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Monthly Update - April 2006
April has not been one of the best months for me with an unfortunate illness sidelining me for the best part of three weeks but life in the jungle has definitely carried on as normal and the advances made over the last four weeks have been tremendous. The rains that seemed so distant finally fell with a vengeance and the swamps started to fill up to their levels of previous years. Still the reparation of the bridges has meant we have avoided the worst of the swamps and with the last one nearing completion we are all set again to cope with the tropical deluges!
It is hard to know where to start with so much going on but I am personally very excited by our latest resident in the animal release program. It has been a couple of years since the tragic loss of our first young Brazilian tapir, Rosita, (Tapirus terrestris) and so I was very glad to welcome another youngster to Taricaya a few weeks ago. Winifred, as she is affectionately known, was not in great shape when we received her as she was very thin and limping badly as her hind leg had been tethered to a stake. Now she is walking comfortably and is polishing off huge amounts of milk and papaya on a daily basis. The prognostic is very encouraging and I will definitely keep you updated on her progress over the coming months.
It is always with a heavy heart that I have to report losses in our release program and this month I regret to inform you of the loss of our first squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus boliviensis). One morning whilst being fed the young monkey appeared to have a seizure and passed away very quickly. These types of attacks and seizures can be the result of various factors such as cold, malnutrition and internal injuries. When we receive new animals we can never be sure how they have been treated previously and whilst malnutrition is less of a risk with adults and juveniles with the young babies it can be a serious problem. Over the years we have learned to recognise upon arrival in what sort of condition the animals are but the squirrel monkey did not show the usual symptoms of malnutrition and had no apparent injuries. Losses like this are unfortunate but I always try to put things in perspective when considering the number of sick and unwanted animals we have nursed back to health and successfully released back into the wild. We will undoubtedly have further losses in the coming years but innumerable successes also.
Work has begun on the new enclosures for the residents at Taricaya and the first one to be re-modelled was the enclosure for the razor-billed curassows. Our three curassows are recovering well with the new diet at the centre and their feathers now have a healthy lustre although they have to regenerate many new feathers before being able to fly properly again. However the best indicator of recovery with this species is their tendency to lose their "crow's feet". When a curassow is malnourished its feet tend to turn inwards and it walks very unstably (a common phenomenon with large terrestrial species) and we have noticed a continued improvement in this aspect and the birds appear to be much more comfortable and their feet less disfigured. The new spacious enclosure, with room for practice flights, will serve to encourage the healing process and speed it up also.
Elsewhere at the centre the mist netting is nearing the completion of the second and final stage. With four of the six transects repeated we are close to finalising the fieldwork and Mauricio and I are keen to start interpreting the data collected over the last twelve months. There is definitely a trend appearing as there are noticeably fewer captures in the wet season compared to the dry season. These results are very conclusive if a bit unexpected but that will give us plenty to investigate and finding feasible explanations will be a challenge. Any well-conducted investigation that produces improbable yet definitive results generally causes more of a stir in the scientific community so the attention will be well received.
The recent data has also enabled us to augment our species list with some great new captures. These include the ochre-bellied flycatcher (Mionectes oleagineus), rusty-fronted tody flycatcher (Todirostrum latirostre), spot-throated woodcreeper (Deconychura stictolaema), white-lined antbird (Perconstola lophotes) and yellow-margined flycatcher (Tolomyias assimilis). However, the most exciting incident was the unexpected capture of six brown-mandibled aracaris (Pteroglossus mariae) in just one net. The colourful aracaris are members of the toucan family and have the characteristic large bill designed for crushing fruits and nuts. This is the second member of the toucan family to be captured after the spectacular yellow-ridged toucan (Ramphastos culminatus) last November.
The pilot farm continues to flourish and the heliconia plants are producing beautiful flowers at a very quick turnover. The blooms are already causing a stir in Puerto Maldonado and so the prospects look good for finding buyers and establishing a fixed market for the locals to sell their product. Elsewhere the donkeys are recovering well from a parasitic infection and are rapidly regaining weight. Volunteers are riding and training them on a daily basis and we hope to start work with the tailor-made trailers in May. I am also very pleased to report that we are finally completing our work with Pedro from the San Pablo community across the river. He asked us towards the end last year to help him with the management of his animals, in this case sheep. They were destroying his crops and limiting the activities he could undertake on his farm. We immediately agreed to help and volunteers have been helping him plant posts around a freshly planted hectare of grass. Next week the netting will be arriving from Cusco and volunteers will help nail the new fencing so that within ten days Pedro will finally have his animals well catered for with lush grass and no longer a nuisance for his crops.
It is always satisfying when people come to us asking for aid as it indicates a willingness on their behalf to accept our help and advice. Little by little the locals are realising that we only have their best interests at heart and that there are no ulterior motives in what we do. As the reaches of our work at the farm extend further and further we can only hope that more and more lives will benefit from the help we can provide at Taricaya. The knowledge we have gathered over the years and the willingness of volunteers to get stuck in mean that we can truly make a difference to the average farmer struggling to survive.
Taricaya Research Centre
04th May 2006