Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
Monthly Update - February 2008
This month we have had what can only be described as an unwanted adventure as the heavens opened and the river rose to unprecedented levels leaving Taricaya underwater and forcing the volunteers to Puerto Maldonado for a week's evacuation. This was the second time in Taricaya's history that such catastrophe has struck but fortunately the water did not rise as high as the flood levels of 2003. Hence we were exiled for just a week but nonetheless it was an inconvenience and whilst the staff diligently kept a close eye on the water levels at the lodge we needed to find something worthwhile to do in town. As it turned out the week spent in Puerto Maldonado gave us a chance to make a real difference at the local zoo and at a nearby monkey sanctuary giving us a real sense of achievement.
"El Jaguar" is the very poorly maintained zoo in Puerto Maldonado and the owners are old friends who do the best they can with the limited income the zoo provides (a school trip of 20 students will provide them with just 20 soles of income- about 3 pounds!). This income barely covers the food for the animals and so the cages were in a very bad condition. Soon after the zoo's foundation it began to receive animals confiscated by the government but when funding dried up it had to decline new inmates. Things got so desperate that the owners tried opening a disco next door but the income was still insufficient and the animals became very stressed and aggressive making their management more difficult. Hence the disco closed and the owners started to rely on good will to help with the zoo's upkeep. During our week in town we worked at the zoo over four days and managed to recondition many of the cages and paint the entire place. The transformation was amazing as we used our experience to equip the cages according to the species it held resulting in the residents becoming more active and less aggressive. It was incredibly rewarding to see the changes take effect as the week wore on and the volunteers came into contact with many of the locals involved with the zoo and felt their open generosity and gratitude often in the form of a cold bottle of water or just some cookies. They had nothing else to give but the volunteers felt very welcome and genuinely respected for their help. The final touch was to provide updated signs for all of the animals giving information in English and Spanish about each species natural history, diet and status.
Our second town-based project involved working with Magaly Salinas who has moved from Lima with the intention of receiving unwanted primates that are currently suffering from overcrowding in Lima's zoos. She has all the permits and is building a series of enclosures at her new rescue centre. The animals she receives will never be released as their origin is unknown and mixing gene pools can damage the local populations in this area but she has decided to try and improve the conditions in which these poor animals spend the rest of their days. She had just received her first inmate, a cute night monkey called Pancho (Aotus sp.), and she asked for our help in completing and designing her first cage. So we all piled into the truck and went off to build the first monkey cage with the materials she had already bought. She had heard about our work and wanted to benefit from our experience and as usual we finished the work by early afternoon and again the volunteers were warmly thanked whilst seeing another project through to completion.
Eventually water levels dropped and so it was back to Taricaya for a damage evaluation and whilst we soon discovered that the lodge had held up very well we found that our trails would remain damp for many weeks to come! The route to canopy is now a very long, albeit shallow, swimming pool and many of our other trails have suffered a similar fate. This is not too disastrous as walking around the reserve this time of year would normally involve the occasional swamp crossing but it makes the daily observations problematical as sitting in wet clothes for a couple of hours is not all that pleasant! Still New Farm Platform was accessible and we soon discovered some trail routes that were above water and so life returned to a semblance of normality.
The rest of the month was a series of limited activities but we were able to concentrate on working at the farm where a major clean-up was required after the floods. The majority of the crops had survived but many of our neighbours were not as lucky as their banana and papaya trees died as a result of the 7-day submergence. These plants cannot survive when their root systems are covered by water for any length of time and the tree slowly dies even if the water drops relatively quickly. This has meant that the family which provides us with fruit for our animals has suffered and so we are now struggling to find enough food for our fruit-eating residents. Fortunately the farm is starting to produce many fruits native to the region and so our monkeys and macaws are enjoying a more varied diet even if our workload is greatly increased as we struggle to find them enough to eat.
One of my major concerns during the flood were our animals as their cages were also flooded and it was touch and go for many residents as we tried to build temporary platforms well above the rising water levels. We were alert enough to prevent any major catastrophe including the premature release of our young male agouti (Dasyprocta variegata) before his cage flooded. I was very pleased when he happily returned to the camp area to forage as he had escaped the encroaching water by temporarily moving to higher ground deeper in the reserve. The only casualty to the floods was one of our blue-and-yellow macaws (Ara ararauna) which suffered from occasional seizures and had fallen from its perch and drowned. It is always sad to lose an animal but staff and volunteers equipped themselves admirably to the dangers our animals faced and I have nothing but praise for their dedication during this tough time. Repair work has already begun and next month we will complete the rehabilitation of the cages as we ship sawdust from Puerto Maldonado to cover the muddy floors and keep the animals dry and away from the bacteria-infested sediment left by the river.
Elsewhere in the rescue program we received two new residents and a snake ready for instant release after the floods passed. The first was a young male spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth chamek) which has already incorporated itself into the resident troop, which now numbers six individuals. The second arrival was a baby collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) that is currently installed in our juvenile enclosure where we can keep a close eye on it during its critical first few weeks with us. The snake was a 2m green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) which we released straight into the creek where it has surely found a new home already.
The month of February has been a challenge for all of us involved in the project out here in Peru and I just wish to offer my thanks for all the hard work during this difficult period. The rest of 2008 looms before us and I am confident that the project will continue to move forward as life returns to normal after the floods.
3rd March, 2008