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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – MARCH/APRIL 2016

Another busy few weeks in the jungle has seen us open up our mist nets, modify our second bear enclosure, visit our Ese’eja neighbours and amazingly the capture an relocation of a wild jaguar. The first ever operation of its kind in Peru!

Operation Jaguar

Newly modified bear enclosure

Over the years we have been visited by several wild jaguars (Panthera onca) that respond to the vocalizations and scent of our resident female, Preciosa. The majority have been males attracted to a potential mate. Normally they come out of the forest at night and head back at sunrise. After a few days they wander back into the jungle and we do not see or hear them again for months.

This time has been different. One cheeky male became so fond of Preciosa that he took up residence under one of the staff bungalows spending his days sleeping and wandering around the rescue centre at night. We all waited for him to get bored and head back into the jungle but after 10 days we began to worry that this particular male had no plans to leave his comfy new quarters. Then he crossed a line by breaking into one of our cages and eating two of our razor-billed curassows (Mitu tuberosum) . We now had a serious problem and the animal was in direct conflict with our work at Taricaya. Whilst not a threat to humans, our animals were in danger and we needed to protect them from this alpha predator.

Sanitary checks and veterinary control before release

By law we would have been completely justified and within our rights to eliminate the problematic cat as he was officially a threat. However, we did not want to take that course of action and so we needed a plan B. The idea was simple the reality more complicated. How to catch a 150 pound large cat with fearsome teeth and deadly claws? At Taricaya we see this as a challenge and we got to work welding a cage able to withstand the animal’s raw power with a heavy drop door that could be triggered when the animal entered to feed on the meat we used as bait.

The plan actually worked the first night as we kept our ears open for the unmistakable sound of the door dropping down. At around midnight the trap was triggered and we headed out to the cage only to find the meat gone and the door down. The cat had won but how? When the same thing happened on the second night we came to the conclusion that the cat was indeed bigger than we thought and was able to reach the food and still keep its body underneath the door to stop itself being trapped. Once it had retreated with its prize the door slammed down on an empty cage. We needed a new plan.

The only solution that we could see was to use the management cage of Preciosa’s enclosure as it was much bigger and the animal would have to walk right in to eat the bait. This meant a rapid disassembly of the current door system, the welding of a new drop door and reinforcing the cage to withstand the attacks of a very angry jaguar once captured. It worked. At 7.30pm on the third night the whole lodge shuddered as the drop door slammed down and we went to investigate. The beautiful male was understandably going berserk inside its temporary prison and we decided to leave it to calm down until the following morning when we got up early to undertake the second phase of the operation. This was to dart the animal, put it to sleep and move it to our vacant puma enclosure where it would stay until being relocated.

The animal was sedated, moved and quickly took up residence in its new cage using the concrete cave as its resting place. The animals in the centre were safe and the operation had been a success. The final phase then needed to be planned as a wild jaguar cannot just be released anywhere and after close to 10 days of coordination it was decided that the animal would be moved and set free in a huge timber concession about 5 hours from Puerto Maldonado. A commission arrived from Lima along with a state of the art GPS collar and the final phase of the operation began.

Volunteers working hard moving the sedated jaguar

Waking at 4.30am we quietly moved to the jaguar’s enclosure darted it, attached the collar and put it into its transport cage (the one we had earlier used for the trap). After loading it onto the boat it was off to Puerto Maldonado where we quickly loaded it onto a pick-up truck and off we went in a four car convey towards the Brazilian border and the release site. After a couple of hours on tarmac it was time to head cross country and a further three hours of very dubious tracks and bridges we reached the dense jungle where the cat was to be set free. A winching system was rigged so that we could safely lift the door by using one of the cars to pull a cable and the time came to set him free.

After a few long moments when the jaguar got its bearing it came out of the cage and quickly ran into the dense undergrowth. The whole operation has been a success. The magnificent jaguar got a second chance at freedom and in conjunction with the government and the concession owner we had just performed the first ever jaguar relocation in Peru. Another proud moment at Taricaya and a fine tribute to all our volunteers that helped from the trap’s construction to the animal’s transfer, lots of hard work but with a huge sense of satisfaction. A big thank you to everyone involved.

Biodiversity Research

Resident tapir at taricaya

With such drama elsewhere at Taricaya it would have been understandable if we had relaxed a little but our research must continue as we strengthen our standing as a global biodiversity hotspot. This month we set up our nets in three different locations and whilst there were no new registers for our extensive bird list we caught some rare and beautiful birds including a migrant sub-species of the white winged becard (Pachyramphus polychopterus) which was traditionally classed as a member of the Tyrant flycatcher family but is now considered a member of the Tityras. Other captures included an American pygmy kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea), ruddy quail dove (Geotrygon montana) and a magnificent gray-headed tanager (Eucometis penicillata).

Our canopy and platform observations continue and after 11 years of data collection from the continents highest suspending walkway we are studying bird life often only glimpsed from the forest floor through a wall of green and brown.

Rescue Centre

Gray headed tanager caught in mist nets

As I mentioned last time we had been busy modifying the first of our bear enclosures and this month we continued and finished the second. Finally our two newest bears have their own spacious cages with refreshing pools and shady caves and they can settle in even more. Their changing behaviour has been incredible to observe- once aggressive and nervous they now wander around their new homes even coming up to the fence to receive treats or for a friendly tickle on the chin. This would never have happened in their old home and the more relaxed they become the greater our chances of breeding them in the future in an attempt to reintroduce their offspring back into the wild and help the ever depleting population of South America’s only bear species. I will keep you posted on their on-going progress.

As the dry season starts and river levels drop we shall be busy preparing for this season’s turtle project as we rebuild the artificial beaches, collect and sieve the tons of sand needed to fill them and with upcoming visits from more our Peruvian biologist friends there will be plenty going on in the reserve.

Until then….

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director, Projects Abroad
7th Mai, 2016

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