TO get your finger on the pulse of therain forest, you must go at night. It is thenthat chirping insects create a primitiverhythm, snakes and tarantulas come out oftheir hiding spots, and sloths move throughthe tree branches in the darkness above.Last August, I took a two-hour guidednight tour through the Children’s EternalRain Forest in the mountainous region ofMonteverde, in north-central Costa Rica.Because of the cloud forests and wildlifediversity, and the nearby Monteverdeand Santa Elena cloud forest preserves, thearea attracts biologists and nature loversfrom all over the world. Many spend theirlives working to understand and preservethese precious forests, home to an incrediblevariety of life forms, including thousands ofplant species and hundreds of bird species.CONSERVATION is the key to ensuringthe future of these forests, and theChildren’s Eternal Rain Forest is oneexample of the creative means people haveused to preserve the land.The conservation efforts behind theforest are as unique as the wildlife thatinhabits it. In 1987, a group of Swedishstudents, who were learning about rainforests in class, decided they wanted tomake an effort to help save them. So theystarted a fundraising effort that helped buythe first sections of the Children’s EternalRain Forest.Today, children and adults from 44countries help support and fund more than50,000 acres of pristine land that is criticalhabitat for the resplendent quetzal, thebare-necked umbrella bird, Baird’s tapirand numerous other animals.The land is administered by theMonteverde Conservation League, a privatenonprofit organization involved inprotection, education, reforestation andresearch activities in and around theChildren’s Eternal Rain Forest.ON that particular August night, themembers of our group rode in a van over thebumpy dirt roads above the village of SantaElena to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest.We met our guide in the parking lot, atthe head of the trail, as the last light of dayfaded in the sky. After a quick introduction,we were handed flashlights and were off todiscover what lived in the land so manychildren had helped save.As the 10 of us walked underneath theforest canopy, the sight of flashlights shootingin different directions into the treesseemed naive and clumsy. But the groupwas filled with optimism that we would seeat least a few creatures come out of hiding.And luckily we did.One of the first animals we cameacross was among the strangest-lookingcreatures I had ever seen. Clinging to thebranch of a large tree was a sloth. Shaggy,hairy, furry – these adjectives do no justicein describing the primitive creature. Itlooked more like a miniature Bigfoot,clinging to the tops of the trees.It was a two-toed sloth, one of twospecies living in Costa Rica – the other isthe brown-throated three-toed sloth – andfive species worldwide. This particularsloth was hanging upside down on abranch with its head pointed toward thecrowd, though at first it was difficult to tellits head from its bottom.To say that seeing a sloth is exhilaratingseems a paradox. Sloths are terriblyugly and are known for their painfully slowmovements. But I have to admit, it was noless exciting than the time I saw a mothergrizzly bear teaching her two cubs to foragefor food in Yellowstone National Park,in the United States.AFTER 15 minutes, during which wesaw the animal descend to about 20-30 feetabove the ground, our group moved on insearch of more nocturnal animals.Although there would be a few more –mainly sleeping birds – in the trees, wedidn’t find another like the sloth.At one point the guide found a hole inthe ground, which he said was the home ofa tarantula. But, he pointed out, it lookedlike the spider had been scared off by thenoise and light. He tried to draw it out using a small twig as bait, but the tarantulawas unfazed and stayed deep in its hole.One reptile we did see was a pit viper,an extremely venomous snake, accordingto our guide. On two separate occasions,we saw one in the trees perched directlyabove the edge of trail. It looked like alow-grade, light-green garden hose thathad been recklessly tossed into the treesabove. Pit vipers are very dangerous, ourguide explained, and their bites can resultin serious injury or death.Unfazed by the potential danger, weraised our flashlights and cameras towardthe languid creature, digitally capturing thestill snake in the darkness of the forest.