Tiribí-1922: the water ghost.

(May 8, 2009)

My last day in Costa Rica, I visited the national collection of the National Museum of Costa Rica. I was gathering reference material for some illustrations. A “national collection” is a catalogue of preserved specimens of all the animals and plants species known to a country. It’s a scientific treasure chamber.
I always got mixed feelings at these collections rooms: I feel honored and fascinated of accessing such an important resource, but is also afflictive and eerie to visit the mummies of the people you love. I consider animals like “people”.

Anyway, one of the animal specimens I was working with was a Yapok (Chironectes minimus). The yapok is the only aquatic marsupial in the world and one of the rarest creatures to see in the wild, since it lives in rivers and streams of big forested areas. I got a sad reminder of this when I checked the tag on this specimen: “Tiribí-1922”.

The Tiribí is the nearest river to where I grew up in the capital city of Costa Rica. Engulfed by the urban and industrial areas, the Tiribí River died many Rainy Seasons before I was born. Today, the name Tiribí  always evokes the unpleasant memories of a giant sewage. But the embalmed Yapok reminded me how different were things 90 years ago.  The river is gone; so it’s the yapok.  Today both are not more than forest and water ghosts.

We still use water as a limitless resource, but is not like that: of all the water in our planet, 97% is salt water and from the remaining 3% freshwater, only 0.0001% is readily accessible (the rest is stored in glaciers and icecaps). A person in rural Kenya uses an average of 3.5 quarters of water daily. In the same day, a person in an industrialized country uses an average of 700 quarters.

It takes 11000 liters of water to produce a quarter-pounder hamburger. Think about that…at that rhythm, what species will be the ghost in 90 years?