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TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: September/October 2011
My apologies for the delay in getting back to you all with the comings and goings at our research centre in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. With so much going on time just seems to fly by and before I knew it I have two months worth of news to report and little time to do it in. A great problem as far as our project's success goes, slightly more demanding on a personal front trying to fit everything in! As we continue to grow and develop more ideas the snowball effect means that we need more and more people to get everything done and fortunately we are smashing our record for number of volunteers this year and that means one thing- achieving so much more!
Over recent months I have been privileged enough to be able to bring you success stories and positive feedback often having to leave some of it out but in the type of work we are committed to that is not always the case. Sadly, this month I must report on some setbacks we have suffered both at the rescue centre and on the turtle project. The nature of an animal rescue centre can provide us with rollercoaster emotions from the success of releasing healthy animals back into their natural habitat from watching on helplessly as an animal must be euthanized due to incurable diseases contracted in captivity. However, this month we hit a new high only to plummet into a depression soon after.
Our captive tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) have huge potential to become a successful breeding pair and should this happen we would be able to release their offspring back into the reserve and helping re-establish wild numbers. Little did we know that a year ago they had already mated and whilst we suspected that the female might well be pregnant we had no idea she was so far along until last month a young female was born un-expectedly. One Saturday afternoon we were performing our routine feeding run when staff and volunteers noticed something in the tapir pool next to the large female. It turned out to be a new born calf and after 2 hours of struggling we were able to rescue it from the pool. The first-time mother had immediately raced to the water having given birth and the youngster soon followed. The problem resulted in that tapirs defecate in water and we do not know how much water the calf swallowed floundering around chasing her mother. If that was not enough, the new mother seemed unwilling to feed her baby and after close monitoring we decided after 12 hours that we must separate them or risk losing the calf to starvation. It is not uncommon for first-time mothers to struggle with their parental responsibilities and in the wild this can often lead to the death of first born babies. Such problems are well documented in some species such as elephants! However we were determined to keep this young tapir alive and so we removed her from the enclosure, took her to the animal hospital and began a bottle feeding regime of formula and vitamins. Esperanza (Hope), as she had now been named, accepted the bottle readily and for the first 48 hours we were very optimistic about her survival chances. Sadly as the week wore on it became apparent that her 2 hour swim before being discovered had exposed her to many potential infections and her new-born immune system was unable to fight them all off. After just 8 days and intensive treatment Esperanza died. Volunteers and staff were heart-broken and many tears shed. I was truly amazed by the commitment of everyone at the centre, there were often 3 or 4 people on call to help out day and night and it was a huge group effort to try and keep her alive.
After such a traumatic experience it is difficult to focus on any positives but the team spirit shown during that long week left me stunned and confident that as a team we can overcome almost any difficulties. We have already built a small fence around the tapir pool that will allow the adults access but babies will be unable to climb over. In short we are ready for the 12 month wait and I can assure you that our next captive born tapir will be a success story from birth to release!
Elsewhere at the artificial beaches we were eagerly awaiting the birth of our first young freshwater turtles (Podocnemis unifilis). After a collection phase of mixed success due to the cold weather spell in late August we were hopeful of a high occlusion rate and los of young hatchlings to release back into the river. We were to be disappointed as we checked on the first nests we found thousands of tiny carnivorous ants feasting on the now damaged eggs. In our 7 years of undertaking this project we have never experienced anything like this and this plague of insects threatened to destroy all our hard work from earlier in the year. We quickly cleared out the eggs from all the nests and rescued the ones yet to be attacked by the ants. As a precaution we always prepare an extra artificial beach and so all the unaffected eggs were relocated in the pristine sand. Nevertheless the casualties were high and some of those that were undamaged could also have been affected by the transfer. All we can do now is wait and hope for a small miracle. Thus far we have collected, marked and released just over 100 young babies and I hope that I can report on some more hatchlings surviving for release next month. Fingers crossed!
Time for some good news! Fortunately there is never a shortage of this at Taricaya and this month it was time for a visit from an old friend Marco Delgado eager to continue inventorying the Lepidoptera of the reserve. So far Marco is concentrating on diurnal species of butterflies and with manual capturing techniques (big nets!) and hanging traps he was back out patrolling the trails ably assisted by keen groups of volunteers. After 2 weeks of hard work I am very pleased that our current total for butterfly species is 281 with many more still being processed in Marco's home university in Arequipa. I will keep you posted on the latest tallies as the specimens are identified.
In the rescue centre it was time to move our three margays (Leopardus wiedii) into their beautiful new compound and as they left the small quarantine cages it was amazing to see them explore the new surroundings and within just days we were able to open the adjoining doors and allow them to get to know one another. A huge success all around and the future looks very bright for these magnificent felines and our long term plans to release their offspring back into the wild.
At the pilot farm we were working hard on our latest plant nursery and with hundreds of cedar seeds and ironwood seeds now in the germination beds I am hopeful that next month we will have a healthy crop of young saplings to transfer downriver to the Palma Real community where we are currently operating an ongoing reforestation project. Still we needed to continue our ongoing battle with the secondary vegetation that continually threatens to re-cover our forest transects and twice a month we sharpen our machetes and head down river to renew our battle with the thick jungle understory. It is hard labour and many volunteers come back to camp with blisters and covered in grime but it is immensely satisfying to be part of a project on such a large scale and with the potential to expand even further so there is never a shortage of enthusiasm and I can only stand back and admire the hard work that everyone is so used to undertaking at Taricaya month in and month out...
November will see us celebrating our 10 year anniversary, the start of the release of our second group of spider monkeys (Ateles chamek), arrivals from the Wachipa Zoo in Lima for the rescue centre, moving our plants to Palma Real and much more...until then!
8th November 2011