The Osa has undergone changes, from pristine forests and glades, to cleared farmland, to private property investments and tourism ventures, to secondary growth and back to emerging primary growth. The sequential progression from one habitat to another is rapid, due to the enormity of the rainfall and land fertility. Plants grow fast and take over fast. Equally the human change of direction from one enterprise to another changes the landscape quickly. Now the ‘in thing’ is ‘eco-tourism’, the same questionable goal on which most of Africa places the responsibility of conserving its natural environment, national health and water catchment areas. The term is poorly defined here as is it elsewhere and subjected to personal interpretation, as is evidenced by the individual property owners.
About 10km from the park the various eco-ventures/private homes number about one per 800m. Inversely the density of these ventures increased the closer one got to the national park (a typical if illogical feature seen near Kenyan conservation areas). Some owners lived on the premises and had tourist cabanas (bandas) on their property, others went the whole way with lodges equal to the finest up-market places one would find in the East African parks. One property had as its contribution to environmental improvement a goal to have as many exotic trees as possible. While some enjoyed having Jaguars and Pumas in their property others were unsure. Another property was busy grading roads up hill sides, cutting down trees and putting in a large education facility to promote conservation. Others wanted true representations of indigenous nature on the property, recognising the need to pull out exotic tree invasions and rid the area of domestic livestock, dogs and cats. Tempers warmed, neighbours with different ideas of what was right despaired. The sum of all this was a hodge podge of ideals. Nothing new, but without consensus and direction, it will fall short of its full potential.
Monkeys are not that picky about where they live so long as they have a regular source of food, high tree shelter and little persecution. Secondary forest/old farms/eco-ventures seemed to harbour more monkeys than true pristine growth. The result may be biased due to the sporadic fruiting within the pristine primary forests that encourages movements of all frugivorous species over long distances. Here, in secondary growth, the old fruit and oil plantations offered secure and year round food, albeit unnatural. Also, predation pressure was probably much less, although Puma, Jaguar and Ocelot walk unchallenged in the gardens. Again, the absence of the Harpy Eagles who, unlike the big cats, are unable to live in proximity to humans, may have allowed these monkeys to live uninhibited.
Tucked back into the forest was Terrapin Lodge, a self admittedly humble place with a focus for relaxation, birding and kayaking in a generous crocodile-filled lagoon. Laila used this as a base, and we both helped to run the place in the absence of the managers. Juan Carlos, or Jaunky as he is fondly called, is the cook and indispensible. He shared an unorthodox relationship with Polly, the Scarlet Macaw, who would lie on her back to have her belly tickled. She remained semi-wild, however, foraging and spending nights in the forest.