Environmentalist Ulises Corrales Barrantes hiked into the forest on Saturday, June 13th, in search of seeds from a newly discovered tree in Reserva Dendrobates in Penas Blancas de San Ramon. His body was discovered on Tuesday morning by friends who had mounted a search party after he had not returned home. He was found face down in a ravine, his satchel and notebook at his side.
The 39-year old educator and conservationist, better known as “MOYO”, was renowned for his work discovering new flora and fauna, and for sharing his discoveries with students and fellow scientists with a style called “boundless enthusiasm”. The Reserve had been his playground since childhood, and he was said to know it like the back of his hand. He was apparently taken by surprise by a venomous snake, who attacked him, resulting in his death. A wooden club was found next to his body, probably used to kill the snake, and the snake was clutched in his hand. His friends assume he was trying to take the snake with him to help rescuers identify the species. The snake was the deadly fer-de-lance, or what Ticos call a terciopelo, a snake responsible for some 700 bites a year in Costa Rica.
Family of Corrales say he would tell them if he were going to be in the forest for a long time, or spending the night hanging in a sling from a tree, but MOYO said nothing before he set off on Saturday. His father Francisco Corrales said, “He always informed us when he was going to be away for a long time (in the jungle), but this time said nothing, and we never expected this outcome. He was an expert in all aspects of jungle survival.”
This was not the first time Corrales had been bitten by a poisonous snake; he had been bitten five times previously – once by an oropel (Eyelash Viper), and four times by terciopelos (Bothrops asper). His family said he had been close to death on several of those occasions. A fer-de-lance (French for spearhead, due to shape of its head), is responsible for 46% of all snakebites in Costa Rica, and 30% of all snakebite hospitalizations. Experts say that a terciopelo victim has only six hours to seek medical help, before the venom becomes fatal. Survival often means permanent damage to the bite area, and amputation of the affected limb is not uncommon.
Costa Rica is a leader in the field of snake antivenom, with the internationally famous Clodomiro Picado Research Institute (UCR), who are responsible for the production of snake antiophidic sera, using a formula developed in Costa Rica, and now exported throughout Latin America and Africa. This serum has saved countless lives, both human and animal, and has put the research institute at the forefront of developing new treatments and vaccines. They are currently actively seeking a vaccine or a treatment for the coronavirus which leads to COVID-19. As a result of this research, they have scaled down production of snake antivenom, causing shortages, especially in the south of Costa Rica.
Corrales was a vibrant, handsome young man, with sandy hair and bright blue eyes, a quick wit and an insatiable curiosity for Costa Rican wildlife. He had tattoos of native animals on both arms, but held a deep love for the environment in his heart. He died in the mountains he most loved. His final wishes were to be cremated with his ashes strewn in the park where he perished. Rest in peace, MOYO
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