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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - October 2008

Dwraf Caiman

As the rains continue to hold off work has continued and it is with great pleasure that I can announce a record breaking year in the turtle repopulation project. Not only have we smashed our record for live hatchlings here at Taricaya but our pilot program with the Ese'eja natives of the Palma Real community has proved to be a huge success also. Elsewhere we have been working hard around the centre with some new aquariums and terrariums, repairs to our older bridges and some fantastic sightings around the reserve. There has also been a well-deserved turn of events as Reserva Ecologica Taricaya has been chosen as the best conservation project in the southern Amazon of Peru by a prestigious Japanese television channel who now wishes to broadcast live, via satellite, from Taricaya to promote our dedication to conserving the most diverse ecosystem on the planet.

False viper!

Those of you who have been following our progress over the years will not be surprised when I report that we have improved once again in our repopulation project of the freshwater side-necked turtle (Podocnemis unifilis). Nonetheless, this year has been a truly remarkable effort. I had already reported on our need for an extra artificial beach during the collection phase of the project and on top of this we have achieved a new high for the occlusion rates also. This in turn has meant that we have hatched close to 1400 baby turtles of which half have already been successfully released back into the river. The remaining babies are currently being housed in a large pool for release at a later stage. As for the pilot project at the Palma Real community, you will recall our initiative to teach the natives to value their natural resources. To summarise we wanted to demonstrate to the locals that live turtles have a greater value than their eggs which are poached and sold in the local markets. The result was a trial collection of 40 nests by the community school where we, Taricaya, promised to reward the school for the number of hatchlings born. This is a model for a project currently operating in the north of Peru whereby 20% of the babies are exported to Japan and the rest are released back into the wild. This way the natives earn more money than by the sale of all the eggs and 80% of the poached eggs are successfully hatched and released. I was a bit nervous that the community would not take good care of the eggs during transport from the river beaches and that they would not be well treated when relocated in their artificial beach but I was happily proven wrong as we counted close to 350 hatchlings on our follow-up visit. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the project was the excitement on the children's faces as we went down to the river to release the babies into the river. The survival rates for their eggs was close to 50% and whilst an ideal number would be 65% or higher it was a fantastic achievement and there will be ceremony where we reward the school and its children with a new peke-peke motor on the community's anniversary on 30th November.

On the way to the river

It has been a while since I have reported on the wildlife sightings around the reserve and this is not because there have not been any but that other news has always seemed to take precedence. I will redress that oversight as we have seen some amazing animals at Taricaya over the last few months. It is just difficult to know where to start! Just this week we were fortunate to see a giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) and fresh jaguar tracks (Panthera onca). Earlier this month we were lucky enough to see a baby Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis), neo-tropical otters (Lontra longicaudis), a Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and much more. A few years ago I would have been celebrating over sightings of white-lipped peccaries, brown capuchin monkeys and squirrel monkeys but these animals are now observed so frequently around the trails that it just reaffirms how healthy the reserve has become. There is seldom a time when groups go out on the trails without recording sightings of at least one mammal species, often many more, and I am certain that the imminent rains will provide our fauna with much needed food.

Volunteers at the Turtle Beach

Over recent times Taricaya has become increasingly recognised for its dedication and innovation in the field of conservation and the latest organisation to approach us is the Japanese television channel, NHK. Unknown to me, over recent months they have sent many visitors to the area to investigate filming possibilities in a cutting-edge conservation project. They consulted with MITINCI, the government eco-tourism agency, and visited all the eco-lodges in the area and decided that Taricaya was the most effective conservation initiative in the region. As a result they will be broadcasting live, via satellite, on 8th November as they demonstrate a range of activities that we are involved in. These will include releasing the baby turtles, the animal rescue centre, volunteers working in the field and much more. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this recognition is that it was achieved at a local level and not by an external contact. This means that after extensive research the station concluded that we are making a genuine difference and their choice further justifies our continued hard work and dedication.

Elsewhere at Taricaya we have been working hard in the animal rescue centre and as we continue to improve our protocols for the management of the animals we are starting to equip ourselves for a more detailed control on disease and DNA testing. In conjunction with another rescue centre, Amazon shelter, we are hoping to join forces and set up a protocol for testing blood samples of our animals. The problems we face in the jungle are a lack of freezers to keep samples fresh and a qualified centre to perform the analysis. That said, in conjunction with Amazon shelter, we are hoping to perform some basic tests ourselves and so this month I started to collect some biometric data from our birds. The idea is to gather enough data to study growth rates, genetic variation within our animals and, in the case of birds, the sex of each individual. All this work will take time and the capturing of the animals is stressful and so cannot be done more than once every six to eight weeks. By monitoring weight and by increasing doses of vitamin B we can strengthen the birds so that the extraction of blood will have as little effect as possible. It is an exciting time for the program and as we continue to encounter little support from the government it is time to prove that we can manage with or without them and hopefully convince them once and for all that we are serious in our work and that we will push forward with or without them.

I am also very pleased to announce the completion of some brand new terrariums where we are currently housing some very interesting snakes that we wish to study. We currently have a beautiful pair of parrot snakes which we found mating and so now we are waiting to see if the female produces live young or eggs, a fact that we do not know and have been unable to find out. We also have a fantastic false viper which is an imitation of the deadly fer-de-lance and again its toxicity is unknown and we are already seeing some fascinating behaviour that I have never come across before. As we continue to study these reptiles I shall keep you all informed and on a final note with herpetology our latest caiman hunt on the river gave us the wonderful surprise of a dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpabrosus). It is unusual to find these caiman in the big rivers but I can only assume that the continued absence of rain has meant that the streams and swamps are exceptionally low and the dwarf caiman have moved in search of food.

There is so much going on and November will see us welcome back Hugo Zamora as we continue our bat study, Mauricio Ugarte will also visit as we push on our bird studies and much more to keep us all busy as usual...

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
Reserva Ecologica Taricaya, 31st October 2008

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