- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2001

Imagine living in a constant fog. Residents of the cloud forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica, have no problem existing in a mist. The cool, tropical paradise contains hundreds of species of birds, plants, insects and mammals hidden in the mountainous region.

A Web site called Cloud Forest Alive, created solely to alert and educate man to the importance of the cloud forests, has emerged in the cyber-world, allowing junior botanists, zoologists and ecologists a wonderful opportunity to explore an ecosystem seen by very few humans.


Site address: www.cloudforestalive.org


Cloud Forest Alive was created by the World Bank in collaboration with the Tropical Science Center of San Jose, Costa Rica, with funding from the Dutch government. The site is operated by the Tropical Science Center a private nonprofit Costa Rican organization that has been conducting research and conservation since 1962 in conjunction with Friends of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, an organization charged with supporting the center's activities through fund-raising efforts in the United States.

Creator quotable:

"Cloud Forest Alive aims to educate people around the world about the beauty and complexity of a cloud forest ecosystem. Designed to be entertaining and educational, it showcases the flora and fauna of Monteverde," says Irene Soler, director of Friends of the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

"In doing so, it illustrates the principles underlying the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Initiative namely, that conservation of forests provides local people with tangible benefits such as water supply and ecotourism while also maintaining a priceless array of biodiversity."

Word from the Webwise:

Cloud Forest Alive combines the look of a magazine page with eye-popping photography to give viewers plenty of reasons to want to learn about the colorful inhabitants residing atop the continental divide in the Tilaran Mountains.

First, stop by the "Guide Center" to check out the new lesson of the week offered by some of the scientists and 20 guides who research and tour the cloud forest regularly.

As of this review, Alan Pounds, adjunct professor with the University of Miami, reports spotting a venomous green palm viper while doing routine trail maintenance. The snake easily blends into the environment and mainly preys on frogs and small mammals.

Thirty-six lessons like this appear on the site, ranging from information about army ants to wild avocados, and each displays a large, nicely framed image of the species.

Next, stop by "Facts & Figures" for definitive explanations of everything within or about the cloud forests including maps, reasons for conservation efforts and species statistics. A glossary is planned.

I really loved the virtual cyber-zoo section, "Live eTours" which has several cameras constantly taking and uploading still images onto the site. View the Resplendent Quetzal (an endangered bird), hummingbirds and elusive bats. These Web cam areas also show previous images, video snippets and plenty of background.

Amazingly enough, while taking a look at one Web cam, a violet male Sabrewing happened to stop by for a quick drink at the station's feeder. This sparrow-size hummingbird always perches while eating. The cam comes with a field guide (you can't tell the players without a scorecard) and background article on this beautiful bird.

Once junior has absorbed all of this new knowledge, a quiz can be taken to help keep it in his noggin or wallpaper images can be added to a computer so he will never forget what an orange-kneed tarantula looks like.

Ease of use:

The site's large graphics may frustrate visitors with slower modem connections, but the payoff is well worth the wait. The Web designer effectively utilizes page space so even those of us with 15-inch monitors can completely enjoy the sections, but a site map or search engine would be appreciated for easier navigation.

In the future, I would like to see more detailed information on the creatures. Also, the site includes color maps of the Costa Rican area, but no large photographs are available to show its majestic splendor. A rotating gallery (about 2 inches wide) sitting in the corner of every page doesn't quite cut it.

Don't miss:

The next time someone asks me what a smoky jungle frog sounds like, I will be ready thanks to the "Cloud Forest Sounds" section. Ten audio snippets lasting up to 13 seconds in length are available and feature everything from a howler monkey to Montezuma Oropendola.

Family activity:

Have the entire clan play "Name That Insect." Each week a picture of a bug, such as the gorgeous eye-spot silkmoth, is displayed. Visitors get a week to visit a natural history museum or roam libraries to identify the little fellow before the answer appears on the site.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Any child fascinated with the beauty of rare creatures roaming the earth will be mesmerized by the site. Large and lush photographs truly capture the spirit of this mysterious terrain.

Overall grade: A+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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