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Monthly Update - March 2008
As water levels started to return to their normal levels it was back to business at Taricaya and March was a month filled with new projects, unexpected adventures and plenty of hard work to measure. I shall start this month with the arrival of Hugo Zamora from Arequipa.
Hugo is a biologist who specialises in bats and we met him at the Peruvian Ecology Conference in Arequipa at the end of last year. He agreed to visit us over the coming twelve months and help us compile a comprehensive list of the bats here in the Taricaya Reserve. The work was tough and every night for two weeks staff and volunteers alike were out checking mist nets for new captures. The results were very encouraging as we found 28 species during the study period, a number Hugo was very happy with. It was fascinating to finally get close to these elusive mammals and the variety in both body design and size was impressive. From the Large fruit-eating bat (Aribeus literatus) to the tiny Long-nosed bat (Rhynchonycteris naso) there is a very marked difference which we can never appreciate from the shadows that flit and squeak through the forest as dusk closes in. Bats are the most diverse group of mammals in the rainforest and our records were noticeably lacking any information on these, the most common, of rainforest mammals. Bats are hugely important in the forest ecosystem as pest control for the airborne insects, dispersers of seeds for many canopy fruits and pollinators of many plants including orchids and the vast family of shrubs, Piperacea. That said, we all wished for one specific capture to satisfy our curiosity and this was a species of the much maligned vampire bats. We did not have to wait long as soon into the first week we caught Desmodus rotundus, the Common vampire bat, and not long after Chrotopterus auritus, the Woolly false vampire bat. We have known of their presence for many years as our animals have suffered at the farm from occasional attacks but to finally catch one was truly amazing. My thanks go to Hugo who has returned to Arequipa but he will return later in the year to continue surveying and to help us compare population variations between the wet and dry seasons.
Back at the centre itself we said goodbye to some of our oldest residents in the animal release program. This month we were able to release our two Scarlet macaws (Ara macao) and as we opened the door it was incredibly satisfying to watch them fly out and start circling the lodge calling to each other in what I would love to interpret as joy at their new found freedom. These colourful macaws are threatened by loss of nesting sites through deforestation and hunting for the pet trade and as they flew off deeper into the reserve I hope that the sanctuary of Taricaya will enable them to find a home and live a long and happy life back where they belong. Our second release concerned our oldest pair of Yellow-crowned parrots (Amazona ochrocephala). These birds have also taken a long time to regenerate their flight feathers and soon after they were released I noticed that one of the pair was a significantly better flier than the other. I was concerned that the weaker one would be left behind but over the last couple of weeks they have stayed together around the lodge and as the weaker one continues to strengthen its flight muscles they have begun to roam further a field and I am now confident that they will remain together and eventually move off on their own.
After nearly four years of operating our release program it is unusual for us to receive a new species at the centre but March saw the arrival of two very cute babies belonging to the species Dinomys branickii. These pacaranas are very reclusive nocturnal rodents hunted for their meat and whilst we have received many pacas and agoutis over the years this was a first for us and their arrival caused quite a sensation. Their appetites are voracious and they are growing at a startling rate although their lethargy during the day does not make them all that exciting to watch! They are currently housed in the nursery to escape the colder nights as the dry season starts but they will soon outgrow this accommodation and will be moved to the juvenile enclosures. Another first for us came in the form of a Chestnut-eared aracari (Pteroglossus castanotis). These smaller members of the toucan family live in the forest canopy feeding primarily on fruits and bird's eggs. This individual is almost fully grown and has full adult plumage so I suspect its stay with us will be short lived as we check for potential illnesses and once given the all clear it will be released so it can unite with the wild flocks we see often around the canopy platform. Other new arrivals came in the form of old acquaintances as we received another baby South American coati (Nasua nasua) and a very young Brown capuchin monkey (Cebus apella).
We have also been having some rather good luck with our sensor cameras and this month we have had some great sightings around the reserve. Perhaps one of the best images caught was that of a group of red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) feeding on clay in one of our mammal colpas situated inside the reserve. These clay licks are focal points for much of the forest's wildlife as the animals rely on the clay to help pass unwanted toxins safely through their digestive system. The animals that feed on mainly leaves and plants tend to have a higher dependability on this cleansing process but predators also gather around these sites hoping to catch potential meals unaware as they feed! Elsewhere we also caught some white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari) on film and also a great tinamou (Tinamus major). These cameras are enabling us to piece together a fuller picture of how the animals are moving around the reserve and also enable us to monitor several different areas at the same time. When we walk around the reserve we naturally tend to startle the animals with our presence and so these cameras are giving us various sets of eyes to which the animals are oblivious.
As the river continues to drop we were left with a lot of residual water in the natural depressions found around the reserve and this meant that our access to canopy was being denied and so with a hardy group of volunteers we decided to tackle the swamps and find a route that would lead us to canopy by the driest (or least deep!) route. Thus with plastic marker flags in hand we headed off into the swamps and found what can best be described a path of least resistance leading us to the base of the canopy platform. Now we will be able to continue our observations and as water levels recede the route will become drier with time.
That almost wraps it up for this month but before leaving I would like to mention a new bird species for the reserve that has been spotted several times from the canopy platform and this is the Black-faced cotinga (Conioptilom mcilhennyi) and brings our total to over 360 species for the reserve. Next month I am sure there will be more new sightings to report along with the implantation of one of our new initiatives in the Ese'eja community of Palma Real and so until then..
6th April, 2008