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Conservation and Environment in Costa Rica: Monthly Updates

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Conservation in Costa Rica - Monthly Update August 2009

Boa constrictor

Ever since the rains started a couple of months ago the forest in and around Barra Honda have sprung to life, even though we have what is locally called the wet season's summer (a period of 3-4 weeks where it doesn't rain at all) there has still been enough rain to change the forest around us.

Such a radical change in the forest is impressive to see and the speed that this change happens is even more impressive, but unfortunately this means a lot more maintenance work for us. The football field, the camping area, the trails and the areas along the sides of the parks access roads now have to be cut and racked at regular intervals.

Ever since we started working in Barra Honda we have been working to restore the parks recreation area (football field). This has been a task that every volunteer has worked on in someway either cutting, racking, digging, fumigating or cutting and racking the second time. I am happy to announce now that we have finished this part of the work and that the field is now ready to be re-seeded with high grade grass which will be planted in the first weeks of August!

Checking planted trees

Something else that most volunteers have worked on in some way is the park's camping area, which is also receiving a lot of work at the moment, the speed that the grass grows at this time of the year is truly amazing, so like the trails and the access roads we are giving these areas maintenance every couple of weeks just to try and keep up with the new growth.

Our other main maintenance task this month was the construction of a new drainage system for the kitchen, under government laws all buildings must have a drainage system that adequately deals with the waste from sinks, toilets and showers. In the case of the kitchen sinks we had to dig two holes, one circular that measured 1m wide X 2m deep and another rectangular that measured 1x3m and 1.5m deep. Thanks to the work of the very tough volunteers we had at this time we managed to get the holes dug in only 4 days and that was only working 3 hours a day on them. The waste that the kitchen sinks create (which includes food waste, soap and other detergents) is now being safely disposed of as per government regulations eliminating any health risks for park staff and visitors and of course no longer having an impact on the area itself.

Our work hasn't just been maintenance though, we have been continuing with our Sensor Camera project, which is still bringing in results. Over the course of this month we have been seeing an increase in smaller mammals, we believe this is directly tied to the fact that there are several species of trees that are dropping small fruits at this time of the year resulting in a higher quantity of food for these mammals. Species we have seen this month include - Young deer, Central American Agouti and White-nosed Coati.


Our butterfly project has also been advancing steadily, we have been focusing on capture and mounting for the last couple of months due to low numbers of different species that we capture each time, but now that we have a sizeable collection of species we are beginning to work on identification and storage.

Due to the high temperatures, humidity and the large quantity of ants we have had to commission the construction of a special storage container for the butterflies. Once we have the butterflies identified and each individual tagged with its collection information we will then place them in their new permanent home which will be placed in an area where everyone, tourists, volunteers and other investigators can view it.

We also took the chance this month to revisit the areas we reforested in July, due to the small amount of rain during July we were worried about the state of the trees we had planted but it seems to have had no major impact on them, if anything the only impact it has had it killing off the damaged or weak trees quickly giving us accurate results in a much shorter time. After checking and clearing around each of the 150 plants, evaluating their condition and then processing these results we have found that around 90% of the trees have taken a good hold and that the 10% that were dead were either damaged during transportation, by live-stock or were planted in the wrong place (too much sunlight).

With such a high success rate we have been receiving many requests from other places around the park that would like areas to reforested, unfortunately we have had to delay most of these requests until next year when the young trees in the nursery garden are bigger and stronger.

Variegated squirrel

During August we had a new visitor to the park, he wasn't very helpful during work and on many occasions we actually caught him sneaking into the kitchen to steal food! I am, thankfully, not talking about a volunteer, but a rescued variegated squirrel. Costa Rica has very strict laws about wild animals becoming pets, the main rule is that any wild animal found as a pet will be confiscated on site and the person responsible will be fined and possibly given a long prison sentence.

Our new mascot was actually set free a few kilometres from the office, but as I have seen many times in the past animals that have been tamed even slightly realise one thing, humans equal an easy meal. Once this has been realised by the animal it is a difficult process to reverse without causing any harm, but after 2 weeks of scare tactics and leaving food further and further away from the camp we have managed to re-adjust him to the wild again.

Whilst walking to the top of the park, during August, volunteers also sighted a huge Boa Constrictor, measuring at least 2m in length. This is one of the largest snakes so far sighted in the park, although in comparison to other Boa Constrictors it is relatively small. There was no attempt at capture with this giant mainly because we didn't need to; due to its position we were able to take various good photos for our records.

We also took some time to visit the main tourist cave with some of our newer volunteers. As always the volunteers found the experience scary, exhilarating, amazing, tiring and unique all at the same time. Each time volunteers visit these caves we have another chance to take amazing photos, this time Oscar was able take some truly excellent photos of stalactite formations. Both stalactite and stalagmites form from a process of calcification (the gradual deposit of calcium carbonate on the structure's tip). This process takes millions of years to create a large formation and experts believe it could take a few thousand years to create just 1mm! In this photo it is actually possible to see the formation taking place with minute deposits forming on the tip of the structure.

Richard Munday
Conservation Coordinator
Projects Abroad - Costa Rica
Barra Honda National Park
August 2009

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