Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: June/July 2011
Once again it is time to bring you all up to date on the latest from our research centre deep in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. It has been a while since I last reported our news and that is simply a result of so much going on and with over 40 people, staff and volunteers combined, working full time around the reserve we have achieved a great deal. There was just not enough time to get it all down on paper! We have been working hard around the animal rescue centre, finishing the new quarantine cages, completed our turtle house, began our turtle project patrolling the beach, opened our mist nets for both birds and bats, continued our sensor camera census, started a nursery project at the pilot farm, received yet another film crew and much more. So without further delay I shall begin with our biodiversity studies.
Those of you who have been following our progress over the last few years will be well aware that Taricaya has quickly become a focal point for many people and organisations as a truly spectacular location for wildlife. After years of dedicated research and investigation we have compiled some of the most impressive species lists not just within Peru but globally. With such a huge variety of animals and plants within the reserve we should not be amazed when yet more surprises are discovered. As we opened our mist nets once again we were quietly optimistic about some exciting captures but the results were spectacular even by our own high standards. Starting with bats, Hugo Zamora continued his ongoing research, which will result eventually in a well-earned Masters degree from the UNASA University in Arequipa. Hugo and I are currently preparing a paper that will be published as soon as possible because we have definitely found 3 species of bat in Taricaya that are either new to science or first registers in Peru. In publishing such findings it is fundamental to have as much evidence as possible and we had been struggling to recapture more individuals to strengthen our research. Finally this month we recaptured more individuals of two of the three species and whilst we do not wish to reveal too much at this stage I am very excited that once again Taricaya will be on an international stage with the exciting confirmation of new species of mammal previously undiscovered anywhere on the planet. I will keep you posted!
Elsewhere, we opened other mist nets during the day to continue ringing birds found within the reserve. With the welcome return of Mauricio Ugarte we concentrated again on Patagonian migrants escaping the harsh winter and with the careful placement of our nets in open areas favoured by these hungry travellers we were able to catch over 100 birds in two weeks. Whilst the nets did not produce any new registers for the reserve we did capture some interesting migratory sub-species which demonstrated subtle differences to the same species resident in the region all year round. These variations are undoubtedly a clear example of speciation in progress as populations located in southern Argentina and Chile show distinct characteristics to those populations found in the tropics. One clear example was a beautiful White-winged Becard (Pachyramphus polychopterus) whose tropical plumage is a uniform black colour from body to head. The migrant sub-species displays a lighter grey plumage on the body with a dark cap on the crown of the head. Such differences are small but over time we can assume with a reasonable degree of confidence that the sub-species will diversify yet further resulting in two distinct species.
Even though we were unable to catch any new species for the reserve in the nets we did spot two new species elsewhere. The addition of the Bar-breasted Piculet (Picumnus aurifrons) and Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) takes our total to a breathtaking 437 species in just 476 hectares. As our investigation continues and our species lists grow it reflects the dedication of our staff, volunteers and visiting specialists who spend hours every day monitoring the reserve in hot and humid conditions. Let us hope that this effort continues to pay off and more surprises lie in store for us in the future.
Back at the lodge we completed the quarantine cages and the young margays (Leopardus weidii) were quickly installed in their new enclosures. This is just a temporary home as we continue to monitor their health as we build new larger cages specifically designed for these light arboreal cats. We hope to finish the new margay complex next month where spacious and secluded enclosures will encourage these timid felines to mate and allow us to begin our captive breeding program, releasing the offspring back into the wild. Elsewhere in the rescue centre it was time to release one of our toucans (Ramphostos tucanus). This individual came to us as a mal-nourished youngster just over 2 years ago. After careful control of diet and a treatment of vitamins the bird quickly gained weight and once the flight feathers regenerated the time had come to open the doors and let it back into the wild. Always a satisfying feeling the newly-freed bird promptly took up residence in a large tree within the tapir enclosure and so we can monitor its progress as it flies around the rescue centre discovering its new surroundings. With the liberation of one toucan we needed to move the remaining youngster, still re-growing its flight feathers, into a smaller enclosure as the toucan aviary needed to be remodelled for our fast-growing howler monkeys (Alouatte seniculus). We quickly ripped out the old and rotting posts, installed tall trees and long ropes, re-built the pre-cage and constructed sleeping boxes and feeding tables. Then after disinfecting the whole area we were able to put our two female howlers into a beautiful new space designed for them.
When I look back at the rescue centre’s development I am very proud of our advances and improvements. We now design enclosures for specific animals and help accelerate their recovery processes in a spacious and stress free environment. Our health controls and animal management techniques continue to improve and I must congratulate Raul Bello, head of the rescue centre project, for all his hard work and readiness to absorb and implement new ideas and methods. The future now looks even brighter for our current and future residents en route back to their ancestral habitats.
Continuing on a construction theme we finished the laboratory adjacent to the turtle house. This has coincided perfectly with this year’s turtle project as mid-July sees us start patrolling the Playa Alta beach designated to us by the Peruvian government. Every year we continue to battle against illegal poaching and dedicate time and money to protect the nests found on this large island. As I write this report we have yet to encounter any nests but it is still very early in the season and torrential storms in the foothills caused a 6m rise in water levels in the river covering most of the sandy banks. This coupled with a cold spell means that the females will almost certainly hang on to their un-laid eggs waiting for better conditions before hauling themselves up the beach. I am confident that once again this project will be a resounding success and look forward to giving you our ongoing total in next month’s report.
The use of motion-triggered sensor cameras is an excellent way to monitor wildlife that would be easily scared by human presence and the associated noise. This month we placed our cameras near a mammal colpa where many animal species come to feed on the soil. When ingested the minerals in the earth allow the animals to clean their digestive system of life-threatening toxins ever-present in the plants of the forest. This month we caught many different species on the cameras but the most spectacular photo was of an adult ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) undoubtedly prowling the area in search for unsuspecting prey feeding on the ground. We photographed many other species including herds of white-lipped peccaries and a Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) carrying its young baby. These photos auger well for our upcoming mammal census as we pick up where we left off in April walking transects twice a week for 3 months during the dry season.
Back at the pilot farm we continue to work in the abandoned grass plot and we have been clearing large areas for seed nurseries. Our reforestation initiatives in Palma Real and in conjunction with our immediate neighbours have been very successful over recent years and we must keep the momentum going. It was hard work clearing the necessary areas in open hot conditions but as we plant the bamboo posts next week we shall be ready to hang the shade-netting and begin sowing seeds that we buy in Puerto Maldonado or collect from the surrounding forest.
On a final note we were once again visited by a film crew this month. The company came from France and followed a couple of newly arrived volunteers around the project for the week. The series is designed to promote volunteering projects under the title of “More than just a holiday....”. A good time was had by everybody and I look forward to seeing the finished show. On a related note I am pleased to report that the program we filmed with Jack Hannah at the end of last year has been aired in the US and volunteers coming from America speak very highly of it. I have yet to see a copy but I am glad that our work continues to gain recognition all over the world.
As I sign off for now there is much to look forward to next month with the turtle project, mammal census, spider monkey release and plenty more...
23rd July 2011