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Monthly Update - January 2009
The New Year is off to a spectacular start with a series of storms that has brought the wet season in with a bang. Thunder, lightning and sheets of rain have been lashing down on us almost constantly since I last kept you updated. The forest needed rain and now as the river surges past the lodge I hope that the ecosystem can recover from an unusually dry 2008. Of course, such heavy rain can cause a lot of damage to the forest and when the weather finally eases off we shall have to perform a complete evaluation of the trails as there will be undoubtedly numerous tree-falls to clear away. This, however, is how the rainforest maintains such high diversity as the falling giants allow light to hit ground shaded for decades and the pioneer species will start to flourish and start afresh the cycle that makes the rainforest ecosystem so dynamic.
Whilst working in such weather is difficult it takes a lot more to prevent us from getting out in the field and it is attribute to the hardiness of everyone at Taricaya that we have been able to get so much done in such adverse conditions. Firstly I am glad to report a new species of reptile for the Taricaya Reserve. Whilst working at the pilot farm amongst the ever-growing mahogany trees, volunteers came across a bright green lizard. They brought it back to the lodge for identification and I shall never forget the look of amazement on their faces as I pulled a brown lizard out of the bag! Whilst chameleons are not found in South America they had found a species of monkey lizard that also has the ability to change its colour dramatically. Polychrus liogaster resembles closely the Anole lizards with a very long thin tail but with the ability to camouflage itself using different pigments in the skin. This individual was a first at Taricaya and brings our reptile count to 58 species.
Although not a new species for the reserve we also came across a beautiful male and juvenile Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus) that had somehow got themselves into the nursery. Whilst the piercing call of this antshrike is a familiar sound around the trails of Taricaya it is unusual to see one as they inhabit deep understory and brush. The plumage of the male is truly spectacular and I felt honoured to see one so close and be able to photograph it for our ever growing list. We also captured in our mist nets a pair of Thick-billed Euphonias (Euphonia laniirostris) which we were able to photograph also. With over 200 species of bird catalogued we move ever closer to publishing a comprehensive photo guide to the birds of Southern Peru.
January also saw us welcome back Mauricio Ugarte with a welcome break in his busy schedule. The idea was to try placing mist nets in the mid canopy with the use of 10m bamboo poles and a system of pulleys. Neither he nor I have ever placed nets at this height before and we were excited by the possible results. After sweating to install these nets it was a case of sitting back and waiting but we would end up being quite disappointed. We captured very few birds but the question was: why? When performing research a series of negative results is never as exciting as finding lots of new discoveries but it can be just as important for the project. After debating for days we came to several conclusions. Firstly we had picked several transect sites in similar types of forest. This was certainly due to the difficulty in getting clear areas at 10m high in denser forest and so as we chose zones we were influenced by being able to get the nets up that high. This secondary forest tends to have many pioneer species, such as heliconias and Piperacea, and then fewer large trees. Whilst the nets were below the canopy level there was generally a clear flying zone and maybe birds tend to avoid these areas for fear of predation. That said we did manage to get some nets up in denser areas but still there were few captures and so the second conclusion we made relates to the structure of the forest. Trees in dense forest are in constant competition for light and so grow straight up searching for gaps and only when they reach the light do they start to branch out. This means that whilst there may be many trunks and lianas there are very few perching spots and so the birds are not that active in this mid-canopy zone. Still we plan to continue investigating and also lower them slightly to cover the level between 3m and 6m- the gap between the understory nets and these new mid-canopy ones.
At the rescue centre we also received two new inhabitants and said goodbye to an older resident. This month we received a tiny female white-bellied monkey (Ateles belzebuth chamek) that had been abandoned in Puerto Maldonado. The baby was sick with diarrhoea and very emaciated with her skin hanging loosely off her body. In cases such as these the attention required to save the animal is around the clock and two of our volunteers rose to the challenge offering to look after the baby. Under close supervision they looked after her; changing dirty blankets, feeding her every 3 or 4 hours and continually filling a hot water bottle. It is therefore with great pride that I can announce the baby, named Lilou, is gaining weight, no longer has a stomach infection and is starting to fill out. Such dedication is a norm at Taricaya but this case deserved a special mention as the youngster really did not look like surviving the first day let alone the three weeks that we have had her.
The second case was also a serious one with regards to the animal's health. After the success of the animal management course in November last year the government is finally allowing us to work more closely with the other two registered rescue centres in the area. One of these had a seriously mistreated jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi) which is a smallish terrestrial cat with a long tail. A factor we had to consider was that these cats are solitary, except when in breeding condition, and the other centre does not have as much space as we do and so to maximise its chances for a complete recovery the decision was made to bring it to Taricaya. In just 24 hours we fashioned an emergency enclosure separated visually from our other residents. The animal had been kept in a ridiculously small cage with a mesh floor and its paws were injured and behaviourally it was demonstrating signs of extreme stress. It was struggling to walk also and had very degenerated hind leg muscles. We fashioned a type of harness with a loop to attach a rope to help it lift up its body as we started exercising it over short distances. The recovery process will be long and the animal will need a lot of special attention but it is already showing signs of recovery and I hope we can save this beautiful feline. This same centre has had lots of experience with peccaries and whilst we have released many of these wild boars over the years we decided to send our male collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) to them as they have a female of the same species currently at the centre. The company will help the male and a joint release in the future will increase his chances of survival.
Daniel Medina has also been hard at work in his first month working full time here at Taricaya as our botanical database starts to grow. He quickly reviewed his previous plant transects and has got to work collecting new samples and taking photos and we already have a new plant list with 130 species of angiosperms, 12 species of ferns and 11 species of fungus. Obviously there are many more to identify but this has always been an area of our research we have suffered with and to have an expert on board this year will give us a huge boost and enable us to push forward with so many of our other studies also.
As you can see there is lots going on and as numbers increase next month we will be able to push forward and achieve even more. I look forward to giving you all the latest next time and so until then....
4th February 2009