Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: November 2011
It is with great pride and satisfaction that I am writing this latest update as November 5th saw us celebrate our ten year anniversary here at the Taricaya Research Centre. In those ten years we have received 1324 volunteers and with the help of each last one we have been able to accomplish so much in our efforts to help save the most diverse ecosystem on the planet. I feel it is appropriate to thank each and every one of you who have joined us during the last decade and whose motivation and hard work have made all the projects possible. I would also like to thank all of our staff members who have put their heart and soul into the project and whose dedication is infectious and good humour contagious. May the next ten years bring even more people to our little patch of paradise and enable us continue the battle to save the Amazon rainforest.
Whilst we gave ourselves an afternoon off to celebrate the anniversary! It goes without saying that we have worked hard again this month and there is so much to report that my dilemma is where to start...
Last month I mentioned the problems we had experienced with the turtle project and the voracious populations of carnivorous ants. Sadly, our best efforts were not enough to save the majority of the eggs in our artificial beaches and as such we were only able to mark and release just over 200 young hatchlings back into the river. The “Taricaya” turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) continue to suffer from poachers, water contamination and over-fishing and so we shall continue our efforts to save these beautiful reptiles. I am confident that next year will see us return to the successes of previous years that have seen us release over 6000 young turtles back into the wild since the project’s conception in 2005.
A project of this nature does not allow you to be depressed for long as there are so many highs to outweigh the occasional low and this month was no exception. Perhaps one of the highlights was the arrival of our first animals from Lima and the Wachipa Zoo. The animal rescue centre has a long history and over the years I have experienced a roller-coaster of emotions from the excitement of releasing wild animals back into their natural habitat, losing some to sickness, the joy of bringing an animal back from the brink of death and so much more. This is just at Taricaya, and has nothing to do with the 4 year battle behind the scenes to get all the paperwork in order to the point of having Peruvian laws re-written to recognise and accommodate our work. So it was an amazing feeling to be considered the best rescue centre in the country and hence worthy to start receiving animals from Peru’s capital city, Lima. For all appearances the Wachipa Zoo and Parque de las Leyendas in Lima are eco-friendly zoos with large cages and healthy animals and whilst this is the case for the animals on display those not on exhibition are kept in conditions that in most countries around the world would be considered criminal. Small cages in dark rooms are the fate for those animals not lucky enough to be put in the public’s eye and sadly, this is the majority! If they become sick they are euthanized if not then they just live longer in these dire conditions. It is hard not to lay the blame at the feet of the government who allow the animals to be kept this way but at the same time where else are they to put the continual flow of exotic animals confiscated on their way through Lima destined for the illegal pet trade. Obviously we cannot receive all these animals as we are not a zoo and do not wish to have our cages occupied by animals that can never be released but we want to help and this month we received our first animals from Lima.
Two white-bellied spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth), a male jaguarundi (Puma yaguaoroundi), two squirrel monkeys (Saimiri bolivinesis), a red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) and a common woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha) arrived on the plane from Lima and took their places in the rescue centre. Each animal was selected for a reason with the majority of the monkeys chosen for release at a later date, whilst the jaguarundi is to enter our captive breeding program joining our two resident females. That just left one of the monkeys! The common woolly monkey can still be found in some parts of the Madre de Dios region of Peru but has been locally extinct from our area for decades due to its size making them a good meal for local hunters. However, we chose this monkey regardless of the zero possibility of release because she is incredibly docile and interacts well with both people and other primates. Having a gentle monkey in the centre will prove very useful when we are trying to manage wilder individuals or are worried about young babies being on their own. So this beautiful female woolly monkey will become the nurse for many of our future inmates to reduce stress and keep them company as they adjust to life at the rescue centre. Both sides win as we again some extra help managing young babies and the new arrival gets to escape the bleak future of a small box in a dark room and at least live her life in comfortable conditions deep within her ancestral domain.
Elsewhere at the rescue centre we were starting to notice some disturbing behaviour from Preciosa, our resident jaguar. She had started to prowl around her cage and this is type of disinterested pacing is a sign of stress and boredom in captive animals. Before we could take any action we needed to study her behaviour and a dedicated group of volunteers offered to collect data and observe her taking turns throughout the day during two weeks. The results were conclusive and she had begun to adopt this fixed pattern of behaviour and we needed to act fast. The plan was to remodel her cage and provide her with a series of platforms, walkways, toys and plants to change her environment and provide her with more stimuli. The project was a resounding success and in just a week she has completely forgotten about pacing and is enjoying her new surroundings. We must continue to monitor her behaviour but for now she is a very happy cat!
November saw us return to Palma Real and continue our work there and as is the custom we were invited to join in their annual anniversary celebrations on the last day of the month. Having visited the community twice during the month to work on our reforestation project the final trip was purely recreational and this year we surprised everyone by winning the annual football tournament with a team composed of staff and volunteers. The only drawback was the following day almost everyone suffered a case of mild heat stroke having played three games in the middle of a very hot day! Next year we must return to defend our title and several gallons of water will be high on our list of things to take!
Before signing off this month I want to report on a huge success for us at Taricaya as we hosted the second bird banding course in Peru. Many of you might recall that we hosted a similar event in November 2009 and this year we were joined by more experts and students from around the world. Not only did we operate a bird banding course but a bio-acoustics course also and all our visitors fell in love with Taricaya and all the mysteries our forest has to offer. Amongst the visitors were some giants in the field of ornithology and bio-acoustics. It is always rewarding to speak to people with so much experience and knowledge whatever their field or speciality and they were very impressed with our work at Taricaya and our extensive bio-diversity research. Such contacts will prove invaluable as we continue to progress and search for ways to publish our findings and attain the recognition we deserve for all our hard work over the years. My thanks go to Mauricio Ugarte for organising the courses and to all the instructors who came from around the world- Canada, USA, Central and South America, Europe and Australia. It was a fantastic experience and I hope we can continue the tradition in years to come.
Of course with so many birders on site it would have been illogical not to have found some new species for Taricaya and indeed we discovered two new species for the reserve- the Amazonian antpitta (Hylopezus berlepschi)and Purus jacamar (Galbalcyrhynchus purusianus). This takes our total to a staggering 443 species in just 476 hectares; an astounding figure.
Next month will see us continue to work hard as the rainy season threatens in earnest and there will much more exciting news from our base in the Peruvian Amazon!