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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - January 2010

American Pygmy Kingfisher

As 2010 kicks in we are up and running quickly with plenty of news and progress from our base deep in the Amazon rainforest. The expected heavy rains have been unpredictable and river levels have been rising and falling almost on a daily basis but the dangerous flash floods experienced elsewhere in Peru over recent weeks have not reached us here at Taricaya and I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will continue to be lucky over the coming weeks. My usual predicament is where to begin as there have been some great successes this month and a very pleasant surprise for everyone at the lodge with the visit of a very famous television star to film a piece for the upcoming Earth Day on Sky, the UK’s main cable network.

Striped Owl in Aviary

I shall start with the animal rescue centre however and our two newest residents which rank as one of the rarest animals in the rainforest if not the entire American continent. I am referring to the Short-eared Dog (Atelocynus microtis). Both Fernando and myself with a combined 40 years of living in the rainforest have never seen this animal either in the wild or captivity and it was believed extinct in Peru for most of the 70’s and 80’s. Even now numbers are too small and encounters too rare to predict total numbers left in the wild but in areas where they still survive an estimated density is less than 0.5 individuals per square kilometer! A blessing then that we might help in some small way to ensure the continued survival of this incredibly rare carnivore.

Gray Hawk

The short-eared dog is an average sized canid that can weigh up to 10 kg when fully grown and whilst its head bears a striking resemblance to a large fox as does its slightly bushy tail they are truly a unique animal to look at. I remember spending hours just looking at them when they arrived at the centre and wondering how these animals came to be in a small cage in Puerto Maldonado. Probably, we shall never know; but, at least we can guarantee them a chance of survival at Taricaya and, if we are lucky, a possible captive breeding program to repopulate areas where their survival can be assured. Nevertheless, with so little known about the species we needed to perform some quick research, not least on dietary requirements and behaviour. As one would expect, information on such a rare creature is hard to root out but we were able to dig up some old papers on dietary habits from the study of scats. In short, wild feces had been collected and studied for their composition and surprisingly fish and fresh water crabs form a high percentage of the natural diet. These would be caught in swamps and slow flowing streams and fruits and small mammals supplement this diet. Fortunately, such generalist behaviour means that feeding them will not be too difficult but we want to try and give them a diet as similar as possible to their natural one and that meant fishing! As the dogs grow and mature we must condition a suitable enclosure for them and I am certain that there will be much more to report on these beautiful animals over the coming months.

Short-eared Dog

The rescue centre also saw the successful liberation of the Striped Owl (Pseudoscops clamator) after a brief rehabilitation phase. This rare bird of prey came to us as a juvenile and fortunately its wings had not been clipped. This meant we just needed to improve the bird’s health with a good diet and allow it to strengthen its flight muscles. After a few months of good rations it was time to move on to the second phase and so we conditioned some tall perches in the butterfly house to serve as a temporary aviary allowing the bird to fly longer distances. After just two weeks it was strong and ready to be released and the advantage of being in the main lodge area for those 14 days meant that the owl became accustomed to the area. Now it is a regular nocturnal visitor to camp, hooting softly from the trees above the hammocks or perching on the roof tops watching out for potential prey. This unexpected advantage means that we can monitor its progress and supplement its diet on a tall feeding table as it familiarises itself with the surrounding area whilst searching for a potential mate. 

Our mammal list also grew this month with the discovery of two new species of marsupial in Taricaya. The continued monitoring of the reserve over the last 8 years means that we have sighted almost all of the larger mammal species one would expect for this region of Peru but our weakness has been the smaller animals belonging to the families of Rodents and Marsupials. Ideally this year we wish to start using Sherman traps to investigate these orders specifically but these unexpected discoveries came about by chance. Both sightings were in volunteer bungalows! After the careful extraction of these aggressive little mammals from two separate rooms we were able to identify the Western Woolly Opossum (Caluromys lanatus) and the Brown Four-eyed Opossum (Monodelphis adusta), the former of which was carrying young babies in the pouch which characterises this particular group of mammals. This took our mammal total to 52 different species, excluding the Chiroptera (Bats).

Southern Amazon Red Squirrel

The heavy storms means that we have been busy keeping our trails open and many volunteer hands were suffering from blisters after some strenuous work this month. This continual upkeep is essential to maintain access to the different areas of the reserve and this month it enabled us to put up our mist nets again and continue our bird monitoring around the perimeter of the reserve. The two transects this month were located on Swamp Trail which as the name suggests runs parallel to a seasonally flooded depression. The weather frustrated us at times but even with the occasional closing of the nets we had some successful days and the capture of some rare and beautiful birds. A first for us was a female Spot-winged Antshrike (Pygiptila stellaris) as we had only ever caught the male before and that only in November last year. We also caught the spectacular American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea) and rarer Black-tailed Leaftosser (Sclerurus caudactus). To round up the ornithological news we were able to catch on film the beautiful Gray Hawk (Buteo nitidus) on a platform observation at New Farm.

We have been proud to host many different film companies at Taricaya over recent years but never had we been visited by a celebrity. This month Taricaya was proud to receive Ross Kemp as presenter of a documentary on Peru. He has been travelling around Peru focussing on the environmental issues associated with the huge coca plantations and numerous gold mines. The Madre de Dios region of Peru suffers huge deforestation as a result of the latter and he visited Taricaya to get our take on the problems the area faces and to show how people are working to improve the depredation of the Peruvian rainforest. The tight filming schedule meant he could only spend a few hours with us but it was a great experience for everyone at the lodge and his knowledge on the problems made talking about them very worthwhile. The film is due to be broadcast on Sky TV’s Earth Day in May and I look forward to seeing his take on the environmental issues we face here in Peru.

So as you can see there has been lots happening in the centre and February promises lots more action....

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
2nd February 2010

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