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Monthly Update - February/March 2006
The heavy rains promised by the storms earlier in January never materialised and so this wet season has been relatively dry thus enabling us to work without delays over the last couple of months. With the lodge filling up to near capacity and the willingness of the volunteers to get stuck in I have been able to advance much quicker than planned. A lot has been accomplished in little time and I will try and do justice to all the hard work and the latest advances at Taricaya.
Let's start with the ongoing improvements in the animal release program and needless to say there are new residents in the project whilst old friends have been released back into the wild. Our nursery is starting to fill up and there were three new arrivals over the last few weeks. A first at Taricaya was an infant common squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus boliviensis) whose continual chattering is now a familiar sound around the centre. Later the same week we also received another young paca (Agouti paca) and a dusky-headed parakeet chick (Aratinga weddellii). The nursery seems much more vibrant with the new additions and the place has also been brightened up by the artistic talents of some of our volunteers who painted numerous animals on the walls creating a much more colourful environment. Elsewhere in the release program we are continuing to work hard on the improvement of the resident's living conditions and work has already started on a new enclosure for the curassows and trumpeters whilst an area of forest has been selected for a large mammal corral. The corral will host larger harmless mammals such as deer, peccaries, capybara and tapirs. By providing these animals a large area of untouched forest they will learn to forage for themselves but the boundary fence will enable us to monitor their progress also. Plans for April include new cages for the growing macaw populations as just two weeks ago we received two more chestnut-fronted macaws (Ara severa) and a scarlet macaw (Ara macao).
Just as we received new guests last month we also released some old ones. Bianca the young paca was growing at a phenomenal rate and was quickly outgrowing her cage in the nursery. Pacas are naturally very independent animals so we decided to release her just in front of the lodge. Being nocturnal by nature she is now happily running around at night often startling volunteers on their way back from the dining room. She is continuing to grow and appears to be thriving with her new freedom. Elsewhere we released the last two white-bellied parrots (Pionites melanocephala), the spix's guan (Penelope jacquacu) and our oldest resident chestnut-fronted macaw (Ara severa). As is usually the case with newly released birds they are not straying far from camp. This behaviour is common and I expect them to become more independent with time as they start to interact with wild populations. The most adventurous is "Turkey" the spix's guan that often follows groups up the canopy or along the trails although it often gets lost for a few days before reappearing at the centre again! The chestnut-fronted macaw on the other hand is very people-friendly and seems to delight in surprising people by dropping out of the sky onto their shoulders. This behaviour appears to be mischievous and friendly but in reality macaws form very strong bonds and mate for life so we should expect this continued contact until it finds a wild mate and can replace our company with that of a fellow macaw.
Moving on I feel that several sightings around the reserve are worthy of a mention not only for the amazing experiences they provided for the volunteers but also as indicators of a healthy ecosystem and reflecting our good work in the reserve. Anaconda Colpa had not been visited for a while and the first few groups to use it this year had some great sightings including a red-brocket deer (Mazama Americana), a tayra (Eira barbara) and two grisons (Galictis vittata). The last two species belong to the weasel family, Mustelidae, and the grison is an animal that we have only ever seen once before around the reserve. Last week a group of visiting tourists got a wonderful surprise when they reached the top canopy platform to see a margay (Leopardus wiedii) standing in the kapok tree. This small arboreal cat is rarely seen as it is generally nocturnal but I am confident that this individual was the one that we released in 2004 about 600m from the canopy. Whether it is the same or not it is a wonderful sighting, one of the best at the canopy so far.
The wet season is always a great time for studying herpetology (amphibians and reptiles) as the frogs and toads are breeding and their increased activity also means more food for the serpent population also. We have caught and identified many frog species previously unknown in the area with perhaps the most spectacular being the spotted-thighed tree-frog (Hyla fasciata) and the many-spotted phase of the clown tree-frog (Hyla triangulum). Many snakes were also sighted and captured including rat snakes, whip snakes, boas and a close encounter with a fer-de-lance.
The red-tailed boa was an individual I caught in the medicinal garden last year and released under the dining room to help control the rodent population. One day whilst eating I looked up and there it was in the rafters and so I proceeded to catch it again. The size difference was amazing, it had more than doubled in size over the last six months and we could feel three rodents in its stomach all at different stages of being digested. I knew it was the same individual as it had a scar on its face which had been an open wound when I captured it last year. It was obviously enjoying life at the lodge so I released it back into the rafters where it will continue to help pest control. Boas are generally not aggressive especially if well fed and this individual was quite happy having its photo taken with all the volunteers. The large rainbow boa we caught was less friendly but again manageable even at a healthy 2m. The only startling capture was the fer-de-lance (Bothrops sp.). I was out with the volunteers hunting for caiman and had just plunged my hand into the water after a young black caiman and when I turned around I saw the body of snake wrapped around a branch right next to me. The head was immersed but the body was already sending shivers up my spine as I recognised the scale pattern. I signalled Fernando who bought the claw and we caught the snake to find it was a 1m fer-de-lance the second most poisonous snake in the Amazon. Still I live to fight another day and we released the offender back into the water where we originally caught it.
The farm project continues to flourish and in March we concentrated on our Heliconia project. We are already producing large quantities of flowers from our original plants but this month we were given a collection of many different species to grow and hopefully make nurseries should the flowers find a market. This meant that volunteers were clearing and planting a lot of the time and we now have several plots with neat rows of the different species. We now have to wait for the plants to react after the transfer from Puerto Maldonado and hope that the new species produce flowers with a good market value. Elsewhere at the farm the donkeys are recovering well from a stomach parasite and the volunteers are training them by riding them around some of the trails. One female is pregnant so she just follows along behind without a rider. The idea is to increase their stamina to enable them to work when fully recuperated.
As you can see a lot has been accomplished already this year and with a lodge full of industrious volunteers I expect to keep the work rate up over the coming months. It is an exciting time to be involved and there is plenty of work for everyone!!
Taricaya Research Centre
03rd April 2006