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Monthly Update - December 2003
December saw the quietest month at Taricaya this year but still with 15 volunteers for most of the month. The weather started to make its annual change with the rainy season beginning and the associated increase in mosquitoes. However the increased water levels meant that we could re-initiate the canoe observations. This activity is always popular as volunteers are actually paddling through the middle of the rainforest in dugout canoes. Apart from the adventurous nature of the activity the potential for wildlife observation is great as one can see species such as herons and kingfishers that are not usually visible from the trails. This time of year is usually when the animals are most active because of the increased food availability produced by the new rains however it seems that the floods of January have affected the populations of smaller animals in the area. It would appear that groups of animals such as the armadillos and ground rodents (e.g. agoutis and pacas) suffered habitat loss during the floods. Their burrows would have been underwater for nearly five months and hence their breeding cycles were broken as well as obvious young mortalities. The effects of such disruption are only just being noticed as this is the time of year when these animals are most frequently seen and the number of sightings is definitely down on last year.
In spite of this December was always going to have difficulty providing us with surprising fauna sightings after the black jaguar and two-toed sloth seen in November but we were not disappointed. The heavy rains meant that it was easier to see tracks in the fresh mud and we were pleased to see that tapir, peccaries and deer are returning to the Taricaya area in greater numbers. This is a positive result of our work in the reserve as the increased confidence in the wildlife is a direct correlation with our efforts to preserve the area and the results are very encouraging. We also had the great satisfaction of finally seeing the scarlet macaw chick (Ara macao) fledge from the nest behind the pilot farm. Volunteers have been monitoring the nest and the chick's progress over recent months and in December the young bird took its first flight. It will now stay with its parents for a least another year so we hope to keep monitoring them in the area. It was also the time of year for the gregarious squirrel monkeys (Samiri sciureus) to reform their large troop again to coincide with the mating season and increased food availability. Just like last year the smaller bands that disperse in the dry season united and we are now proud to have a troop in excess of one hundred individuals that sleep in the bamboo thicket adjacent to the lodge.
December also saw us concentrating on the snakes of Taricaya and we discovered six species during the month. The herpetology project has been ongoing throughout the year but the new rains are associated with an increase in the principal prey species, frogs and toads, and hence increased snake activity. The six species discovered included:
- Langsdorff's Coral Snake (nacanaca)- Micurus langsdorffi
- Fer-de-Lance (hergon)- Bothrops atrox
- Common Mussurana (faninga)- Clelia clelia
- Olive Whipsnake- Chironius fuscus
The venomous snakes are always treated with great care but we are able to temporarily catch the non-venomous species for closer study and to add to our photo library.
The pilot farm project continues to spread its work further a field. In November our herd of goats was moved from the actual farm area due their destructive tendencies towards our crops to a family with large grass areas. The family was struggling for income and were more than willing to receive the goats. In December five kids were born of which four have survived. The family now have milk daily and the volunteers went with staff to build an enclosure for the goats at night to avoid problems of predation and helped make some improvements to the family's home. We have also stationed our donkeys there and the harnesses that allow the donkeys to help carry loads were finished. The results were great with the animals being able to greatly reduce the workload for the struggling family. Once the goats have increased their breeding population we shall leave the family with a herd of their own and take the rest to another family thus continuing to broaden our field of influence. The same will also apply with the donkeys.
We have planted cocoa and coffee plants at the pilot farm and the young plants are thriving well. In December volunteers went laden with over a thousand coffee saplings to our surrounding neighbours and helped them plant the crops. In two years time our neighbours will be harvesting coffee to sell thanks to our nursery at the pilot farm. This is an economically important crop and will give higher returns to the locals than crops such as rice, yucca and beans. We hope that the increased income will reduce their need to depend on the natural resources around them and hence reduce their impact on the ecosystem. Along a similar theme the young palmiche palms have been transplanted to various sites now that the nursery stage has been successfully completed. We are now using various plots of 25m2 to investigate which climatic conditions optimise their growth and survival rates.
In the middle of December volunteers made an overnight trip up the Madre de Dios River to a zone called Laberinto to bring shoots of young bamboo back to Taricaya. The species is "Guayaquil" and originates from Ecuador. It is a very thick bamboo that we have already used in construction work and it is a plant that regenerates very quickly. We wish to impress on the locals the effectiveness of bamboo as a viable alternative to the over-exploited palm species such as "huasaii". We plan to make a further expedition in January to bring more down to start distributing to our neighbours.
Taricaya has always concentrated on the social side of conservation with the idea that helping locals maximise their income will reduce their impact on the ecosystem and in December we produced an information brochure on the benefits of farming mahogany. Reactions to the project have been very positive and we have increased our status and credibility at a local level, now we have to build on this response and try to increase our field of influence. Once people see the impact of one project then the knock-on effects for our other programs can only be positive as people gain confidence in our work and us.
In conclusion we have finished 2003 with many positive results that will encourage us in the coming year. We also had some lighter moments to close out the year not least of which with our Ese'eja neighbour who came and taught volunteers how to make traditional bows and arrows. Judging by the general competence levels with the new weapon I think our local fauna is not in serious danger as of yet!!
Taricaya Research Centre
07th January 2004