Take my five-year-olds into a jungle? Are you kidding? If the snakes don’t get ’em, then some deadly disease certainly will. They’ll spend the whole time complaining about the heat and, in the process, scare away every animal within a 10km radius. Rainforests and young children don’t mix. End of story. Or is it?
I’ve always found it odd that jungles are considered such no-go zones for young families. By the time they were two, our children had followed the exploits of numerous fictitious jungle heroes. Not once had Elmer the Patchwork Elephant been stricken by dengue fever or been bitten by a rabid vampire bat. To Joe and Ellie, jungles have always been magical places, teeming with exotic wildlife.
The challenge was where and how. Having just returned from a sweaty solo jaunt in Peru’s Manu National Park (where there were enough vampire bats, tarantulas and deadly coral snakes to give Dracula the heebie-jeebies), I could forget the Amazon. A distant memory of being sucked to within an inch of my life by leeches on the Indian subcontinent meant I could also rule out the land of The Jungle Book.
It was only when I considered subtropical rainforests that I found several family-friendly possibilities – all easy to reach and with relatively comfortable climates and little risk of malaria. We opted for Brazil’s Iguaçu NP – mainly because of the added attraction of the waterfalls.
So, what did Joe and Ellie think of their first real, live jungle? Well, there are two things they remember most: a tree trunk festooned with 73 moth pupae (they insisted on counting each one) and an enormous dead butterfly (which they tried to revive by placing it on a nearby flower).
They didn’t, of course, express any of the awe that adults often feel when entering a rainforest. Their take on the world’s most biodiverse ecosystem was based on things that matter to five-year-olds – an obsession with counting everything and an embryonic awareness that things die.
The single most important point to remember about taking kids into a jungle is that the wildlife is not easy to see. To keep them interested, we gave Joe and Ellie binoculars and bug-viewing boxes with built-in magnifying glasses to help them focus on small wonders, such as ants and spiders. Joe spotted a toucan and Ellie even allowed a beautiful zebra-striped butterfly to alight on her hand.
The best thing about the whole experience is that Joe and Ellie still love jungles. And if, as a result of our trip, a tiny seed of awareness and respect for these special places has been planted in their minds, then that’s got to have made it worthwhile. The only catch is that it isn’t exactly the cheapest type of holiday for them to get hooked on. This year, they’ll get their rainforest fix at the Eden Project in Cornwall.
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