Birth of the Tree Monkey Project

This past March, I traveled to Ecuador to take part in a ceremony with the Secoya tribe in the Amazon jungle. I was asked to bring my tree climbing gear along to demonstrate and possibly help teach the Secoya modern tree-climbing techniques, as they are starting a business collecting tea leaves from guayusa trees to make guayusa tea.

Yes, indigenous people living in the Amazon already know how to climb trees; they do it the same way we did as children—by hand without any equipment. But they have to climb to dangerous heights and face biting ants, wasps, bees and snakes, not to mention sap and the risk of damaging sensitive canopy micro-habitats while climbing, in order to access the fruits or leaves. And sometimes, the leaves they want are out on the end of branches. The only way to access the leaves is to cut the branches—and sometimes entire trees—down.

As a professional arborist, I climb, prune and trim trees for a living. As a tree climbing instructor, I teach people how to climb trees using ropes, saddles and other equipment. Recreational and professional tree cimbers have developed protocols that ensure safety while protecting trees and the environment. I saw quickly how helpful those skills and equipment would be here in the rainforest.

During my short visit, I was able to give only basic tree climbing instruction for the Mamallacta family. I taught my new friends and students, Carlos and Benjamin, basic lessons in tree climbing so they can harvest leaves for their business. A few of my tree climbing friends graciously donated a full set of tree climbing gear to leave with them, so they could continue climb.

The Secoya and Kichwa tribes have invited me back to help them expand their skills and teach more students for tea leaf and fruit harvesting, for arborist work, and eventually to start eco tours in their local forests.

As many people know, Ecuador is a poor country. Work is hard to find, and when it comes, it’s often for illegal logging and mining companies. There are few economic opportunities that also help protect the rainforest. It is even harder to find extra money for the training and tree climbing equipment we have here in the United States.

Ecuador is also incredibly biologically diverse, with more than 25,000 species of plants, 1,600 species of birds, and nearly 400 species of mammals—and that's just what we've discovered so far. Just think how many new species, how many cures for disease and other scientific discoveries, and how many amazing beautiful encounters we might discover if we can keep the natural bounty of this (and other places) intact. The Tree Monkey Project hopes to be a part of keeping these places, discoveries, and moments of grace intact.

This voyage inspired me to return to Ecuador with full sets of gear and skilled trainers to make sure that all the participants are properly trained and equipped to start their new business ventures, increase their quality of life and economic independence, while creating economic opportunities that do not harm the forests and wildlife habitat in the Amazon basin.

Not only can tree climbing re-introduce us to the wonder we experienced climbing trees as kids, but it can provide a spiritually, ecologically rewarding career. By bringing these skills to under-served communities, we can empower them to develop effective and safe harvest techniques, while creating sources for sustainable income that improves their communities while building a sustainable, healthy relationship with the forests around them.

Please join me on this journey into the trees. Please get involved. Learn to climb, join us on a climb or eco tour, or donate to help us empower these indigenous people to create more sustainable and reliable sources of income while protecting the forest on which we all depend.

Donate today to help the Tree Monkey Project bring sustainable tree-climbing skills and equipment to the Amazon and places where it's needed around the world.

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