Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: January / February / March 2013
What a start to the New Year as the river comes just inches from bursting its banks, we released several of our longest standing residents in the rescue centre, much-needed maintenance work has been undertaken around the camp, many new plants have been sewn at the new farm and tons of gravel have been hauled into the centre to help protect our trails around the rescue centre.
After the exertions of the last months I had been able to give our exhausted staff some vacation time after Christmas. As they switched in and out of the centre the rest of us have been busy undertaking some extensive maintenance work. The lodge has had over 30 volunteers consistently for the last 2-3 years so a relative drop in numbers to around 20 has meant that we could get some essential repairs done as the hot and humid environment has taken its toll on both bungalows and communal areas. Changing old mosquito netting, re-tiling bathrooms and a nice new coat of paint has revitalised the lodge and when the numbers picked up again after just a few weeks everyone had lovely regenerated living quarters. Small details can make a huge difference and both staff and volunteers were refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges of the coming 12 months.
In past years the wet season has been a significant factor in controlling how much work we can get done around the reserve during these first months of the year. Heavy tropical storms can make working outdoors for extended periods impossible and means we must concentrate on activities near and around camp. There is so much to do at Taricaya that this is never a problem but this year the rains have been inconsistent. We have spent weeks with just light showers and then odd days unable to get out and about. Therefore you can imagine our shock when a few weeks ago we awoke to find that the lodge clearing had 6 inches of water and the river was lapping over its banks. Severe rain in the mountains had caused localised flash flooding. As all that water gushed out of the highlands, the Madre de Dios River swelled and threatened to burst her banks. Fortunately the flooding at Taricaya had come from the creek which had been damned by the rising river. This meant that all the natural depressions around the reserve were instantly filled and my drought concerns of a few weeks ago disappeared. It was touch and go for a few hours as the river ebbed and flowed close to the tops of the banks. Another sudden water rise would have made our lives very interesting if not dangerous. We have suffered much more serious flooding in past years but this year we escaped unscathed and the result of these flash floods was an injection of much needed water and nutrients into the ecosystem.
The rescue centre is continuing to occupy a lot of our time and this month we were able to say farewell to some our longest standing residents. It was time to return to the wild three of our capuchin monkeys: 2 brown (Cebus apella) and 1 white (Cebus albifrons), and a pair of squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis). This part of our work is hugely rewarding and makes the hours of caring for these animals worthwhile. Wild animals belong in their natural habitats! In an ideal world we would not need to do this work but the dependence of so many people to make a living from the rainforest means that there is no end in sight to illegal hunting and poaching and we must continue to strive for those individuals fortunate enough to cross our path. It was a great day as we headed deep into the reserve with volunteers working in shifts to carry the nervous primates. Strangely, after the first half an hour, the animals calmed down within their kennels and began to pay more attention to the surrounding forest. As a scientist, I cannot explain this behaviour but it was as if they knew that they were about to be freed and were finally going home! The whole adventure was a resounding success and those volunteers fortunate enough to participate in the release were able to fully comprehend the motivation behind all we do at the rescue centre.
Such is the sad nature of our work that as some animals head home others are being admitted to the rescue centre. The vicious cycle continues despite our best efforts. This month we received two new brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), a spider monkey (Ateles chamek), a red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus,), two freshwater turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) and a young male puma cub (Puma concolor). The latter was heart-wrenching story and negated my policy of not receiving large cats due to the increased safety issues and management concerns. This baby cub had been separated from its recently shot mother and put on a leash like a dog, it was thin and dirty and I had no choice but to take it in. The plan is to raise it to adolescence and let it go as we did with our previous jaguar. All our new residents underwent the necessary health checks and are all doing very well. The puma has already gained 3 kilos in weight in just 3 weeks!
I am proud to announce the completion of our first two new primate enclosures. This new battery of cages is designed to last with metal pipes and cement bricks providing the basic structure. As the volunteers work hard to finish decorating the new enclosures I will be reporting on the transition next month as our large troop of spider monkeys and capuchin group take up residence in their new homes.
The wet season is the ideal time to plant young saplings as the soil is moist and, coupled with a strong tropical sun, makes growing conditions ideal. Our goal is to produce enough fruits for all our residents- human and animal- and this is a huge undertaking as we must keep the area free of weeds and quick-growing pioneer plants that threaten to out-compete our young saplings. Nevertheless, all our volunteers quickly become proficient with machetes and we are edging closer to our goal every month through hard work and dogged determination. Once we have completed our farm plot we will begin the reforestation process of the remaining area which is no small feat as the whole new area covers over 30 hectares. I shall keep you updated over the coming months.
One advantage to the high river levels is that we can transport materials to camp and not have to haul them up several metres of river bank. Therefore these last couple of months we have been heading up river once a week to bring back thousands of sacks of gravel to pave our trails around the rescue centre. This is a huge help as these paths are continually in use and rapidly turn to wet sticky mud. This makes working much more difficult and triples our workload in keeping cages as clean as possible. The gravel days are always hard yet rewarding at the same time. There is a huge sense of team work and satisfaction when the last sacks are emptied and you walk back along clean low maintenance paths. On a similar theme we hope to continue this work and pave our canopy trail which suffers a similar fate in the wet season.
As the global financial situation continues to concern us all it is a testament to an increasing concern for environmental issues and conservation work that we continue to receive huge numbers of energetic and passionate volunteers. With the centre's bookings closing in on our new capacity for the summer already, 2013 looks to be another great year for Taricaya. I am certain that I shall be reporting on many more successes over coming months as we install our new sensor cameras, release our first animals with telemetry collars, set up our mist nets and continue to walk the beautiful forest that we are privileged to protect. The turtle project will soon begin and our pilot farms will start to produce once again...so until next time....
4th April, 2013