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TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: April 2011
As the rains move on and the river starts to drop dramatically it is the start of a special time of year in the rainforest as the swamp levels start to fall and we can once again start to move more freely all over the reserve. Animals still find plenty of food available but now they start searching for mates so that the young will be born to coincide with the beginning of the next wet season. The jungle seems very alive and it is no wonder that there is some exciting news to report. So, it is time to bring you the latest from the Taricaya Research Centre and as has become the norm it is a pleasant dilemma I face in where to begin....this month we finished the newest enclosure in the animal rescue centre, visited the local Ese'eja community of Palma Realm, finished the first stage of our mammal census and much more including yet more excitement with the bat project!
This month I want to start with the animal rescue centre as we have been working hard here and there have been some highs and lows. It is always sad when you lose a young animal in the program and this month we lost the very young margay (Leopardus weidii) which had only been with us a couple of weeks. Whilst the young cub was receiving milk from us it would appear that it had been alone without its mother for too long before it was found. The lack of antibodies usually acquired through the mother's milk meant that the youngster had a very weak immune system. One day it was fine the next it was gone: the post-mortem exam revealed a very severe liver infection that we could not have detected and it was a difficult time for us all. At times like this we must remind ourselves of all the healthy animals we have returned to the wild over the years and that the occasional death is an intrinsic part of what we are trying to achieve with the rescue centre. However, it is difficult to assimilate the loss as we have been working very hard to improve our monitoring of all the animals and have implemented a very effective laboratory considering our remote location and the difficulties this entails.
Still, the other residents are all doing very well and by a strange quirk of fate later in the month we were given another slightly older margay! This cub appears to be much stronger; suggesting that it had spent more time with the mother before the misfortune of becoming someone's pet! The young female is very popular with all the volunteers and is surprisingly docile. This is not a trait we would wish to encourage but there is a long time to go before she will be ready for release and so for now her gentle nature can be used to help us take better care of her. There might even be the potential to start a captive breeding program for these beautiful cats as we have a young male in the centre also. It is too early to make any serious plans as the first 6-8 weeks are the most critical when we receive a new animal but we can still hope. Naturally, I will keep you posted.
We had a very brief resident in the rescue centre this month as a local farmer brought us a brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) which come entangled in a mass of foliage dragged down by a tree fall. Fortunately the female appeared unscathed by the tumble and after a quick dose of vitamins we released her into the secondary forest behind the camp. These animals are very hard to feed in captivity due their herbivorous diet and there was no point in keeping her in a cage for the sake of it. With no bones broken and good reflexive reactions she was returned to the wild immediately where she will live safe from loggers that caused her accident in the first place.
Elsewhere in the rescue centre we finished the reconstructed spider monkey enclosure and moved the youngsters away from the quarantine area. They appear to love the new spacious cage and now we can start the serious business of monitoring how the group develops and their social hierarchy evolve. This is not an immediate process but it will become apparent before long which individuals become the alpha male and female. This group dynamic is essential and must be well established before we can even consider releasing the troop back into the wild. Their old cages in the quarantine area are scheduled for demolition as the elements have finally taken their toll and we plan to rebuild the cages next month.
In the second week of April the local school of the Ese'eja community Palma Real celebrated its anniversary. Every year they invite us to join in the festivities and this year we were able to visit with a large group of volunteers. The trip was a mixture of business and pleasure and so first of all we headed back into their abandoned farming plots to check on our reforestation transects. The rains appeared to have helped the young saplings take root and so we have planned a future visit to clear the ever-abundant weeds next month. Job done it was time for the football tournament. Every year there is a knock-out tournament and, amazingly, this year: we won! Despite the scorching heat, a team comprised of staff and volunteers managed to win their three games and carry off the title. We must now start training for the defence next year!!!
Back in Taricaya we concluded the first phase of our mammal survey with the final wet season transects completed before mid-April. These long walks have been hard due to the torrential rains filling the swamps higher than most years but volunteers and staff rose to the challenge and these results will now be stored and analysed together with the data we collect form the dry season transects which should start late July when all the seasonal water has dried up. On the last day of the survey one group was surprised by a magnificent giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). These quirky creatures are very timid by nature and whilst we have captured them on our sensor cameras we have had very few sightings over the years. This group was incredibly fortunate and justifiably spent a long time telling everyone else about their adventure. The only drawback; the sighting was on the way back from the transect walk and so cannot be considered in this particular study!
Before signing off this month I must mention our ongoing biodiversity research. We have experienced fluctuating cycles with regards to our success over the years. Sometimes we would go months without discovering a new frog species whilst our mist nets captured many exciting new birds for the reserve. Other times our mist nets would stay empty as a new species of marsupial crawled into a Tomahawk trap. Nonetheless, our discoveries since the project's conception in 2001 have been truly remarkable. I cannot stress the apparent significance of Taricaya as a biodiversity hotspot and this month we have reached new highs in the study of bats. With the capture of bat species numbers 50 and 51 we have exceeded any possible expectations for the diversity of these airborne mammals. To put these figures in perspective: Taricaya is home to over 5% of the world's known species of bat (last estimated total was 1000). That means that in just 476 hectares we have 1 of every 20 species of bat known to man! These findings ar staggering and as we finalise the identification of some very special individuals it is possible that we will have discovered a new species to science and a new register for Peru.
With these latest discoveries we have a total of 115 mammal species in the reserve and I am convinced that we will keep shaking things up with new discoveries. As Hugo Zamora, our bat expert, heads back to Arequipa to start processing all this data we welcome back Mauricio Ugarte in May as we open our bird mist nets for the first time this year and, undoubtedly, there will be some "ornithological" surprises when I get back to you next month.
3rd May, 2011