Archives for posts with tag: conservation

I’ve been away from my desk for a whole month, and now I have lots of news to share! My family and I have been on a great adventure, exploring the wild and steamy-hot Amazon jungle in Brazil. We are very lucky to have some good friends who live there, so we were well looked after.

We travelled by air to the city of Belem, which is at the mouth of the Amazon River. As the airplane was landing I was amazed to see a huge city full of highrise buildings right in the middle of the jungle! The city spreads for miles and reaches right to the edge of the river.

We arrived in a shiny, modern airport and were met by our friend Diego who is a musician. He plays the cello and is full of fun. For the next four days, Diego took us on some very unexpected adventures!

The first thing we did was load up a little wooden boat with lots of boxes, bottles of water and some delicious cakes. We set off towards an island called Combu which is a 20-minute boat ride from the city. You can see the city behind us, and above our heads were lots of lifejackets stuffed into the roof. That made me feel a little bit safer as it was a bumpy ride!

When we got to the other side we climbed up a wooden dock to a special jungle school and community centre built on tall stilts. All the buildings in the jungle are built this way, with wooden walkways and thatched roofs.

Once we had unloaded all our boxes a small group of local people began to arrive. Diego explained that he and his friends run a charity called AmaZonArt which brings health care and education to the Amazon Indians. On this visit we were going to teach all the local children how to brush their teeth. Diego unpacked one of the boxes which was full of toothbrushes and little tubes of toothpaste. We also had a giant tiger puppet with realistic teeth so we could show them the correct method for brushing.

First everyone had a nice cool fruit drink and a lovely piece of cake. Then the children and their mums all sat on a long bench and learned all about tooth brushing.

This school and community centre was built with the help of AmaZonArt, and they visit regularly to help the local people and play music for them. If you look closely you can see a poster behind the children which shows a tortoise which has got a strangely deformed shell. The title of the poster is Pollution in the Rivers and it explains that the turtle got a plastic ring caught around its shell when it was young, and it had to grow around the ring into that horrible shape.

Diego’s charity is trying to educate people not to throw rubbish or motor oil into the river because of the harm they do to the environment. AmaZonArt also provides medicines, water filters and mosquito nets to help prevent malaria and other serious diseases.

We took a little walk around the centre, and Diego told us a funny story of how once, when the place was being built, he was leaning casually against a tree and suddenly noticed a giant tarantula spider crawling right next to his hand! EEEK!!

After this very interesting visit with the local children, we got into a little canoe and paddled along a smaller river. We could see lots of wooden huts where all the children had come from. Everyone travels by boat because there are no roads.

Diego asked my children if they wanted to swim in the river, and of course they said yes! We stopped at someone’s hut to get changed, and then in they went. The water was warm, brown and soupy, and no one could see the bottom. I was hoping they wouldn’t come across any piranhas or alligators!

What they enjoyed most of all was coating themselves in Amazonian mud. Doesn’t that look like fun?

You may not be surprised to learn that I stayed on the dock and took pictures. I wasn’t brave enough to get in the river with them, but we all had a fantastic day deep in the Amazon jungle!

When I was doing research for my Puffin Pack, I found out all sorts of surprising things about puffins. For example, they are sometimes known as “Clowns of the Sea,” something I hadn’t realised when I wrote Lewis Clowns Around. As it turns out, Lewis the puffin had the right idea when he decided to join the circus!

I was also amazed to learn that there is an island off the southwest coast of England (12 miles from the coast of Devon in the Bristol Channel, to be exact) where puffins have an important history. The island is called Lundy, and this name probably comes from the old Norse word “lundi” which means puffin. Although it is small with high cliffs and rough weather, there have been people living on the island for hundreds of years. These have included Vikings, medieval monks, knights, pirates and convicts!

In the 1920s a man named Martin Coles Harman bought the island and declared himself king of Lundy. He decided to make his own coins and stamps, and instead of pennies he called them puffins. Here is a picture of a two-puffin stamp:

Martin Coles Harman decided he should have his face on the one puffin coin as well, since he was the king! He looks pretty serious, doesn’t he?

Making his own coins got Martin Coles Harman into some trouble, and he was fined £5 by the House of Lords in 1931. He had to pay up and stop making the coins, but the stamps are still printed today!

Lundy must have once had lots of puffins living on its cliffs, but now there are hardly any. This may be because people have been fishing all the sand eels, leaving very little for the puffins to eat. It may also be because baby puffins and eggs were easy prey for brown rats that used to be common on the island.

Today Lundy Island is looked after by the Landmark Trust, and fewer than 30 people actually live there. It is possible to visit the island and stay in holiday cottages there, and the Landmark Trust is working to conserve the wildlife and natural habitat of Lundy.

But Lundy isn’t the only island that has puffins on its stamps. This one comes from the Faroe Islands, which lie in the North Atlantic Ocean, half-way between Norway and Iceland and directly north of Scotland. This is definitely puffin territory, and in fact the Faroese (people of the Faroe Islands) like to eat them!

I think puffins are far too cute to eat, and since they’re only the size of a pigeon they wouldn’t make much of a meal. Luckily for them, puffins live in burrows dug into very steep cliffs, and they spend lots of time out on the open ocean, so it’s quite hard to catch them. Their biggest enemy is the Great Black-Backed Gull, which can swoop down and catch a puffin in mid-air!

Puffins mate for life, and build a nice soft nest in their cliff-top burrow using grass, seaweed and feathers. When mum lays an egg, both parents help look after it until it hatches, and then they bring the chick little fish to eat. It takes about 45 days for the chick to grow strong enough to fly off and find fish for itself.

Photo by David Tipling Getty

Puffins eat herring, sprat and sand eels, and you can sometimes see them with a huge mouthful of fish all jammed in together. They hold them in with special ridges inside their beaks. I think the record is sixty little fish in one puffin’s mouth!

In Iceland puffins are becoming more scarce because of a shortage of sand eels (also called sand lances). The National Geographic have made a short video about the problem on YouTube which you can watch here.

A while back I went to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, where I read my story Lewis Clowns Around. The centre has lots of information about seabirds living on Scotland’s coasts, and puffins are really popular! (I especially like the shop where you can find puffin toys, calendars, postcards, keyrings… even my book!)

One of my favourite toys (well, my children’s toys) is a baby orangutan that Anna calls Gerome. Here he is sitting on the sofa with a lovely jungle pillow. Isn’t he cute?

I think Gerome likes this pillow because it reminds him of home. Orangutans live in the rainforests of two islands in South East Asia – Borneo and Sumatra. The name orangutan comes from the Malay language, and it means “man of the forest” (orang=man and hutan=forest). The scientific name for them is Pongo pygmaeus. Perhaps we should have called Gerome Pongo instead!

Orangutans have long, strong arms that are good for swinging from branch to branch, and they live and sleep up high in the trees to stay safe from other animals that might eat them, like leopards, tigers and big python snakes.

They get quite big, around five feet tall, and weigh between 65 pounds (a small adult female) and 200 pounds (a big adult male). In the wild they live to be about 35 years old, and in a zoo they can get as old as 50 or more.

Orangutans like to eat fruit (berries and wild figs) as well as leaves, insects and birds’ eggs. They find all these things in the trees and hardly ever have to come down to the forest floor.

The fur of an orangutan is long, shaggy and reddish-brown – quite like a Highland cow! I think their fur is much thinner than the cow’s, though, because unlike the Highlands it’s very hot where they live. Female orangutans have a baby only once every 8 years or so, and the baby stays hanging onto its mum for the first year of its life. Over the next few years the young ones stay close to mum, until they are ready to strike out on their own at the age of 11 or 12.

Little orangutans like to play together, but when they grow up they are quite solitary animals. When a group of them are feeding in the same area, the young ones play but the adults ignore each other. Sometimes the males will fight over territory, but mostly they just live alone in the forest.

Did you know that orangutans are an endangered species? That means there are fewer and fewer of them in the wild, and one day they could disappear altogether! Lots of people care about orangutans and want to save them. There are organisations all over the world that look after them and raise money to help them.

One group I found is called the Sumatran Orangutan Society, and their website has lots of information about orangutans.

My friend (and very talented illustrator) Hannah Shaw has told me she sponsored an orangutan from the Orangutan Appeal. Their website has lots of brilliant pictures of orangutans and more information about how you can help.