Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
Monthly Update - August 2005
As I mentioned in my previous report, August was to be dedicated to two specific projects; the continuation of the bird monitoring project and the turtle project. I have spoken at length about the bird monitoring project in previous reports and so would like to take this opportunity to outline our turtle project and the improvements we have made from last year's research.
Perhaps most importantly, the turtle project this year has the full backing of the Peruvian government and INRENA (the governmental department concerned) granted us permission to collect eighty turtle nests in the lower Madre de Dios region. This official permit gave us welcome back-up when we were out on the beaches trying to prevent the locals from poaching the nests before we could measure them and duly collect the eggs. The eggs of the Yellow-headed Sideneck turtle (Podocnemis unifilis , locally known as the Taricaya) are a local delicacy and fetch a good price at the markets and as in previous years the race was on to reach the nests first. We needed to monitor the beaches continually from the middle of July though to the end of August, and so on a rota basis, staff and volunteers took turns camping on site and walking the beaches throughout the night checking for the tell-tale tracks that would lead us to nesting turtles. As in previous years we needed to accept the reality that the locals have been hunting nests for many generations and were destined to reach them first and so we enlisted the help of Enrique and his family, our Ese'eja neighbours, to give us an edge over the poachers. The results thus far have been very encouraging and we have already collected over forty nests and transferred them to our artificial beach at the pilot farm.
Last year the eggs in our artificial beach were attacked mercilessly by a beach-dwelling cricket; known locally as "perrito de Dios". This parasite would burrow into the sand, make a small hole in the turtle eggs and then lay its own eggs inside. The resultant larvae would feed on the turtle eggs and hence kill off the young embryos. This year we have taken preventive measures against the pest and our artificial beach will be protected by a layer of mosquito netting that prevents the cricket burrowing down. Other improvements that we have made concern the actual harvesting of the eggs. Chelonians (turtles and tortoises) can influence the sex ratio of their offspring by regulating the temperature of the egg during its development and so it is critical that we duly record information on the depths of the nests and the arrangement of the eggs within them during their collection. When the eggs are re-located in the artificial beach they need to be placed at the same depth in the sand and arranged in the same way that they were discovered originally. This way we can ensure we are not unduly changing the sex ratios of the local population by placing some eggs nearer heat (i.e. the surface) or cooling others off (i.e. burying them deeper).
I look forward to keeping you updated when the eggs start to hatch in about 60-90 days time and that is when the second stage of the project will come into effect. We need to manage the young turtles in captivity until the open wound from the umbilical cord heals completely, their shell hardens and until they are sufficiently strong to swim in the fast flowing rivers.
The workload from both the turtle and bird projects meant that volunteers and staff alike deserved a welcome break and so last week I took the volunteers to nearby Lake Sandoval. This beautiful lake is situated in the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve and having processed the necessary permits, off we went. Fortunately, both Fernando and myself, have kept our guiding licences up to date and hence we avoided the necessity of entering with an expensive tour company. The break was well deserved and the lake gave us due reward as we were lucky enough to encounter the giant otters (Pteronura braziliensis) not just once but twice. From the safety of the dugout canoe we saw these majestic animals fishing, playing and resting and it is a sight that I am sure the volunteers will never forget. Apart from the otters we saw large black caiman, bats and many different species of bird resident around the lake. These included the hoatzin, boat-billed heron, green ibis, limpkin, cocoi heron, striated heron, sun-bittern and many others including parrots and macaws. The wildlife did not disappoint and the relaxation from swimming in the lake and paddling around on it hopefully will have helped re-charge batteries as the hard work at Taricaya continues.
September will see the continuation of the turtle and bird projects, the annual maintenance of all the bridges on the trails before the rains come again and as usual there will be plenty to do at the farm and around the reserve.
Taricaya Research Centre
24th August 2005