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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - July 2010

Brown eared wolly opossum

It seems that every month when I start writing these reports I begin by commenting on how much we have achieved at Taricaya but, if it is possible, then July has been one of our most productive months ever here in the Peruvian rainforest. With the lodge bursting at its seams and everybody keen to get stuck in it has been an amazing few weeks. We have discovered many new species for the reserve; collected the first turtle nests; cleared kilometres of trails; cleaned up the farm project; visited Palma Real; built a new cage for the short-eared dogs and been treated to some fantastic sightings on the trails. This, along with the day to day running and maintenance of the project, has kept everybody busy and in high spirits that not even an eight day cold spell when temperatures dropped to just 8°C could slow the momentum. So, where to begin....?

Fishing bat

After close to nine years of research since the conception of Taricaya it has become more and more difficult to discover new species in the reserve but this month we were visited by two friends, one old and one new, to help our biodiversity studies. Cesar Medina is another graduate from Arequipa University with ties to the second largest natural history museum in Peru (UNASA) and he joined us in the second two weeks of July to perform our first ever investigation into small mammals in the reserve. Cesar’s speciality is Rodents and Marsupials and with the aid of several different trapping systems he set out to create an inventory of these elusive little animals. Volunteers were quickly caught up in his enthusiasm as we set and checked traps for the duration of his stay. The project relied on four different types of trap: pitfall, Sherman, Tomahawk and rat traps whereby each system is designed to capture different kinds of mammal. The pitfall traps are identical to the ones we use in our herpetology research and are designed to catch small terrestrial mammals: the Sherman traps are also designed for terrestrial mammals but larger individuals that trigger a release mechanism when entering the box-like structure to eat the bait: the Tomahawk traps are larger cages still, also with a pressure related trigger, that are hauled up into the canopy to catch arboreal mammals and the rat traps, whilst less forgiving to the animals it catches, are necessary to capture certain ground dwelling rodents. All four proved very successful! Not least the Tomahawk traps which managed to catch not only marsupials and rodents but also an unsuspecting saddleback tamarin monkey (Saguinus fusicollis).

Setting the tomahawk trap

In total 15 species of animal were captured and of these 12 were new to Taricaya. Some of them still need to be identified down to species level as many opossums and rodents are very difficult to identify and require detailed measurements of their craniums to differentiate between species of the same genus. Some notable new findings however were a Slender Opossum (Mamosops sp.), a Short-tailed Opossum (Monodelphis sp.), a Pygmy Rice Rat (Oligoryzomys sp.) and a Spiny Tree rat (Mesomys sp.). Cesar will follow this up back at the museum and will send through the completed list but when he finishes the updated version we will have close to 65 species of mammal recorded excluding bats.
This leads me nicely to our second visitor, Hugo Zamorra, another graduate from Arequipa who returned for his third visit and quickly got moving in putting up his nets to catch bats. With Hugo and Cesar working in parallel we had people out and about day and night in the reserve but with 34 species of bat already registered Hugo’s task was that little bit more difficult! Nonetheless he was up to the challenge even though the dry season appears to be a difficult time to catch bats as their densities drop due to less food being available and resulting seasonal migrations within the forest. Hugo caught many individuals during the two weeks with the last night being the most spectacular for two reasons. Firstly he caught over 20 bats on the final night but within this group was a first for him and a huge bonus for Taricaya. Not just one but four fishing bats! Of all the animals on the planet the fishing bat (Noctilio leporinus) is perhaps one of the most amazing creatures I have ever come across. Its sonar and resultant echo location is so effective that this particular species can cruise over water in pitch blackness and detect fishes swimming below the surface just by the displacement ripples on the surface. Once a fish of suitable size and depth is detected the bat swoops down and snatches the prey from below the surface with fierce talons and flies off to feast on its prey. Hugo had never caught one of these amazing bats before and whilst I was certain of their existence in the reserve as I have heard animals fishing in the creek many nights whilst lying in bed, the proof was truly breathtaking. By the end of his visit Hugo had added four new species, again with a couple awaiting exact identification, and my thanks go to both him and Cesar for their time and expertise these last weeks. Next month Mauricio Ugarte returns to open his mist nets in our ongoing bird research so I am certain that there will be more excitement to report there also.

Sherman trap

Elsewhere at Taricaya it was time to start monitoring the turtle beach entrusted to us by the Peruvian government. The “friaje” which sent temperatures plummeting around the 15th July meant that we delayed the start of the project as the turtles would not lay their eggs in cold sand and justifiably so as we went to inspect the beach the day after the cold weather lifted and there was not a turtle track to be seen anywhere. The freshwater turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) will only lay their eggs if the weather conditions are ideal and this includes the lunar cycle also. Soon after the cold passed we went into a full moon and the excessive light deterred laying also. Nevertheless we established our presence on the beach to deter fishermen and egg poachers whose tracks we had seen on that initial inspection and not many nights after with the moon fading and the sand warming we collected our first nests. To date we have 15 nests collected with close to 500 eggs and I am confident that as nesting conditions continue to improve that we will have a great month in August.

Slender Opossum

The large numbers this month made it possible to work on many projects simultaneously and with many enthusiastic volunteers we were able to send out large groups to clear and remark our trail system. With large groups heading out armed with machetes and rakes we managed to tackle the longer trails deep in the reserve and as some needed to be modified to avoid large tree falls, GPS points were taken again to update our current map. With such an extensive presence in the reserve it was inevitable that we would come across some of the rainforest’s residents and this month we encountered some amazing animals. It seemed that every group to head out saw large groups of peccaries, both collared (Pecari tajasu) and white-lipped (Tayassu pecari), with the later often in groups of over a hundred individuals. These wild pigs are fiercely hunted for their meat and their presence in such large numbers reinforces our attempts to keep the reserve as a safe area free from poachers. Elsewhere, a pair of wild tapirs was spotted (Tapirus terrestris), a Brazilian porcupine (Coendu prehensilis) was seen near canopy, a jaguarundi (Puma yaguaoroundi) wandered just behind the animal enclosures and much more..... It is great for volunteers to see wild animals in their natural habitat and not just in the rescue centre and everyone became yet further motivated to get out into the reserve on the off chance of seeing another amazing creature.

Spiny tree rat

As we continued the maintenance work it was time to tackle the pilot farm and the task ahead appeared daunting indeed. The strong winds of the friajes had played havoc with the once neat rows of flowers and the ever persistent weeds need pulling out or chopping down. I can honestly say that I have never seen the farm in such pristine condition and I thank everyone who worked hard, often in hot conditions, and with many blisters to make this possible. Having tidied up our own reserve it was time to visit the Ese’eja community of Palma Real and continue extending our reforestation transects in their abandoned plots of land over-run with bamboo and other pioneer species of plants. The trip was made down river in the most arctic of conditions at the height of the cold weather spell and as we all disembarked shivering we were grateful to get warmed up wielding machetes and hacking through the tough vegetation. In fact the trip was a huge success as the cold meant we could last much longer than under a hot sun and after several hours of hard labour we stopped to buy some artesanias and local crafts from the village’s ladies before returning to Taricaya for a late lunch.

Very surprised monkey

Back at the rescue centre we were also hard at work clearing and building a much larger enclosure for the endangered short-eared dogs (Atelocynus microtis). These canines are now housed in a spacious and functional cage designed to enable us to manage the animals during their captive breeding program should we be successful in getting the animals to mate. We built also a new external area for our very young inmates that on arrival cannot be released into the larger cages. This small cage joins on to the animal hospital and will enable any future youngsters to get some sun and enjoy their first taste of the outside world but under close supervision and safe from the potentially aggressive older animals in the larger enclosures. 

All in all it has been a fantastically successful month in Taricaya and we have achieved so much that I fear I might have left some things out…but I must mention that on the 18th of July with the arrival of ten people on the same day we welcomed our 1000th volunteer to Taricaya. It is staggering to think that we have been helped by so many people over the last nine years and the achievements of today would never have been possible without the work of every single person who came before them. It has been an honour to meet so many dedicated people that have allowed me to follow my personal dream and Taricaya is a tribute to every last one of them.

Thank you!

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
4th August 2010

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