TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE
As another year comes to a close it is immensely satisfying to look back over our accomplishments from the last 12 months. With the help and dedication of 242 volunteers, 2011 has flown by and we have made huge progress in so many of our projects and new discoveries in our biodiversity research. However, before taking a look back at these fantastic achievements, we have been working hard this month also and with a record number of volunteers spending Christmas with us, this December has been one of our most productive ever!
With the rains threatening to arrive in earnest and the river levels rising and dropping at astounding rates this is an exciting time of year in the rainforest. Most of the jungle's birds and animals have young families to coincide with the relative abundance of food that the new rains provide and the forest is vibrant and full of sounds. So what better time to head out and try to discover some more about the forest's more elusive residents...the bats. It was time to welcome back Hugo Zamora once again. Hugo has been working with us at Taricaya over many years and as we near publishing our discoveries and a possibility of three new species of bat (Chiroptera) it was time to look for new specimens. As usual any evening spent in the depths of the jungle is likely to bring some adventures and whilst bats were the priority we were soon exploring whilst we waited for them to fly into the mist nets. Some of our encounters included a decent sized black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) which was a challenge to wrestle from out of the undergrowth in the newly filled swamps and several different species of turtle. A good time was had by all and whilst we were not able to find any new species for the reserve this time we were able to sample many different areas of the reserve and research which species of trees are feeding the fruit and seed eating bats.
The nets were also up for the birds of the reserve as we continue to band as many individuals as possible to monitor their movements both within the reserve and further afield for the migratory species. Surprisingly we were able to catch a wide diversity of species around the lodge area and a new capture for Taricaya was a blue-backed manakin (Chiroxiphia pareola). A fantastic sighting of a migratory peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) added another to the list taking the total found in the reserve to a staggering 445 species.
Elsewhere we were back out on the trails reopening some after the first heavy storms and remarking and renaming others to provide a more accurate description of the reserve. With a complete overhaul and new GPS points taken we have been able to fully overhaul the map and this is essential to all our research in the reserve. Whilst some groups were out on the trails others were tackling the pilot farm and the resurgence of the pioneering species encouraged by the new rains. These plant species grow quickly and need to be cut back before they can overrun the farm and our plots of flowers, fruits and tree plantations. There is still plenty to do but as January will see us receiving lots of new faces and helping hands I am confident that we can finish the job next month.
As the new residents from Lima settle into the rescue centre we have been spending a lot of time out in the reserve following our second release group of spider monkeys (Ateles chamek). At least three times a week we head out in the back of the reserve to check on the well-being of the group and one of those times staff and volunteers camp out to monitor the troop early in the morning and study their feeding patterns and behaviour. This project and release has been incredibly satisfying as this troop, unlike the first one, has stayed in a fixed range that is easy for us to monitor. Whilst completely independent they have stayed together and it would seem that releasing the monkeys when they are slightly younger creates a stronger group dependency as they stay together to forage and to protect themselves from predation. That said one of the group that was taken by a large eagle and all we found were the remains at the base of large emergent tree. It was almost certainly the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) that we saw from the canopy platform in November and whilst this is sad news it is a part of nature. The harpy eagle is the world's most powerful bird of prey cable of taking large monkeys and sloths and plucking them out of trees.
Deforestation is causing the harpy eagle to move ever closer to extinction as their nesting sites are huge emergent trees and these are the first to be felled by the loggers. So, good news for the health of the reserve: not so for the unfortunate monkey stolen from our group.
Next month we will tackle a new year and as numbers quickly rise I expect to be reporting on many more successes from the depths of the Peruvian Amazon..........
Every year at this time it is customary for me to provide a summary of what we have achieved over the past 12 months and 2011 has been a phenomenal year for us at Taricaya. With an increase of nearly 25% in the number of volunteers from last year we were able to aim high and with a lot of hard work from both staff and volunteers this year has been one to remember.....
Our biodiversity studies have continued to bear fruit and to date we have some spectacular species lists. In the 476 hectare reserve we have now recorded 445 species of bird, 123 species of mammal which includes 54 species of bat, 50 species of amphibians, 63 species of reptile, 281 species of butterfly and over 300 species of plants. These figures are outstanding and the hours of field work and data analysis have established Taricaya as a global hotspot for biodiversity. Such recognition has led to us hosting the second bird banding course in Peru, the first ever bio-acoustics course in Peru and as we start to publish our findings with potentially new species of bat and bird our standing will continue to improve.
The animal rescue centre is now officially recognised as the best in Peru and with the second successful release of spider monkeys into the area we are continuing to forge an excellent reputation. The arrival of animals from Lima to strengthen our captive breeding program and the continual expansion and remodelling of our enclosures puts us in an excellent position to grow and 2012 looks very promising for all our residents and those top of the list for release.
The completion of the new turtle house this year coupled with the continuation of our freshwater turtle repopulation program means that next year we can look forward to new research into the Chelonians of the reserve and potentially some captive breeding of some of the area's more reclusive species.
Our work at the pilot farm and with the Ese'eja community of Palma Real is moving along well with the new reforestation transects and plans to recover all the abandoned land that the natives cannot recover on their own. Our own mahogany project moves from strength to strength and new plant nurseries built in 2011 will enable us to produce many more saplings for reforestation and expand into other species that are quickly disappearing such as the ironwood tree, cedar trees and many different types of palm.
There have been so many highs this year that it is impossible to mention them all and whilst there are always drawbacks and losses in this kind of work one cannot help but be proud of our efforts and the innumerable successes that push us onwards and encourage us to work even harder often in tough conditions. The Amazon rainforest is a truly unique ecosystem, unlike any other on the planet, and I am very proud that we are able to do our bit for its continued preservation. As we celebrated our ten year anniversary this year I can only hope that the next decade will give us as much success and as many memorable moments that gives us the motivation to keep going. With the help of every single volunteer that has stayed with us at Taricaya and those that will visit in coming years the future of Taricaya and our little patch of paradise looks very bright indeed!
29th December 2011