National Geographic: Panama Wild - Rain Forest of Life


It appears out of the dawn of time...

...a creation of the sun,

caldron of life.

This is the tropical forest

nature at her most extravagant.

Sustained by the partnership

of animal and plant,

it has produced more than

half the species on earth.

It is a sea of green... seemingly

spellbound... changeless.

But look again.

Behind the green curtain are

countless battles for survival.

Into this complex world has come

a rare breed of adventurer.

Scientific knowledge is the treasure

they seek,

and to find it, they're not afraid

to go out on a limb.

This is a place unlike any

other in the world.

Panama's Barro Colorado Island,

known as BCI to the scientists

who journey here.

A protected realm in the middle

of the Panama Canal,

BCI is home to the Smithsonian's

Tropical Research Institute.

Scientists come to this island

from all over the globe

to unravel the mysteries of life

in the tropical forest.

It is an adventure beyond

the reach of one person,

or one lifetime.

BCI's a very special place for me

just because the more I come here,

the more familiar I get

with the island.

It's just home, it's comfortable,

it's exciting.

I think Barro Colorado Island

offers for me a lot of things

that I would not find

in any other place.

It's a really highly diverse forest,

the research facilities are

just fantastic,

you come there, you go out and

do the work,

and Barro Colorado Island

is protected

so that your work is not

destroyed at all.

I discover things.

In the tropics you may be a person

who's discovered something

that not a single human being

in the history

of the world has bothered to notice.

Here unfolds one of nature's

great puzzles.

How does the tropical forest

manage to support

such a remarkable community of life

and sustain itself at the same time?

One thing is certain,

at the heart of it all are the trees

A single tree, as it drives

towards the light,

affects the lives of countless


But life is a struggle here

for every creature

and the odds that any one seed

will grow into a Titan are


It takes luck and strategy to

make it to the top.

For people, getting to the top

always requires some special


Biologist Deedra McClearn

has learned to seek

the forest's answers on

its own terms.

Even if it means following her

slingshot all the way up...

...into the crown of one

of the forest's giants.

This is a dipteryx,

one of the great ones.

It rises head and shoulders above

the ocean of leaves around it,

more than a hundred feet tall.

From its majestic flowers will

come fruit,

and from the fruit,

perhaps an offspring

that will survive to take the place

of its parent among

a procession of giants.

Climbing has taught Deedra to

respect trees as individuals.

Since I've started climbing

I like dipteryx,

because it's a beautiful tree,

it's emergent,

it comes above all the rest

of the trees,

they often have great views,

and the wood is really hard

and solid.

I feel safe climbing a dipteryx,

chain saws won't cut down

a dipteryx.

I have a lot of different emotions

associated with actually

climbing a tree.

One of them is familiarity.

If it's a tree that

I've climbed before,

I feel comfortable,

it's a very satisfying sort of

feeling to make a good assent.

If it's a tree that

I haven't climbed before or

it's given me troubles,

or I'm worried about a branch,

then it can be very nerve-racking.

Deedra climbs into the canopy

to release a coati

a tropical cousin of the raccoon.

I know you.

She captures coatis just to let

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