had Lyme disease.
It is not strange nowadays to walk a minute in the bush here in NY and come out covered in ticks.
Why all the extra invertebrates?
Well for one, there is much more tick supporting wildlife in the woods. Deer, turkeys, raccoons , possums, and even toads can host ticks. With a severe overpopulation of deer in fragmented forests, comes severe infestations of ticks. Especially in fragments such as the Albany Pine Bush, where their space is limited and only cross roads when attached to a host. These fragments are loaded because there aren’t many animals that specialize in eating ticks, and each female tick may lay hundreds of eggs. Usually game birds or other foraging invertebrate eaters consume ticks but they do not have as good as a chance to thrive as deer do.
Another reason may be lack of controlled burning. Some forest communities are dependent on periodical wildfires to cleanse and fertilized the earth nearby. When a forest that is dependent on periodic wildfires does not get lit, it keeps building up with tinder ( ticks looooove wood piles) creating more space for the ticks and even more fuel for huge forest fire that has the btu power to burn and destroy more than that was intended. ( example PINE BUSH IS A FIRE DEPENDENT COMMUNITY)
So let’s take these two situations, overpopulation of deer and lack of controlled burning. IF we have fragmented forests loaded with tons of ticks, and an overpopulation of free roaming deer,
the hungry deer will transport the parched ticks from fragment to fragment looking for new territory to feed on.
If you think what I am writing sounds like gibberish, take a look at a patch of forest and find me a 5-10 year old sapling of an ash tree. Did you find one? If you did it more likely looks like a bush instead of a tree from over browsing of deer.
The Pine Bush are protected areas and just so happens that New York and New Jersey have a lot of it, and all of it is fragmented. So by protected that means it’s more likely that a forest fire would be put out before it can reach a residential or commercial area. The Pine Bush areas cannot be burned like they used to because of development. I know that controlled burns do take place but I don’t think they burn the acreage necessary to simulate the natural cycle of a fire dependent community.
What can the DEC do to combat this? BURN BURN BURN!!!!!!! And give out more deer hunting permits or expand the deer season!
Expanding the deer hunting season will not only reduce the amount of long range transporters of the ticks but it will also encourage growth of tree species that deer browse so heavily on. Large mammals are know to have large affects on forest dynamics; elephants in Africa , tapir and peccary in South America, bison and deer in North America. They all eat something and those food plants either thrive more or have stunted growth depending on the density of the population of the grazing mammal that dominates the ecosystem.
It is great that our management from thirty years ago is working so well, but as nature reaches a balance, the scales may not be tipped in favor of everyone. It is time that the DEC and the USFWS take closer looks of the management and tweak where needed instead of relying on older legislation that existed when wildlife demographics were different.
Anthony Giardenelli is originally from Duanesburg, NY. Anthony owns and operates Otorongo Expeditions Amazon River Jungle lodge along with his Peruvian Wife, Ivonne Braga de Giardenelli. We specialize in custom itineraries for travelers and adventures from all over the world. Anthony has a wildlife management degree from SUNY Cobleskill and frequently uses his private studies to promote the sustainable development of Amazonian communities in the department of Loreto, Iquitos, Peru.
If you are interested in learning more about a trip to the Amazon Rainforest and river, don’t hesitate to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or see their website www.otoex.com