Earth & Conservation

Chasing Sloths Hundreds Of Feet Above The Ground

Bryson Voirin is a canopy scientist, meaning he gets paid to climb trees all over the world in the name of science and even entertainment.

Ask any adult what they loved about summer time as a kid and chances are they'll mention tree climbing. Most of us haven't climbed a tree since those pre-adolescent summers, but Bryson Voirin climbs trees everyday for his job.

Bryson is a canopy scientist, which essentially means he gets to climb trees for a living. In this episode of Seeker Stories we get an inside look at what Bryson's job is like and find out how he learned to scale some of the tallest trees in the world.

As a canopy scientist, Bryson is focused on studying the wildlife that exists in the mostly hidden treetops of forests and jungles around the globe. His current research is centered on the sleep patterns of tree dwelling animals, in particular, one of the most peculiar animals on Earth: the sloth. His goal is to answer the question of why all animals need sleep, in hopes of gaining some insight on the human need for sleep.

In order to study sloths, Bryson first has to get close to them, which involves scaling some enormously tall trees. He told Seeker Stories that getting the rope in the tree is actually the hardest part of climbing them, rather than the fear of falling hundreds of feet to the Earth as you might expect. Once he finds a good candidate tree, he uses a slingshot to shoot the rope into the branches and begin his ascent.

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One of the most exciting things about Bryson's job is that it allows him to travel all over the world. He's climbed trees in Borneo, Africa, Central and South America, and Europe. He first learned how to properly climb a tree by paying someone $40 at a bar in Panama to show him the ropes -- literally!. But if you prefer a more legitimate form of instruction, there are actually tree climbing classes you can take in many different countries, taught by professionals.

Bryson says he's often asked by others how they can get a job as cool as his. Sometimes he jokes that they should just frequent bars in Panama, but his real advice is very thoughtful and sincere. He says "I think it's important that people realize they can do whatever the heck they want to, so don't just accept the fact that, 'I'm going to have an office job. Boring.' No, do something fun. You only live once, do something awesome."

While many of us tend to appreciate nature using only our eyes, Bryson believes that tree climbing helps form a tangible connection with nature -- something that simply looking at it will never achieve. It's a very powerful experience.

-- Molly Fosco