A Trip to the Jungles of South America with Ecologist Tarek Milleron, Ph.D.

What could the world's largest rodent species possibly have to do with fútbol, tropical rain forests, climbing trees, and your skincare? In this first post for RUVI, I will explain this typical tangle of topics encountered by anyone who has spent decades knocking around jungles in South America.

 Photos by Kike Arnal
The capybaras pictured with me are obviously tame and greatly enjoyed being hand-fed ripe mango. The larger of the two—weighing around 130 pounds—joined in pickup fútbol games played on the broad river beach where hundreds of people gathered for an unusual event. Lumbering rodents chasing a ball is not something you see every day, but then again, just about every day, you do see something wild and new in species-rich rain forests. Our event was held to revive traditions of climbing palm trees like the ones whose fruits yield the bataua oil in RUVI's Glow Serum. Over 100 participants from far-flung forest settlements had come together to climb palms, and we soon discovered in those events that palm tree climbing could be a forest sport that elbowed aside the ubiquitous fútbol for a critical moment that could change lives.
We’ve been at this for years now with the goal of providing people with the tools they need to safely and efficiently access palm tree crowns. It’s the foundation that makes it possible for you, through your purchase of RUVI, to help conserve rain forests while also caring about sustainable livelihoods for people who make their homes in those very forests. Last month I was in the Ecuadorian Amazon doing another training (click here to view the locations where we have trained people to use our palm climbing gear). Once again, fútbol was my main competition, as Ecuador played in the World Cup. Attendance was down among future climbers. This time, though, and for the first time ever, the local women stepped up and climbed with everything from gritted teeth to nonchalance. On her second palm ever, one talented 14-year-old girl went right to the top at 45 feet and sawed off a fruit bunch with 50 pounds of fruit on it. She didn’t celebrate but simply shifted her position to the next bunch. GOAL! indeed.

Tarek Milleron, Ph.D., is an ecologist who specializes in tropical rain forests. After initially doing basic research, he turned to practical problems in conservation. Having first climbed palm trees as a fruit harvester himself, he later designed and, through the NGO Caura Futures, which now produces the best gear currently available for reaching palm fruits up in the rainforest canopy.