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TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: SPRING 2012 (April, May, June)
My apologies for such a long delay in getting you updated on the latest from the Peruvian Amazon. A long business trip, a lodge full to bursting and exciting expansion plans have meant time has just flown by and I will try and do justice to all that has been going on over the last three months. With just one month’s news a starting point proves elusive, with three times as much, nigh impossible. I shall simply try and carry on from where I left off last time and hope nothing gets omitted!
The increased interest in our conservation work had meant turning willing hands away was becoming a distinct possibility and so it was decided to increase our capacity and give everybody a chance to enjoy the unique experience Taricaya offers. Such a decision was not taken lightly but with careful planning and the acquisition of a second plot of land downriver from the centre I am pleased to report that we have increased the number of volunteers we can receive by 25%. Unsurprisingly, within 2 weeks of finishing the new bungalows the beds were filled! So, with more people than ever working at the centre, there is a buzz around the reserve and with so many willing hands we are able to work on many projects simultaneously.
There has never been a shortage of work at Taricaya and we pride ourselves on the diversity and validity of all our projects but by deciding to accept more people we have been able to give an extra push to two of our oldest and most successful projects. The animal rescue centre and agro-forestry project (pilot farm etc…..). The purchase of an abandoned plot of land about 1km away from the reserve means that we can continue our research into reforestation strategies, poly-culture farming and even become self-sufficient with respect to producing and growing the food we need for all our animals in the rescue centre. This goal will take a few years to become reality but I have no doubts that we can turn this abandoned “farm” into a productive plot and expand our research from the older pilot farm within the reserve. The original pilot farm is now host to mahogany and flower plantations, the turtle house, artificial beaches and the new aviary and this second plot of land will enable us to perform research on a bigger scale and try to implement many of the techniques we have been perfecting over the years within the boundaries of Taricaya. An exciting time indeed but there is always a catch! The new plot of land totals around 20 hectares of which about 19.75 hectares is completely overgrown and succumbing to the rapidly encroaching secondary forest. Hence our first task, and a Herculean one at that, is to recover the areas that had once been cultivated to see what had already been planted. To do this we had to head out armed with just machetes and rakes and resign ourselves to sore backs and the occasional blister! Nevertheless, I have yet to see volunteers and staff surrender, and I can report that we are making great headway and whilst there is a long way still to go we have already discovered avocado trees, orange trees, coconut palms, a huge banana plantation and much more as we cut back the weeds to give the trees much needed light and space. I look forward to more helping hands over the summer as we continue to clear this plot so we can assess and design our new pilot farm.
Back at Taricaya we decided that the rescue centre was in need of some fresh energy and the sad reality is that many exotic animals are still being confiscated at border posts and in towns. Our reputation as the best rescue centre within the country has been hard earned but with that recognition comes a responsibility to try and receive as many animals as possible in our efforts to get them back into their natural surroundings. We are not a zoo, and have no intention of ever becoming one, but our new found access to the adjacent protected areas and national parks (signed in a contract with the Peruvian government) means that I no longer need be concerned about overcrowding in the Taricaya reserve. By this I mean that any ecosystem has a fine balance where there is enough diversity and abundance of animals to allow predators to hunt, prey to breed and plants to be dispersed by their animal dependents. If we were to continue to release animals back into the Taricaya reserve for the next 15-20 years we might well get to a point whereby we have helped the ecosystem recover to how it was before man’s impact but we might also have upset the balance by releasing more individuals of certain species. Access to the two huge national parks adjoining the reserve relieves this pressure because with over 250,000 hectares of rainforest and no fences animals can move around and the ecosystem can restore its balance naturally over much larger areas.
So, what does all this mean for Taricaya and the rescue centre? The extra funding that more volunteers will generate means that we can build large new enclosures specifically designed to cater for certain types of animals (primates, felines, parrots etc….). These new cages are to be built with metal structures, cement foundations and strong fencing materials. In short, we wish to ensure longevity for the enclosures as wood and local materials fall prey to the elements all too quickly. We have shipped in netting and frames by the ton from Lima and it is an exciting time as we clear the areas for the new enclosures and we have already started on our new tapir enclosure designed to help us manage these huge animals and facilitate the captive breeding program. I look forward to filling you in and posting photos of these new installations as and when we finish. Our vast success over recent years has taught us many lessons and as we push the rescue centre into the next phase I am very excited about what the future holds for the project and the new possibilities the expansion presents.
Since I last wrote we have released many of our older residents back into the wild. First to taste freedom were two blue and yellow macaws (Ara ararauna), one scarlet macaw (Ara macao) and one chestnut-fronted macaw (Ara severa). These quickly settled into life around the reserve and are frequent visitors to camp and can be seen poaching snacks from the animal kitchen where all the food is prepared! Also sent back home were a group of 5 brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) that were released at the border with the adjacent national park, Tambopata-Candamo. Next to follow were a white-bellied toucan (Ramphostos tucanus) and a couple of squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis). It is incredibly satisfying when we can open our doors and send animals back to where they belong and with the improvements we are planning I hope to be able to report on successful introductions of both confiscated pets and captive bred individuals. Exciting times!
As well as releases there have been some arrivals this month and the most exciting was a group of four razor-billed curassows (Mitu tuberosa) from Lima. These large birds are the first to be hunted out if an area as they spend a lot of time on the ground and are clumsy fliers as they clatter through the mid story canopy. We have only seen wild ones a couple of times since setting up the project and so we hope that we can reintroduce these beautiful birds back into the wild. There is at least one breeding pair in the group and as they settle in I look forward to designing their new enclosure to encourage captive breeding.
Elsewhere at Taricaya we have been hard at work building the artificial beaches in preparation for this year’s turtle project. Here we have changed materials also and have decided to use cement bricks instead of wooden planks. This will help protect the beaches from the elements and now we are waiting for the river to drop so that we might go and collect sand from the beaches. The high water levels are very concerning for the success of the project because whilst the turtles would not normally start laying for a couple of weeks the absence of beaches is very unusual for this time of year. The rivers might well drop in time but the laying conditions will not be ideal. The female “Taricaya” turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) will only lay their eggs if the conditions are perfect and this includes water levels, moon cycles and sand temperature. The latter is the biggest concern because once water levels fall it takes a long time for the sand temperature to rise and the moisture to evaporate. I am hoping that the river drops soon and we can get going on schedule but it looks as if the turtles will have to wait a bit longer this year.
We continue to monitor the flora and fauna of the reserve and with our mist nets open and platforms monitored we have had some great sightings. None more so than a majestic harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) seen perching in a tall emergent tree near the boundary of the reserve. These birds are great bio-indicators in that we would only see such top predators in healthy ecosystems. Yet further encouragement for all our efforts over the last decade. We opened our mist nets at the new farm plot and were amazed by how many individuals we caught. Whilst we did not discover anything new for the area this time it was great for the volunteers to see so many birds up close and learning how to age and sex the individuals before attaching a band and releasing.
As the summer approaches and numbers stay high there is a lot to do and plenty of adventures to be had over the coming weeks. The start of this year’s turtle project looms, the continued expansion work, the completion of the aviary and much more……
4th July, 2012