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Monthly Update - July 2009
Once again I have a month of hard work and adventure to report on from the depths of the Peruvian Amazon. With the lodge bursting at its seams we have been able to accomplish a huge amount and push forward many of our projects in parallel. The butterfly house moves ever closer to official opening, beach patrols have begun on the turtle project, Mauricio has returned to mist net, modifications have been made around the rescue centre and necessary maintenance has begun around the camp and reserve before the return of the rains later in the year.
Normally during these updates I mention sightings and adventures around the reserve in conclusion but I feel it is time to dedicate more attention to these encounters as the Amazon rainforest is a place of mystery and amazement and, whilst our constant work in the field of conservation is incredibly worthwhile, we should not detract from the fact that we are living in one of the world's greatest ecosystems with the unexpected surprises and adventures that only true wilderness can provide. This month has been no exception as we have been working in huge numbers around the reserve. Trails have been cleared, bridges repaired, mist nets tended and monitored, materials collected for the newly modified animal enclosures and our regular observation hikes undertaken. It was during such an outing that we heard a huge crash as the jungle came alive with swarming bodies hurtling through the undergrowth. Whilst clearing one of the many trails we had stumbled into the middle of a herd of white-lipped peccaries. Many local guides and wildlife books will swear that wild peccaries are dangerous and that climbing trees is the only way to ensure not being mauled! The truth is they are just trying to get away from you and by standing still their amazing sense of smell means that they will never come too close during flight. Nonetheless it was a great experience for the volunteers lucky enough to feel the jungle suddenly come alive around them before returning to the facade of relative tranquillity. Another group working in a different sector of the reserve came across a huge snake in the middle of the trail, the relatively harmless yellow-tailed creibo was no threat but the loud whoosh as it took off down the trail caused most of the group to stumble back a little! Further down the trail we found fresh jaguar spoor overlaying tapir tracks- a hunt from the previous night? The truth is that the tropical rainforests around the globe are teeming with life and much of it we have yet to discover. Scientists and investigators continue to try and unravel the mysteries and complex relationships between its inhabitants and we are truly privileged to be at the forefront of such research!
This brings me on nicely to news from our own diversity studies and this month I would like to mention our herpetology research first. As volunteers and staff alike continue to check the pitfall-traps and carry out frog hunts at night it was actually a random encounter whilst walking the trails that led to the discovery a new species for Taricaya. The Flat-headed snake (Xeopholis scolaris) is a small member of the Colubrid family of harmless snakes. This is our 33rd species of snake identified in the reserve and takes our complete list of herpetology to 110 species. A few days later, there was a further snake adventure that deserves mention this month. Whilst working on some cage improvements in the rescue centre I heard shouts of snake from the Amazon parrot enclosure. I rushed over and was greeted by a large rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) trying to hide in the cement blocks inside the cage. It took me close to 15 minutes to finally extract it after a tug-of-war that left me struggling for breath. When I finally got the snake under control we were able to measure it at just less than 2m and its display of strength demonstrated just how effective these predators are and the relative ease with which they suffocate their prey. Once everyone had a chance to hold and photograph it I released it well away from the cages as the snake had entered the enclosure with a view to snacking on one of its residents!
On a different herpetological note we have also begun our monitoring of Playa San Francisco; the beach allotted us by the government for collecting the eggs of the "Taricayas". These freshwater turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) have been struck hard by the freakishly stormy dry season and the associated high water levels. If that was not enough, the rains were followed by a seasonal "friaje" (cold weather front from Patagonia) where temperatures dropped to 12 degrees Celsius for almost a week. As the river finally starts to drop and the sun shine we have only encountered two nests so far in the first ten days of monitoring but I am confident that the female turtles have been patient in waiting for ideal laying conditions and that August will see me reporting on yet another successful collection phase that will reward the hours spent wandering the beach at night.
The butterfly house is almost ready to receive our first study species as the plants that we transferred have taken root well and are producing new shoots and foliage. This is essential as these particular species have been selected as primary food sources for the caterpillars. Adult butterflies will happily feed on fermenting fruit and nectar but their respective larva can only digest certain plant toxins and so the appropriate plant species needed to be identified and transplanted. In August the government official responsible for the permits and license will visit us and give us the green light to proceed with the project and the introduction of our first specimens will follow directly after this.
The animal rescue centre continues to flourish and our young arrivals from last month are progressing very well. The baby jaguarundis (Herpailurus yaguarondi) have quintupled their weight and are becoming a handful already. The young spider monkeys (Ateles chamek) are growing quickly also and their fur is starting to shine with a healthy diet and treatment of vitamins. However, the growth of these youngsters coupled with a continued lethargy from the Peruvian government in producing release papers for some of our older residents mean that we have had to modify some of the existing cages. The problem lies in the fact that we are using the quarantine area for animals that should be in larger enclosures. As a result, we have made some adjustments to existing enclosures and built new partitions to create a row of three cages for our smaller cats (margay and three jaguarundis) and as soon as the coatis are released next month we shall reshuffle the remaining residents and free up the quarantine cages again. July also saw us receive a new species in the rescue centre, INRENA, the government branch responsible for the environment, called and left us a juvenile Striped owl (Pseudoscops clamator). This magnificent bird of prey is usually found in open grass lands or abandoned farms where it feeds primarily on rodents. The bird is doing well on a diet of fresh beef and when it moults leaving the adult plumage we shall have to locate and appropriate release site as we have yet to come across this bird in the wild around the reserve.
With the return of Mauricio Ugarte we have been out mist-netting again and this time the nets were located on the eastern border of the reserve. The first few days have been very successful with some great captures including the aptly named and very vociferous Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans). This mid-canopy bird is renowned for its distinctive call that pierces the forest at all hours during the day but its drab colouration makes it very hard to spot and we were all excited by this capture. Our bird list is now at 417 species and the three new discoveries this month were the Ladder-tailed nightjar (Hydropsalis climacocerca), Blue-crowned manakin (Lepidothrix coronata) and the Rose-fronted parakeet (Pyrrhua roseifrons). Mauricio will be with us for the first week of August also so I am sure that there will be more new findings to report on next month.
Before signing off this month I would just like to thank all the volunteers who have been with us during this very busy period. I should mention this every month but the results we achieve speak volumes on their own but the work ethic of the team never ceases to amaze me and with a mix of nationalities, ages and backgrounds the morale on the project is fantastic and enables us to achieve so much. This coupled with the continued dedication of all the staff members means that we move from strength to strength and as both our project and recognition grow it is looking very bright for the future here at Taricaya.
1st August, 2009