THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Get Wild on the Web
Copyright © 1999 Justin Smith. All rights reserved.
Dream Come True
Sweat stings my eyes and runs down my face like salty waterfalls soaking my khaki shirt. Blurred vision is just a fact of life here in the Amazon. Another fact of life: bugs. Bigger than New York City sewer rats, these things could probably carry me off if I'm not careful. Great! I just used up the last of my bug repellent. That means I'll have to keep moving to make sure I don't become the next course on the menu. Even though I'm near sea level I seem to have found some pretty decent hills hidden under the impenetrable rain forest canopy. It all looked so smooth and seamless from the window of the Piper Cub I flew in on two days ago...
The tops of the gargantuan Parana trees were so thick and full, I couldn't see the forest floor below. The moist Northeast trades tumbling off the Atlantic and Caribbean pushed waves of Parana leaves in undulating currents across the tree tops. It looked as if we were sailing on an endless, rolling ocean of green. This trip is a birthday present from my wife. I'm in the Amazon to do some extreme birding -- my lifelong dream come true. I'm getting a full week of nothing but taking pictures, talking to the local Tupian people, and getting back to nature.
We set down on a makeshift grass strip just outside Barcelos in Northeastern Brazil, and I rented a plane in Manaus from a man named Luis, whom I met at a local bar. He claimed to be the best brush pilot in Brazil, and kept me in the bar, telling me all about his escapades and near scrapes until 2:00 a.m. when the barkeep finally threw us out. We stumbled down the dirt roads back to his shack. Luis passed out on the floor when we got inside, but somehow I made it to the old army cot in the corner before losing consciousness. I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache and a serious need for some aspirin. Luis was gone and I opened up the door to see if he was outside. I walked around the backside of the shack and had almost turned around, when I saw the plane I was supposed to fly in. Several bullet holes had torn through the fuselage in an attempt to bring the tiny plane down. Not only that, but the humid rain forest climate was eating the plane alive. Like a child with a bad case of chicken pox, the plane was speckled with rust spots from nose to tail. I hesitated as I stepped toward the plane, but Luis reassured me of his plane and especially of his flying skills. Against my better judgment I hopped into the torn-up seat and prepared to make the most of the flight while Luis loaded my gear.
As Luis started the engine, it knocked crankily and I heard an annoying buzz coming from the control panel. Luis smacked at the controls and showered them with curse words until the buzzing stopped, then he gave me a grin that was missing more than a few teeth. This did not reassure me; in fact, the little incident only increased the lump in the back of my throat which had developed shortly after seeing the plane. Sure Luis sounded like the best pilot in the world after a couple of beers (okay, a lot of beers). However, now I was kicking myself for going into that bar. That song, "Tree Top Flyer," kept playing repeatedly in my head as we taxied down the runway. I didn't ask Luis what he did with his plane on his days off and frankly I didn't want to know.
As we lifted off, a sweet aroma wafted in the open side windows of the Cub, unlike any I had ever experienced before. It was a fragrant cocktail of a thousand tropical wildflowers and innumerable other scents. As I breathed in the ambrosial perfume, the lump in my throat began to recede and I was finally able to relax and enjoy the trip. It took a couple of hours to reach Barcelos and, to tell you the truth, I was a little sad that it didn't last longer. Luis had proved his worth as a pilot and turned out to be a half-decent tour guide as well.
I shake off the daydream and have to smile as I feel my pocket where the pictures of Luis, and his practically toothless grin, are safe in the canister waiting to be developed. I need to keep my mind on the task at hand. Earlier I spoke with some local Tupian Indians and they told me of a few places where I might find a Hyacinth macaw. The Hyacinth macaw is an endangered bird found only in the Amazon River Basin and the only live one I've seen was in the San Diego Zoo. Now don't get me wrong. The zoo is a great place to see wildlife, but there's nothing like seeing an animal in its natural environment.
I'm really close now and I think I just heard the scratchy call of the male Hyacinth. Without warning, the bushes behind me start rustling. I slowly turn to see a large male peccary mosey out of the lush vegetation. When it realizes I'm there it flies into a rage, snapping its teeth and tearing at the ground with its large tusks. Then it lunges at me and AAHHHHH...
I bolt up from my computer and start to run. My heart starts beating again when I realize that it was only a dream. I was checking out some wildlife photos on the Net and must have fallen asleep on my desk. First things first, though. I need to get a towel and clean up the puddle of drool that's threatening to short out my keyboard.
Back to Reality
The Net abounds with pictures of wildlife. Servers all over the world are practically bursting with unbelievable shots of wildlife just waiting to be looked at and downloaded. It doesn't matter what you want to see; from African lions to Alaskan reindeer and more, you can find it on the Web. The Web has sites specifically devoted to mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. A particularly good site with many different kinds of animals on it is, naturally,National Geographic. We all know that National Geographic's print version is world renowned for its pictorial features, and their Web site doesn't disappoint, either. Perhaps you're interested in protecting rare or endangered animals. If so, you can find hundreds of sites devoted to endangered species and their protection efforts. Visit theDirectory of U.S. Listed Endangered Species or the Biosis Endangered and Threatened Species Page to see pictures of many endangered animals, and much more information. If you want to get a little more specific and want to find some pics of, say, wolves, then the Swedish University Network (SUNET) has an ftp page with hundreds of wolf pictures just for you. I could go on like this, but I think what we need is a little organization from here on out. Be prepared! You'll probably hit a few kitty cat and puppy dog pages while searching for wildlife pics, so don't get discouraged.
Method to the Madness
I divide Web sites with wildlife pics on them into four categories: private/commercial, open, non-government organizations (NGOs), and government Web sites. Of the four categories above, the private sites are most abundant. These sites include the work of professional photographers, which is for sale, and photos from magazines and other zines published on the Net. The largest of the commercial sites is Corbis, which claims to be "the place to find pictures on the Net." They have an unbelievable 1.4 million pictures (not all wildlife) online for you to look through and purchase. Also, Corbis has a free download section which offers a limited selection. Most of the pictures on these sites are copyrighted, and using them without the consent or written permission of the photographer or organization is illegal. These sites can be highly informative and, almost without exception, have incredible photos on them. If you're just out to do a little site-seeing, looking for some eye candy, these are the places to go. They always have pics on them because photos are, of course, a photographer's calling card. Occasionally, as I have mentioned before, you'll find some copyright-free pics or samples that you can use. Copyright is the only real difference between private and open photo sites.
Open sites include personal Web sites and other sites that offer copyright-free pics. You can find some great amateur shots of wildlife on these pages from hunters, anglers, exotic pet owners, and crazy Marty Stauffer wannabes. One of my favorites is Joey's Raccoon Domain. This site is owned and operated by Joey St. Marie and, believe it or not, he's part of the Ringtail Ring! This Webring is dedicated to members of the procyonidae family, which consists of 18 species including raccoons and their allies. As far as wildlife pics go, these sites have the fewest, but constitute the bulk of the insanely funny wildlife pics out there. If you're looking for funny pics, these are the pages to look for.
Non-government organizations have incredible amounts of pictures on their sites. These sites include clubs and organizations interested in wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Cetacean Research Unit, and the World Wildlife Fund make up just a fraction of the NGOs out there. Most of these sites have pictures of wildlife because that's how they inspire their supporters. They might display a picture of a 20-inch rainbow trout jumping out of the water, trying to free itself from a Royal Coachman, the sight of which is enough to provoke a rabid fly-fisherman to open his wallet and try feeding dollar bills into the disk drive. Likewise, a picture of a baby sea otter (with a cute factor of about 10) playing with its mother can make even the most hardhearted, manly man want to take up arms against the fur trade. Pictures are commodities to NGOs and they use them with deliberate precision to obtain their goals. Only the greatest professional photographers have work that surpasses the quality of many NGO pictures; in fact, many NGOs hire professionals to do their photography. If you're looking for quality pictures of wildlife that excite the soul, stop by some NGO Web sites.
The last category I've listed is the government Web site. These are official government sites from agencies that deal directly or indirectly with wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is probably the biggest of the government agencies that deal with wildlife and they have some great pictures on their gigantic site. Although Teaming With Wildlife is not a government page, it has links to the Fish and Game departments for all 50 states. Among other government agencies that work with wildlife are The Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geologic Survey. The best thing about these Web sites is the fact that you get to see rare and endangered animals. The government has armies of biologists, pilots, field crews and, most importantly, money to take photographs of these amazing animals in their natural habitats. With almost limitless resources at its fingertips the government uses them to create some outstanding Web sites full of images.
Someone once said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If this is true you can probably use up about a million at the sites I have listed for you. And when you live in a place like Montana and get sick of the cold and blowing snow, log on to the Net and visit a Web site about the Amazon. Don't worry about getting eaten alive by ferocious peccaries or getting shot down while delivering drugs in Luis's plane. You can visit some of the most remote places in the world with just a few clicks. All the same, as I've said before, there's nothing like actually being in a place such as the Amazon, so when you get some extra money, plan to take a trip at Travelocity. They can take you just about anywhere, to do just about anything. If you do go, take some pictures and bring them back for the world to enjoy.
Oh, one more thing: be careful if you're not sure of a picture's copyright status. It's always better to be safe than sorry. Contact the Webmaster and see if you can use the pics, then you'll know for sure. If you're using them for your own enjoyment, don't worry about it. Personal enjoyment is the reason people put wildlife pics on the Net. Pictures are posted in cyberspace to cultivate learning, inspire support, and create a sense of wonder in the folks who view them, so have fun and enjoy your adventures on the Wild, Wild Web!
Justin Smith is a freelance writer out of Bozeman, MT, and holds a Bachelor's degree in Fish and Wildlife Management. Always looking for a new challenge, he recently started his own Internet business, BIZOPPS R US and now works at home to be with his wife and two daughters.