Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: November / December 2012
What a spectacular end to our busiest year yet at Taricaya! As the rains finally return with a vengeance we are celebrating the birth of a young male tapir, our highest survival rate on the turtle project ever, new species for our biodiversity data, brilliant progress with our new enclosures and, to top it all, some last minute reservations have taken our total number of volunteers received in 2012 to over 250! It seems that this year has flown by in a blur but as I look back over the last 12 months I am very proud of all that we have achieved. As the project continues to grow and expand we have carefully managed all our projects and not spread ourselves too thin.
Before I summarise what a great year 2012 has been there is plenty of news from just the last few weeks. Perhaps the biggest news and a fantastic achievement has been the healthy birth of a baby male tapir (Tapirus terrestris). "Theo", as he has been named at camp, is now nearly 2 months old and weighs over 30 kilograms! He is now familiar with the large enclosure and whilst dependent on his mother for milk is becoming more adventurous every day. He is the first successful captive birth in our ever growing rescue centre and a wonderful reward for years of hard work and dedication. As we look to build on this success in 2013 we hope that some of our other target species will reward us with youngsters to be trained and prepared for release back into their natural habitats thus helping re-establish the balance of the eco-system.
Part of this preparation requires us to stimulate the minds of our resident animals during their stay with us. Whether they are with us a few weeks or a few years it is very important that the animals do not succumb to boredom and start to exhibit repetitive behaviour so common in zoos all over the world. "Pacing" is a common display of such boredom and at Taricaya I can proudly say we have avoided this problem in all cases. The location of the project in the jungle itself is a huge benefit as naturally the residents are continually bombarded by sounds that they will have heard during their infancy in the wild, however brief. Nonetheless being in a cage, however spacious, is not the same as running free and as the animals recover their health we try and keep their minds active to speed the process up. This year we used Halloween as a perfect excuse to get creative! Staff and volunteers designed special puzzles for the animals with the juicy prize of tasty treats. From large boxes with different shaped holes to sticks with string and balls the whole exercise was a huge success and fitted in well with our daily routine of keeping our animals stimulated and healthy.
Elsewhere at Taricaya we celebrated our 11 year anniversary on November 5th and as is tradition we marked the occasion by releasing our baby turtles back into the wild. After the difficulties of last year we were determined not to get depressed and this year we worked incredibly hard on building cement turtle beaches to prevent attacks from carnivorous ants and improve the protection for our relocated nests. In total we saved 43 nests and 1212 eggs of which 1033 hatched (85.23%). This is our best survival rate yet and even though a few of the hatchlings died of natural causes before release, a normal occurrence in the wild with natural selection sorting the weak from the strong, we were able to free 906 babies back into the rivers whilst 32 remain in the turtle house to continue our biometric research on growth rates and diet success. The latter is very important and every day volunteers now prepare fresh food for our study animals as we investigate what diets improve growth rate and health so that we might be able to give our hatchlings a better start in life and improve their chances of surviving the natural perils that await them in the rivers and lakes of the Amazon.
My concerns over the lack of water are a thing of the past. The last few weeks have been some of the wettest I can recall in over 15 years in the rainforest. River levels have risen rapidly and flash flooding in the mountains means that we encounter whole trees just floating downriver. The long awaited water brings new life to the jungle and as food becomes more abundant the forest's birds and animals often join up into large groups for protection as young are born and food scarcity is no longer an issue. It is not uncommon to come across groups of 500 squirrel monkeys or 150 white-lipped peccaries and whilst the seasonal swamps make moving around the reserve more challenging, the rewards are great with wildlife everywhere enjoying the new bounty.
The rains can make our work harder but in all honesty we would sweat in the heat so cool rain is a nicer way to get wet! This month we have been pushing hard on our new battery of cages for primates and the hard and heavy labour of manoeuvring cumbersome rolls of chain-link and hauling the netting over our now secure metal structure has been a challenge. Naturally we won! After trying various different techniques to get the netting in the right place we must now begin joining all the panels together with pliers and patience. The result will be a huge "tent" covering 738m3 and separated into 4 enclosures of 10m x 4.1m x 4.5m. A massive undertaking and one that will take time to complete but these materials will last forever and these beautiful new cages will be more spacious allowing the monkeys to regenerate their muscles more quickly and encouraging growth through activity. I cannot wait to report on the completion of this ambitious project and post the photos right here!
Even though our numbers drop slightly over the holiday period we hosted 15 volunteers over Christmas and whilst the rest of the world enjoyed a break we continued our endeavours. The animals in the rescue centre needed feeding, the cages cleaning, the trails cleared and so I must thank everyone who helped during this time and who showed the Taricaya work ethic is on show 365 days a year!
Before signing off I would like to look back briefly over the last 12 months. As Taricaya surpassed 1500 volunteers and celebrated 11 years of hard work it is truly staggering to look at where we are now in comparison to 2001! This year saw us reach new heights in our biodiversity research as we boast species lists that are the envy of reserves and field stations far larger than ours. With 448 species of bird, 59 species of bat, over 110 species of amphibian and reptile, close to 300 species of butterfly and 60 plus species of mammal; Taricaya has cemented further its reputation as a biodiversity hotspot. Our animal rescue centre has been awarded the honour of the best in Peru and our status as a bird banding station continues to draw attention. The expansion this year means that we can receive over 40 volunteers at any given time and our new farm plot of 30 hectares is being worked and modified as we strive to become more self-sufficient for both ourselves and the animals we rescue. The aviary, turtle and butterfly houses continue to improve and the addition of telemetry equipment and new sensor cameras means that the future is bright for 2013!
As our reputation grows as a pioneering conservation project in the world's richest eco-system we have hosted globally recognised field courses, been featured in the media in 8 different countries, hosted the likes of the BBC Natural history unit and been praised by Jack Hanna. All this is a tribute to the dedication and hard work of everyone involved with the project and I would like to thank everyone once again for making Taricaya so special. With 2013 promising to be even better, it just remains to wish you all a Happy New Year and I look forward to bringing you the latest from our patch of paradise deep in the Amazon rainforest.
2nd January 2013