Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
Monthly Update - April/May 2010
I must apologise for the delay in getting the latest news to you from the centre as a work trip overseas and a brief vacation meant that I was away from Taricaya for close to five weeks. Needless to say, the work continued and with volunteer numbers increasing with the approach of our busy season there has been a lot achieved over the last couple of months. The usual dilemma, where to begin?
When I left you last time we were concentrating on the reconstruction and enlargement of our multi-functional enclosure in the rescue centre. The completion of this cage has enabled us to reorganise our animal residents and our quarantine area has been freed up as the two squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis) have moved into their newer and larger enclosure. The parrots have moved back into one large cage after temporary accommodation elsewhere and it is great to see the four different species (Mealy parrots (2), Yellow-crowned parrots (2), Blue-headed parrots (3) and Red-masked parakeet (1)) in their airy new cage. A third section is being used to house our baby howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) and spider monkey (Ateles chamek) during the day as we increase their development with external stimuli by taking them out of the nursery. The fourth section remains free for future arrivals at the centre.
Unfortunately it has been a tough few weeks at the rescue centre with the deaths of some inhabitants. The first was not unexpected as the young male howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) rescued from the Palma Real community in late March died soon after arrival at Taricaya. The animal was too malnourished and ill to be saved despite valiant efforts from all the staff and volunteers. The other two incidents were much harder to assimilate as our male jaguarundi (Puma yaguaorundi) died suddenly overnight. Many of you will recall the battle we had to save the youngster when it arrived in June last year. With its back legs totally wasted away and ribs showing through its patchy fur it was a huge struggle to nurse him back to health. His aggressive nature and innumerable injuries led the volunteers to name him “Scar” and as he started to walk again it was incredibly satisfying to be able to finally house him with our pair of younger sisters. The necropsy was as baffling as the death itself as there was nothing noticeably wrong with the internal organs. There was slight liver damage, undoubtedly from his time before arriving at Taricaya, but his sudden demise will always remain a mystery. As we got to terms with the inexplicable loss we noticed that one of the female jaguarundis seems to be getting a distinctive paunch (stomach enlargement) and we are all keeping our fingers crossed on the off chance that Scar had indeed mated before he died and thus kept his memory alive! The odds are slim and we will know for sure next month as the gestation period for these cats is no more than 10 weeks. The other tragedy was the death of one of our five juvenile spider monkeys (Ateles chamek). Again there was no apparent injury or disease in the young female and the cause of death was undoubtedly a heart attack. Whilst cold weather might have contributed, the group always slept together and the smaller individuals were all fine. Both deaths were a mystery and it is hard to be positive when something like this happens especially with two similar incidents in quick succession.
However, as I always stress to everyone involved with the animal rescue centre, staff and volunteers alike, the failures hurt regardless of good management techniques but the successes make the whole process worthwhile...very few of the animals we receive at Taricaya would have lived long as pets and those that did would have had a terrible existence in tiny cages or tied up in awful conditions. We can be very proud of our success rate over the years and the dedication required to nurse, manage and release over a 130 individuals of more than 35 different species of bird and animal back into the wild! This month we were able to release a healthy female paca (Cuniculus paca) and she has already been seen on nocturnal outings to the lodge often with a much larger female (known as “Bianca” to many ex-volunteers) who has visited regularly since her release over three years ago.
Elsewhere this month there have been many new highs at Taricaya and the most noticeable of these was a competition we organised amongst all the schools in Puerto Maldonado. May was the month in which the world celebrated its “Biodiversity Day” and to honour this we inaugurated the first inter-school “Environmental Awareness” competition in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Each school had held its own internal competition and the winners passed to a grand final which was held in the main square of Puerto Maldonado on 22nd May. The fantastic displays were accompanied by the four pupils who had designed them and their teachers. Our volunteers were assigned groups to supervise as the four judges went around each display and having listened to each group they chose their top three. The judges came from the Tambopata National Park, the INC (National Culture Institute), the Ecological Police and the Ministry of Education. The winning displays are currently being displayed in the local museum and the top three schools won a variety of prizes from visits to Taricaya, a camping trip in the national park and free pizza! The event was covered by local newspapers, radio and television and it was incredibly satisfying to see how the young Peruvians see the threats to their land and heritage. A great time was had by everyone concerned and I must thank the volunteers for giving up their Saturday morning to help out. I am confident that this will now become an annual event and I am very proud to see our work filtering through to the next generation of Peruvians. These youngsters hold the key to the future of the rainforest and whether there will be any left for their children to enjoy.
Continuing on the theme of expanding to help those outside the boundaries of Taricaya, it was time to head back to Palma Real and continue the maintenance of our reforestation transects and start to plan this year’s freshwater turtle project. The Yellow-spotted River Turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) is under constant threat from egg poachers and after a couple of years working with the Ese-Eja natives and the children at the community school we wish to consolidate the efforts from previous years and establish once again some artificial beaches at the local school. The first meeting went well and we are to head down again on 17th June so I will keep you posted on how that goes next month.
Back at Taricaya we operate the turtle project on a much larger scale and we have already started preparations for the 2010 phase. Every year we collect more nests than previously as our monitoring techniques improve with experience and our continued presence on the government-allocated beach year after year no doubt discourages even the hardiest poacher. However, 2010 will see an even higher number of nests collected as the first babies we released back in 2005 are now at a reproductive age and this boost to the population since we started working collecting eggs in 2004 will give us record successes this year without a doubt. Therefore we are doubling our number of artificial beaches to four and the erosion of the river banks has rendered the old two unusable so we had to start from scratch. This year we have cleared an area in the centre of the now unused grassy area of the farm. With the goats now installed with our neighbours the area is perfect for the new beaches as it is in the sun all day long and we have built the external fence to protect the nests from predators such as ground lizards. Next month will see the construction of the four beaches and the arduous task of filling them all with sand from the beaches along the river. We estimate that close to 20 tonnes of sand will be necessary to fill all the beaches and so there will be some tired people at the lodge over the coming weeks!
We have continued to clear and reopen many of the trails after the rains these last few weeks and big tree falls, so important to the diversity of the rainforest, meant that some trails have been rerouted slightly and so new markers needed putting up and GPS references taken. This continued presence in some of the further limits of the reserve led to some great wildlife sightings, not least of which were two independent groups running into huge herds (150 plus) of white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari). These animals can be very intimidating in large groups and one group felt the need to clamber up nearby trees! This is actually not necessary as they will quietly move on if you keep still or slowly walk backwards but the experience is one that the volunteers will never forget and these large groups in the reserve once again reinforce the positive impact we are having on the flora and fauna in the area.
As you will agree it is an exciting time to be out in the rainforest and as the dry season arrives the river levels begin to drop and the seasonal “friajes” bring cold weather from Patagonia there is a lot happening at Taricaya and so until next time.....