Most people think of the tropics as a huge and forbidding tropical rain forest through which every step taken must be hacked out, and where every inch of the way is crawling with danger. Somewhat true, yet not. A knowledge of survival skills, the ability to improvise, thinking fast on your feet, and the proper use of the techniques and tactics of survival will increase the prospects of survival. Do not be afraid of the jungle. Fear leads to panic. Panic leads to exhaustion and thus decreases the chance of survival. Everything in the jungle thrives, including disease, germs and parasites that all breed at an incredibly alarming rate. Yet, nature provides everything one may need to survive in these areas...food, water and an abundance of materials to build shelters.
Intense humidity, high temperatures, and heavy rainfall tend to be what characterizes equatorial and subtropical regions, with the exception of the ones located in regions of high altitudes. At low altitudes, temperature variation is seldom less than 10 degrees C and is often more than 35 degrees C. At altitudes over 1,500 meters, ice will very often form at night. The rain has a cooling effect, but when it stops, the temperature climbs dramatically and the humidity feels as thick as a wall.
Rainfall is generally very heavy, often with thunder and lightning. The rainfall is usually sudden and fiecesome, and beats on the tree canopy, turning trickles into raging torrents and causing rivers to drastically rise. Just as sudden, the rain will stop. Violent thunder storms may occur, but usually toward the end of the summer months. Prevailing winds vary between winter and summer. The dry season has rain once a day and the monsoon has continuous rain. Tropical day and night are of equal length. Darkness falls quickly and daybreak is just as sudden.
There is no one type of jungle. The jungle is often thought of as the Hollywood movie type we see, and when discussed it brings to mind the dense "Jungles" of Africa we all see in the movies. Yet, there are many types of jungles and these tropical areas may be any of the following:
The climate varies only slightly in tropical rain forests. These forests are found across the equator in the Amazon and Congo basins, parts of Indonesia, and several Pacific islands. Up to 15-20 feet of rain fall is distributed evenly throughout the year. Temperatures can range drastically from about 32 degrees C during the day to around 20 degrees C at night.
There are five layers of vegetation in this type of jungle. In areas that are untouched by man, the jungle trees can rise from buttress roots to heights of 120 feet. Underneath and below them, the smaller trees produce a canopy so thick that only sparse amounts of sun light ever reaches the jungle floor. Seedlings struggle beneath them to reach light, and inter twined masses of vines and lianas rise up to the sun. Ferns, mosses, and other herbaceous plant life pushes its way through the thick carpet of leaves, and a various variety of fungi grow on leaves and on the fallen tree trunks.
Due to the lack of light on the jungle floor, there is very little undergrowth to slow or impede movement, yet overall dense tree and brush growth can limit the visibility to about 50 yards or less in some instances. One can easily lose their sense of direction in this type of dense jungle, and it would be extremely hard for aircraft to see someone stranded or lost in an area such as these.
Secondary jungle is very similar to rain forest. Prolific growth, where sunlight penetrates to the jungle floor, typifies this type of forest. Such growth happens mainly along river banks, and on jungle fringes. When abandoned, tangled masses of vegetation quickly reclaim these cultivated areas. You can often find cultivated food plants among this vegetation. These are dense, thick and have all the raw materials necessary for survival. They are also full of dangers too.
The characteristics of the American and African semievergreen seasonal forests care very much like those of the Asian monsoon forests. The characteristics are that the trees generally are categorized into two stories of tree strata. The ones in the upper story average 30 to 60+ feet; while those in the lower story generally average between 20 and 30 feet. The average tree diameter in this region is .5 yards. Thhese regions suffer seasonal droughts from time to time, which cause their leaves to fall. The same type of edible plants grow in these areas as in the tropical rain forests, with the exception of the sago, nipa, and coconut palms,
These forests are located in portions of Columbia and Venezuela and the Amazon basin in South America; in portions of southeast coastal Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique in Africa; in Northeastern India, much of Burma, Thailand, Indochina, Java, and parts of other Indonesian islands in Asia.
The defining characteristics of tropical scrub and thorn forests are several. There is definitively a dry season, in which the trees are leafless during this season. The ground or forest floor will usually be bare or close to it, except for maybe a few small plants. Grasses are extremely uncommon in these types of regions. Thorny plants and brush and predominate in this region. And, due to the dryness of its dry season, fires are frequent and a dangerous threat. Inside the tropical scrub and thorn forest areas, it will be difficult to forage and obtain food and plants during the dry season. Yet, during the rainy season, plants are considerably more abundant and one can easily find sustenance.
You find tropical scrub and thorn forests on the west coast of Mexico, Yucatan peninsula, Venezuela, Brazil; on the northwest coast and central parts of Africa; and in Asia, in Turkestan and India.
Tropical Savannas are within the tropical zones of South America and Africa. They tend to look similar to plains or meadows. They are usually broad, grassy and have trees spaced at wide intervals. They will frequently contain red soil. The temperatures here are extremely hot, as they are exposed more than some of the other types. The scattered trees are usually stunted and gnarled, similar to apple trees. One may find the occasional Palm tree here also. These area are known for abundance of wildlife and a very diverse animal population. The King of the Jungle comes to mind here...the Lion. These animals are a definite danger, and these areas can be one of the most dangerous areas to traverse due to the frequency that one may encounter large predatory animals.
You will find savannas in parts of Venezuela, Brazil, and the Guianas in South America. In the continent of Africa, you find them in the southern Sahara (north-central Cameroon and Gabon and southern Sudan), Benin, Togo, most of Nigeria, northeastern Zaire, northern Uganda, western Kenya, part of Malawi, part of Tanzania, southern Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and western Madagascar.
Saltwater swamps are common in coastal areas that are subject to tidal flooding. Mangrove trees tend to thrive in these types of swamps and are very recognizable. These trees can reach impressive heights of over 30 feet, and their tangled, winding roots are a difficult obstacle to traverse through or across. Visibility in this type of swamp can be poor, and movement is extremely difficult. There are sometimes streams that you can form a raft and traverse the channels, but, most often one will have to travel by foot through these dense, difficult regions.
Predominately saltwater swamps are in West Africa, Madagascar, Malaysia, the Pacific islands, Central and South America, and at the mouth of the Ganges River in India. These swamps at the mouths of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers and rivers of Guyana consist of mud and trees that offer little shade. One of the biggest risks in these areas is the fact that tides in saltwater swamps can vary as much as 30 feet. This introduces the real and ever present risk of drowning if caught in an unfamiliar area at the wrong time of day. It may seem that everything in a saltwater swamp may appears hostile and dangerous . Avoid the dangerous animals in this swamp such as snakes, leeches, insects, crocodiles, caimans and more. Avoid this swamp altogether if you can. If there are water channels passing through, one may be able to build a raft as means of escape.
Freshwater swamps can be found in low-lying inland areas. They characteristically include and are made up of masses of thorny undergrowth, reeds, grasses, and occasional short palms that reduce visibility and make travel difficult. There are often small islands throughout these swampy areas which will provide a much needed break from wading through the murky marsh. Wildlife is also abundant in these swamps. Anywhere with an abundance of wildlife, also has an abundance of predators. Keep this in mind.
With practice, movement through thick undergrowth and jungle can be done efficiently. Always wear long sleeves to avoid cuts and scratches. Move in one direction, but not necessarily in a straight line. Avoid obstacles. In enemy territory, always take advantage of natural cover and concealment. Move quietly, deliberately and as smoothly as possible when surviving the jungle. Do not tear through or move too fast through it because this type of carelessness can lead to minor and major cuts and scratches. Turn your shoulders sideways, shift your hips, bend your body, use your toes, keep your center of gravity low, and shorten or lengthen your stride as necessary to slide between the undergrowth.
To move efficiently, do not concentrate on the pattern of bushes and trees to your immediate front. You must focus on the jungle further out and find natural breaks in the foliage. This is called "Jungle Vision". Look through the jungle..not at it. Stop regularly and observe and assess the jungle floor. This will often reveal game trails that you can follow.
Stay alert and move slowly and steadily through dense forest or jungle. Stop periodically to listen and take your bearings. It is better to take your time and keep your wits and bearings than to push through at breakneck speed. That can lead to getting even more lost or turned around and definitely makes a lot more noise...that can and will attract predators and enemy. Use a machete to cut through dense vegetation, but do not cut unnecessarily or you will quickly wear yourself out and make unwanted noise. If using a machete, stroke upward when cutting vines to reduce noise because sound carries long distances in the jungle. Use a stick to push apart the vegetation and bush. Using a stick or similar will also help dislodge ants, spiders, or snakes along with other small animals that may be of danger to you. Do not grab the brush or vines when climbing hills and slopes. Many of them may have irritating spines or sharp thorns. In the jungle or tropic regions, even the smallest scratch or cut can quickly and easily become dangerously infected. Treat any wound immediately, no matter how minor or small.
Even though water is abundant in most tropical environments, you may, as a survivor, have trouble finding it. If you do find water, it may not be safe to drink. Some of the many sources are vines, roots, palm trees, and condensation. You can sometimes follow animals to water. Often you can get nearly clear water from muddy streams or lakes by digging a hole in sandy soil about 1 meter from the bank. Water will seep into the hole. You must purify any water obtained in this manner.
Animals can often lead you to water. Most animals require water on a regular basis. A variety of grazing animals such as deer, antelope and more are usually never far from water and normally will drink at dawn and dusk. Many jungle and forest animals follow game trails. These trails wind and cross, but frequently lead to water or clearings. You can easily follow these trails if they are leading in the same direction of travel. Converging game trails (two or more trails that become one) often lead to good sources water. Carnivores (meat eaters) or predators are not the most reliable indicators of water. They tend to obtain hydration and moisture from the animals they eat and have been observed to having gone without water for long periods of time.
Birds can sometimes also lead you to water. Grain eaters, such as finches and pigeons, are never far from water. They drink at dawn and dusk. When they fly straight and low, they are heading for water. When returning from water, they are full and will fly from tree to tree, resting frequently. Do not rely on water birds to lead you to water. They fly long distances without stopping. Hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey get liquids from their victims; you cannot use them as a water indicator.
Insects can be very good indicators of water sources being close by, especially bees. Bees rarely deviate more than 3 miles from their nests or hives. They usually will have a water source in this range. Ants also require water and are a good indicator. A column of ants marching up a tree or similar may be headed to a small reservoir or portion of trapped water. You find many such reservoirs hidden away even in dry and arid areas. Most flies stay within 100 yards of water, one in particular the European mason fly, fairly recognizable by its bright green body. Mosquitoes and smaller insects may also be associated with a water source being close by. Remember, water is not always in plain sight, but it is usually present. We just have to know how to find it.
The water tree, desert oak, and bloodwood have roots near the surface. Dig these roots from the ground and cut them into 3 inch lengths. Remove the bark and suck out the moisture, or shave the root to a pulp and squeeze it over your mouth or into a small container. These can also be placed in a solar still.
Vines with rough bark and shoots about 1/2" or more in thickness can be a uhandy source of water. You must learn by experience which are the water-bearing vines, because not all have drinkable water. Some may even have a poisonous sap. Generally, the poisonous ones produce a sticky, milky sap when cut and squeezed. Nonpoisonous, safe vines will yield a clear fluid, rich in water. Some vines can cause a skin irritation on contact. You should let the liquid drip into your mouth, rather than put your mouth directly onto the vine. Use some type of container, cup or canteen.
The buri, coconut, and nipa palms all contain a sugary fluid that serves as an excellent source of hydration. To obtain the liquid, bend a flowering stalk of one of these palms downward, and cut off its tip, preferably at about a 45 degree angle. If you cut a thin slice off the stalk every 12 hours, the flow will renew, making it possible to produce and collect up to a liter per day. Nipa palm shoots grow from the base, which allows you to work at ground level. On grown trees of other species, you may have to climb them to reach the flowering stalk. Milk from coconuts has a large water content, but often contains a fairly strong laxative in the ripe nuts. Drinking too much ...may cause you to lose more fluid than you drink.
In certain situations it may be easier to let a plant produce water for you...in the form of condensation. Tying a clear plastic bag around a green leafy branch will cause water in the leaves to evaporate and condense in the bag. Placing freshly cut or picked vegetation in a plastic bag will also produce condensation. Make sure to slice the stem, stalk or branch at a 45 degree angle for the best results. This is a form of the basic solar still, actually one of the most primitive and simplest forms.
Food is usually abundant in a tropical survival situation. In addition to animals, one may need to supplement their diet with edible plants. The best places to forage and locate food sources are often on the banks of rivers and streams. Wherever the sun penetrates the jungle, there will be a mass growth of vegetation, but river banks may sometimes be the most accessible and easily identifiable areas.
If you are weak, do not expend energy climbing or felling a tree for food. There are sometimes more easily obtained sources of food closer to the ground. Only pick what food you absolutely need right then. Food spoils very quickly in tropical and jungle environments. Leave plants growing until you need them, this way you can always have fresh food.
There are an almost unlimited number of edible plants from which to choose. Unless you can positively identify these plants, it may be safer at first to begin with palms, bamboos, and common fruits.
The ratio of poisonous plants in tropical regions is no more than any other area of the world. Yet, it may appear that most plants in the tropics are poisonous because of the great density of plant growth in some tropical areas. Plants can poison a person or animal in several different ways: on contact, ingestion, or by absorption or inhalation. They can cause painful skin irritations and defects on contact, they are the cause of internal poisoning when eaten or drank, and they can also poison someone through skin absorption or inhalation in respiratory system. Many edible and medicinal plants have deadly relatives and look-alikes. That is why understanding the environment you are in is extremely crucial. Preparation for military missions includes learning to identify those harmful plants in the target area, and so should preparation for any type of trip or journey. Positive identification of edible plants will eliminate the danger of accidental poisoning. There is no place for experimenting when plants are concerned, especially when in unfamiliar territory.