Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: August 2011
As the dry season continues, river levels drop and food becomes scarcer around the rainforest. It is a difficult time for the animals as they must forage over larger areas spreading out through the forest and making themselves more vulnerable to predators both natural and human! The latter is not a factor at Taricaya as our hard work over the last ten years has kept poaching to a minimum and whilst we did hear shots in the area this month it was the work of a new family who had moved in down river and we soon spoke to them and warned them not to cross into the reserve. So it was business as usual and with close to forty volunteers we were able to achieve a great deal.
The obvious place to begin this month is the turtle project and as we entered the seventh year of the project our expectations were high. Last year’s project was a sad reflection on the possible effects of river pollution and hunting/fishing activities as just 45 nests were found in comparison to over 70 nests the previous year. However this could have been a natural cycle also and so we were keen to see what would happen this year. Thus it was time to pack up the tents, load up the small boat (appropriately renamed “Tortugita”) and head down to our designated beach, Playa Alta, to start the nightly patrols. The low river level meant that beach was bigger than previous years and with a larger area to cover volunteers and staff worked even harder spending hours walking around the island’s perimeter. The going stated slow due to some cold weather deterring the females from laying their eggs in the cooler sand but as we entered the second week of August things started to pick up and we were soon bringing as many as five or six nests back each night (one night we found nine nests!). We were quietly confident that this would be good year and as we cruised past 40 nests in just over two weeks we were ever more optimistic. Then disaster struck! A huge “friaje” (cold weather front) roared up from Patagonia bringing cold rain and blotting the sun out for over a week. River levels rose and even when the sun did finally re-appear it took a long time for the sand to warm up again. This meant that many mothers will have aborted and rejected their eggs into the river as conditions were not good for laying. We had reached 48 nests when this quirk of nature struck and whilst this is higher than last year we had hoped for so much more!
The weather’s interference means that we cannot decide conclusively if last year’s low numbers were the result of a natural cycle or a reflection of the deteriorating river conditions and increased human activity. My inclination is that we could have collected possibly 10-15 more nests if the weather had not intervened and so we must put our doubts on hold until next year and hope for a good run of weather during the critical laying period. Now with the eggs safely buried in our artificial beaches we must wait about 75 days for the youngsters to hatch when we will mark them with this year’s code and release them back into the river.
Elsewhere it was time to start our second phase of the mammal census. Having collected data during the wet season it was time to walk our transects in the dry season and over the coming weeks we must perform 20 walks during the day and 4 at night. The dry season is a great time to wander through the forest as animals are actively searching for food and all the natural depressions are dry meaning that we do not have to swim to look for them! The first two weeks gave us some great sightings not least of which were a jaguarundi (Puma yaguaorundi) a small black diurnally active cat, both white-lipped and collared peccaries (Tayassu pecari and Pecari tajacu), southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla), an arboreal anteater, and various species of monkey. It was great to see so much wildlife around the reserve and everyone was excited to see some of the rainforest’s weirdest and shiest animals.
However this was not our only spectacular sighting of the month as we were greeted one Sunday afternoon on our arrival at the lodge from town by the tail of a huge snake slowly disappearing into the television room. After shepherding the volunteers back to a safe distance I went in to investigate only to find a 3.5m South America Bushmaster (Latesis muta). This snake is justifiably feared throughout South America and is one of the few cases that when threatened will look to attack as opposed to flee. This was by far the largest specimen I had ever come across and as such deserved treating with a great deal of respect. Fortunately this individual betrayed its normal pattern of behaviour and was very relaxed slowly cruising around the room looking for an exit. Once it found a small gap in the window it started to head outside and it was now or never if we were to capture it. Such a large and dangerous snake cannot be left around the camp as they are very territorial. So armed with my snake tongs and heart in mouth it was time to act. With Raul Bello, our rescue centre manager, grabbing the tail from inside the building I was able to manoeuvre the snake into a better position and get a good grip on it with my claw! Result; a safe capture and relief all round.
In the rescue centre we were starting to build an extension on our small cat compound as we need large spacious cages to encourage the breeding of our three margays (Leopardus wiedii). So as some groups began the arduous task of sewing huge panels of netting together others were helping to build the new complex structure of three high cages, margays are largely arboreal. The cages will have small doors to allow us to move the cats around during the mating process and hopefully it will all be finished next month.
Next month I also hope to report on our new seed nurseries at the pilot farm project. The seeds we have been collecting over recent weeks will be planted in germination beds and the resulting saplings will be used eventually in reforestation work at both Palma Real and elsewhere.
There is lots of work going on at the moment and I want to thank all volunteers and staff for their continuing hard work. With over 240 volunteers coming to Taricaya this year we have been able to push on in so many projects and as part of a chain of close to 1200 volunteers each and every one is leaving their mark and helping preserve the world’s most diverse ecosystem- the Amazon Rainforest!
8th September 2011