Arkansas PBS > Engage > Blog > “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” – Explore the Amazon With Little Rock Zoo’s Chris Teem

“Blueberry’s Clubhouse” – Explore the Amazon With Little Rock Zoo’s Chris Teem

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  • Chris Teem - Little Rock Zoo Reptile Keeper
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Hey, Blueberry and Friends! My name is Chris Teem, and I am a reptile keeper at the Little Rock Zoo in Little Rock, Arkansas. One of my favorite types of animals that I get to work with is poison dart frogs. These frogs can range anywhere from the size of my thumbnail all the way to almost two inches-long, and they can come in almost any color you can imagine! I love these animals so much that I even went to South America, where these frogs come from, to study them in one of the most diverse, unique environments in the world: the Amazon!

Growing up, I always loved nature – especially reptiles and amphibians. One animal that always caught my attention and that I loved to see in books and zoos was the poison dart frog. I was always so captivated by their bright colors and unique patterns. Each frog has its own unique pattern and color that makes them stand out from the rest. There are more than 100 different types of poison dart frogs that range from Panama all the way to Brazil and Bolivia in a very large, biodiverse area called the Amazon. The Amazon has more plants and animals living inside of it than anywhere else on earth! So, finally, after I left college, I decided it was time for me to pack my bags and move to South America and see the Amazon in person.

Various poison dart frogs from Chris Teem’s Amazon explorations

Exploring the Amazon

The Amazon is like nothing else I have ever seen before in my life! It was full of majestic calls in the deep, vast jungle coming from all of its wildlife. It was so lush and full of vibrant colors everywhere you looked; it was hard to really grasp that it was real. The Amazon honestly reminded me of a land that was hidden from most from its cool, foggy mornings to its bright, sunny, humid days. Those days always seemed to bring the largest rainfall so quickly! It was during the night time, though, that you could feel and tell the jungle around you was alive. My journeys across the Amazon took me from Peru to Brazil, where I decided to go out and explore the vast unknown around me.

Chris Teem prepared to live with Amazon tribes

I truly had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when I lived with the native peoples who inhabited the Amazon. I had the chance to dive in and learn their culture. One of the most unforgettable experiences I had was becoming an honorary warrior for the Kaypoo tribe in Brazil.  They took me deep in the Amazon, and I was able to find all kinds of crazy but beautiful wildlife and fauna. I literally saw every color under the rainbow on all the different animals that call the Amazon home.

Amazon primates, insect and parrot

All of its wildlife, beetles, butterflies, frogs, snakes, fish, birds and even primates was so vibrant! It was amazing to see the hidden wonders the Amazon holds! It was also so cool to find six different species of my favorite animal: the poison dart frog.

The Problem

Some of the Amazon I fell in love with, sadly, has already disappeared off the earth and, with it, some of the inhabitants that called it home may have been lost forever, too. Way too quickly we are watching the Amazon disappear, and at a rate that only continues to increase. Not only are we losing all the trees, plants and animals, we are also losing its indigenous groups that have lived in the Amazon for thousands of years. They are holders of the secrets of the Amazon that modern science has yet to reveal. Before you know it, our children may never even be able to know what the Amazon was.

Sun over Amazon landscape

Why the Amazon Is Worth Saving

So, why is the Amazon worth saving? What would happen if the Amazon continues to decrease in size? The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world: two-thirds of it is in Brazil. The Amazon River is thirteen times larger than the Mississippi River and is home to 16,000 different trees and 2.5 million different insects. It’s home to more species of animals and fauna than anywhere else in the world. Leukemia, heart disease and malaria medicines and cures were found from the plants and animals found living inside the Amazon.

Sadly, even though it’s so large, the Amazon needs our help more than ever. The indigenous peoples are being forced out and their cultures are becoming extinct just like the Amazon’s fauna. Cattle farming is the main cause of deforestation but wildfires, gold mining and oil drilling are also some reasons the Amazon is disappearing at such a fast rate. As the Amazon continues to dwindle in size, global warming and weather patterns here in the United States will be greatly affected, too.

What can we do?

There are some simple ways we can help with this, even here in the United States. There are plenty of great organizations out there that are planting trees, buying land and protecting the animals. I encourage you to do a bit of research and find some you’d like to support! The biggest way we can help, though, is by buying beef farmed in the U.S. and not supporting those that sell imported beef.  Many fast food restaurants and some grocery stores sell imported beef that fuels demand for cattle farms in South America.

Take action!

To help, you can do some research, find where the beef you eat is coming from and take action to help save the Amazon before it’s too late. Working at the Little Rock Zoo, it’s my goal to educate people about animals, plants and how we can create a brighter future for our kids, the planet, and all who inhabit it. So, please, consider making a few personal changes – small things like no longer using straws, being aware of where your meat comes from or finding out if your products have palm oil in them. Little things like this can create a HUGE impact on our amazing planet.

  Thank you, again, Blueberry, for having me come to your clubhouse! I hope we ALL can make a difference for tomorrow!

Chris Teem today with pet Australian Shepherd

- Chris Teem