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Monthly Update - January 2007
As is customary at the start of each year I would like to outline our goals for 2007 at the Taricaya Research Centre. As volunteer numbers continue to rise I am confident that this year we will maintain our strong work ethic and that we will do past volunteers proud as we continue their legacy of endeavour and dedication. Every year the bar is raised and my expectations are surpassed as we overcome the many obstacles we face, be they natural or political! I see 2007 as a year for consolidation of the longer-standing projects and for the formation of some new initiatives also.
With the exception of the pilot farm, the animal release program is our oldest project and one that I am very proud of. Whilst I am still struggling with the paperwork for the official rescue centre, once again government officials are dragging their feet; we continue to receive unwanted pets from Puerto Maldonado. January saw the completion of the second monkey enclosure and the installation of the new inhabitants, the white-bellied spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth chamek). The group now numbers five as another young female joined us in January and as our resident troop grows I become more confident that upon eventual release their chances of survival will be greatly increased. Pleased as I was with the latest spider monkey I would be lying to say that this was our grandest arrival in January. About ten days ago we received a young jaguar cub (Panthera onca). The two month old female was weak and it was touch and go for a while as she refused to drink the vitamin-rich milk we prepared. She was starting to lose movement in her hindquarters and it was looking like we were going to lose her. In a last ditch effort we tried a chicken broth with small pieces of meat- finally she started to eat and every day she seems stronger and fitter on this new diet. She is ridiculously cute and to all appearances a kitten but this illusion is quickly destroyed when you see the huge paws and razor-sharp teeth! She is currently housed in the nursery where her health is closely monitored and she is feed three times a day. The other addition to the program in January was a juvenile common squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus boliviensis) which is currently housed separately and will later be relocated with the smaller monkeys in the other new enclosure.
Apart from the new arrivals we were able to release some of the older residents this month. When we open the doors and rehabilitated animals return to the wild it is a truly satisfying moment; one that makes all the hard work worthwhile. The first to leave us was a scarlet macaw (Ara macao) and whilst we were hoping to release a pair it soon became apparent that the second individual was not a strong enough flier. It could manage short bursts but this impaired ability would seriously jeopardise its survival chances. Still I am confident they will still pair up as the stronger bird still circles the centre calling and would appear to be waiting for its mate as it visits every couple of days. The weaker bird should be fit enough for release in the next few weeks.
Elsewhere we released a brown agouti (Dasyprocta variegata) and a young paca (Agouti paca). These are both large terrestrial rodents and our previous releases are often seen at night around the buildings. Bianca, a paca we released almost a year ago, is especially fond of startling volunteers as they wander back to sleep at night. I am sure that soon they will start to breed and it is always encouraging to see previous releases thriving in their natural habitat. The final release was the Southern Amazon red squirrel (Sciurus spadiceus) that quickly scampered off and joined the numerous others we frequently see along the trails. However, it was not all good news in the program as we lost the young pair of saddleback tamarins. The first one died one night of an apparent seizure and a few days later the other one passed away apparently out of sorrow. Primates are very social animals and the shock of separation from their mother at such an early age meant that these siblings formed an even stronger bond out of necessity. When the first one died the second just lost the will to live. It is always sad when such misfortune afflicts the program but I always stress to the volunteers that all our residents would have met such a fate in Puerto Maldonado and that some losses are unavoidable due to ill-health and malnutrition before we receive them. Our management of the animals has improved greatly over the years as we have learnt to recognise symptoms of disease and mal-nourishment and whilst such losses are now few and far between it serves to remind us of the fate of so many illegal pets that do not reach us.
The pilot farm continues to extend its influence over the local communities and we are now working full time with our neighbours across the river. Percy has returned to his land after some family trouble and we are helping him to recover the flowers that have been overrun with quick growing pioneer species since we planted them last year. He is grateful for the help and is now committed to looking after them full time. Pedro, who primarily farms with livestock, has managed to stabilise his sheep flock after the puma attacks last November and is preparing land to receive coffee plants. He already has some but wants five hundred more and together with his father they are very keen to implement the techniques we have utilised at Taricaya. We have already been drinking our own coffee at the lodge and plants at the farm are laden with fruits so the future looks bright as we strive to improve the quality of life for the struggling farmers. The Es'eja museum continues to prove attractive for tourists and Enrique's family is experiencing a sense of financial stability for the first time.
The herpetology program supervised by Daniel is also continuing to throw us some surprises as the number of species found in the reserve continues to grow. We now have over 45 species of reptile and many more amphibians still to be processed as their identification can prove very tricky. Some of the best sightings/captures include a 2m red-tailed boa constrictor, Phylomedusa tree frogs and a Gibba toad-headed turtle.
The work in the rainforest continues full throttle and I expect 2007 to be another fantastic year with numerous successes. With the arrival of our 500th volunteer in February it is truly amazing to consider that in just over 5 years we have already achieved so much. This is a reflection of the dedication of past volunteers and I am certain that future visitors will do them proud and create a legacy of their own.
7th February, 2007