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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Loading the sand!

As we approach the end of our busiest summer ever it is time to take a step back and look at everything we have achieved over the last few weeks. But before we review all the hard work, I must report on a great milestone for Taricaya as on 2nd August we received volunteer number 1500 on the project. Over the last decade every single volunteer has left their mark on the project and has helped in the conservation of the Amazon rainforest. Without each and every one of them we would not be where we are now; pioneering new conservation strategies, contributing to international field guides, recognised as the best animal rescue centre in Peru, home to the continent's highest canopy walkway and so much more....all our great achievements have been the product of many small steps and hundreds of pairs of willing hands so a big thank you to everyone who has been a part of our history and to those of you yet to come and leave their mark.......

Back to the present and we have been focussing on several different fronts over recent weeks including the on-going remodelling of the animal rescue centre, the collection phase of the turtle project, the arrival of new animals for release and our biodiversity studies which continue to throw up new surprises. All this, coupled with the maintenance required on all the projects based at Taricaya, has meant that our 45 volunteers have had plenty of work. Whether camping on the river beaches in the cool nights hunting for turtle nests or wielding machetes in the jungle heat there has been variety and adventure for everybody. My usual dilemma is where to start...

The finished artificial beaches

The repopulation of the freshwater turtles, Podocnemis unifilis, or "Taricayas", is a project we have been undergoing for seven years now. Every year we must carefully prepare artificial beaches for our rescued nests, spend two months monitoring the river island the government allows us to patrol, carefully mark and code the hatchlings and then release them back into the wild. These are four distinct phases and the last two months have seen us wrap up the first and second. After much hard work, the artificial beaches were filled with sand, painted and labelled; ready for us to start our collection phase as river levels finally dropped. All turtles, whether marine or freshwater, require specific environmental conditions for laying. Such variables include moon cycles, sand temperature, water levels and weather. If one factor is significantly wrong then some females will rather abort by ejecting their eggs in the water instead of laying on land. This means that whilst we can monitor the beaches, prevent poachers from taking the nests and increase egg viability back at the research centre we cannot make the females lay their eggs! Last year was such a case when productivity was low due to prolonged spells of cold weather and freak rainstorms and so as we started our collection phase this year we all hoped Mother Nature would do her part. For the most part, she did! After seven weeks of continual patrolling and dedicated nest-hunting with the help of our native Ese-eja guide, we were able to rescue 45 nests and around 1500 eggs. Despite our best efforts we still lost seven nests to poachers (you cannot be everywhere at once) but overall we are very happy with the harvest after a disappointing season last year. The illegal poaching of these turtle eggs is devastating adult populations as fewer and fewer babies hatch and grow to replace the older turtles as they die. This is why it is essential to protect as many young turtles as possible and release them back into the wild. Now we must wait and see how many of our eggs hatch before returning the young babies to the wild.

Data collection before removing the eggs

Elsewhere we have been busy with the remodelling of the rescue centre. As the tapir enclosure expansion continues we have also started our brand new howler monkey cage and volunteers have been hard at work digging trenches, sewing huge panels of netting and hanging the cables for the structure. Despite our success with the rescue centre we continue to improve and this remodelling allows us to design cages and enclosures for specific types of animal. Such modifications will allow the animals to rehabilitate quicker and in some cases we hope to increase the likelihood of successful captive breeding allowing us to release more animals back into the wild. This month saw us receive two new residents, the first a very malnourished red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus); the second a saddleback tamarin monkey (Saguinus fuscicollis weddelliSaguinus fuscicollis weddelli). The young male howler monkey was severely underfed and in very poor health but I am pleased to report that an intensive course of vitamins coupled with a balanced diet has seen a remarkable recovery and the youngster is now being slowly introduced to the resident troop with whom it passes the day before returning to the animal hospital at night. The saddleback tamarin was the opposite as it was in fine health and in cases such as these quick sanitary controls revealed a healthy individual and so it was released within days back into the wild. Amazingly, a scar on the monkey's head has made it easy to identify, and we have already had several sightings of the newcomer with a small group of wild tamarins that occasionally come through the camp.

Health Checks on last years hatchlings- the sample group we maintain at Taricaya

When we can monitor the success of our released animals in the wild it is immensely satisfying and this will become much easier now with the acquisition of some top of the range telemetry equipment. Raul Bello, our rescue centre manager, had been accepted to present a paper on our work with releasing spider monkeys back into the wild and so he headed off to Cancun, Mexico, to present our findings at the XXIV Congress of the International Primatological Society. We took advantage of his trip to bring back some radio tracking equipment and I look forward to actively tracking and monitoring our newly released animals as they return to the wild.

Blue-Black Grassquit

There is always variety in the work undertaken at Taricaya and whilst we spent a lot of time this month toiling away there was still time to open our mist nets and continue banding birds. As the first official banding site in Peru it is imperative that we keep the project running and so we opened our nets in a variety of areas over recent weeks. We caught lots of interesting species including a beautiful female chestnut woodpecker (Celeus elegans) and a juvenile blue-black grosbeak (Cyanocompsa cyanoides) but the best capture was a new species for Taricaya- the blue-black grassquit (Volatinia jacarina). This small but beautiful little seedeater takes our bird species list total to 446! This is a remarkable number that justifies Taricaya's position as one of the world's biodiversity hotspots.

Still green papayas..waiting to be picked

As we strive to become more self-sufficient and able to provide the majority of fruit needed to feed our animals we have been working hard to tidy up our original pilot farm before moving on to the new area downriver. In the hot humid conditions of the rainforest pioneer species (weeds!) are quick to flourish in open areas and so it becomes a constant battle to keep our crops clear and healthy. It is hard work keeping a jungle at bay but volunteers never baulk at a task and we have spent many hours over recent weeks recovering many of our pineapple and citrus plants meaning that we can head down to the new farm confident that timely maintenance is all that will be necessary to keep the original pilot farm productive.

As you can see there is lots of work and plenty of willing hands as 2012 is looking to be yet another record year as people flock to our piece of the Amazon rainforest. Next month I shall keep you posted on the latest news and there will be more surprises of that I can assure you.....

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
10th September, 2012

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