Costa Rica Conservation Update
March and April have been such busy times here at the park that I honestly can't remember where the time has gone!
We have had such an amazing group of hard working, dedicated volunteers that we have managed to do more work over these two months than ever before, meaning of course that as I write this we are finishing, or very close to finishing some of the bigger projects that we started at the beginning of this year.
Firstly I want to take a moment to talk about the parks nursery garden project, something which I have mentioned a couple of times in the past although only very briefly. One of the most popular activities in conservation is of course reforestation, going to areas that have been affected by commercial logging or farming and helping to restore the natural balance by re-introducing native species of tree to the area. There are many reasons why people do this, but the main reason we are doing this in the park is because large trees are very important for providing shade, keeping a good soil balance and of course providing food to animals in the area.
he work started a little under three months ago with the construction of the main nursery shelter, the structure with netting to provide shade to the small plants during the most important and difficult part of the growing process, after this was completed we then began the long process of filling thousands of plant bags with treated soil to provide the saplings with the best conditions we possibly could. During this process we began the fun task of landscaping the area to make the whole project look amazing. This involved making pathways, planting ornamental plants around the area and making sure that each day everything was watered to keep it all looking green!
During all these different processes we had the great chance to see the small seeds that we had collected from the forest, cleaned and prepared and then planted in the seed beds, begin to grow into small saplings before being transferred to plant bags. Now as I write this we are on the final stage of bagging soil, which will soon be finished. Many people have helped us with this project and if I tried to name all of them I would probably forget a few important people, so to avoid that I would like to send my thanks and that of the park to all the volunteers who have helped with this amazing project, you know who you are!
Another project, that has been running even longer than the nursery garden, is the work we have been doing on the community football field. Work started on this at the start of this year and was the first major project that I undertook in the park. The work started with us cutting the long grass (almost 1.5m high!) and moving it off the main field. After this we had to wait a few weeks for the certain type of grass to re-grow so that we could easily identify it and remove it by digging it out. This has taken us the most time (almost 2 months) but we are now nearing the end of this part as well, with about 1 more week of work to be done.
But this will not be the end of the football field project, the park will then use a tractor with a roller, so that we can level out the field, as many parts have small holes in, and then we need to re-seed the field as the rains start so that we have a full rich green playing field by next year.
Now, I can already hear you all asking why making a beautiful football field is so important to a conservation project, the answer is simple, by providing the communities with a playing area like no other in the area we know we will be able to start talking with these people in a more natural and relaxed environment, which will in turn help us to begin developing other projects with them, like reforesting areas of their farmland, alternative activities to hunting and logging, educational projects and many more things. Plus it gives us a good place to go and play football together!
Another project that has come along rapidly thanks to the help of our amazing group of volunteers is the restoration of the Terciopelo cave. Being the most visited cave system in the park, over the years it has lost some of its natural beauty because of all of the mud and dirt that people have brought in from the outside world. The restoration project has 3 main stages, the construction of a pathway within the cave, closing the pathway in with a rope system and then finally actually cleaning the cave to remove the dirt and mud that shouldn't be there. We are still only on stage 1 of this project, but we are moving along very rapidly and hope to finish the main part of the pathway in the next few months.
We also had a special project this month. Easter meant large numbers of local people visiting the park, which meant that the local guides that work here needed some help with the work outside the cave and the parking area. We split the group into two, with one group guiding tourists from the parking area to the main cave and another group working outside the main cave helping prepare the tourists. This included putting on harnesses and helmets, and generally chatting with them and helping to provide a good experience to everyone that came in.
In preparation for Easter or Semana Santa as its known in Costa Rica, we also had to replace the protection barriers around the main cave and along the Mirador observation platform, which required the volunteers doing some back-breaking work carrying wood from the main access road up to both points, removing the old barriers and then digging out holes for the new posts, nailing the railings onto these and finally painting them! All of this was completed in about a week, thanks to the help of the volunteers and especially to Roberto, the son of the park cook, who came in and volunteered his time to cut the wood and help us construct the new protection barriers.
We have also been having some amazing results from the Sensor Camera project this month, with some very impressive photos of Northern Tamandua, White-tailed deer and what must be the greatest posers in the animal kingdom, the white-faced capuchin monkey.
We have been running this project now for almost 2 months and have so far had 10 different species recorded, which doesn't include the numerous bat species that we have coming out from the caves. This is much higher than we anticipated for the dry season in the areas of the park we have currently placed the cameras.
From the beginning of the project we have been working in areas that are completely dry and have had major difficulty in finding areas where there is still water, which are obviously places animals will congregate during the dry season. We are confident that this project will be going from strength to strength during the wet season as there will be more wildlife coming into this part of the park and of course we will be seeing more young animals moving around as well because the birthing season is just a few months away now!
It hasn't all been work over the last 2 months though; we have had the wonderful chance to sing in the rain here in the park! The first time it has rained in almost 3 months in fact! It was an amazing sight to see the rapid change in the flora from such a small amount of rain. After about 30 minutes of rain on 2 different days the whole area has become a completely different colour, turning from browns and yellows to dark lush green in a matter of days!
We also had an amazing opportunity to visit an ex-guide and his partner in the highlands of Costa Rica. One of the most visited areas for natural beauty is Monte Verde, where Jennifer and Christian have a hotel called Hidden Canopy, the rooms are individual cabins located in trees! Yes that's right tree houses! And of such an amazing standard and comfort that we could have easily been in a 5-star hotel in central New York or some where similar!
Jennifer and Christian provided everything for us, accommodation, food, and drinks. The most amazing part of the trip was the tours that Jennifer managed to organise for us, one along the suspension bridges of the Monte Verde cloud forest, one to a internationally recognised bat museum and then to the insect archive of Costa Rica and one of the many butterfly houses in the country, all for $5 each or less (which is a lot more than half-price!) We all had an amazing time in Monte Verde, thanks to Christian, Jennifer, Alonso our cook and of course our various guides around the parks and museums, we hope to visit again soon to see more of this amazing part of the country!