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CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – MAY/JUNE 2015
What a few weeks it has been at Taricaya with some fantastic news from two of our most successful and long-standing projects- the animal rescue centre and our biodiversity research! Elsewhere we have been hard at work preparing for the start of the new turtle season and the ongoing construction of our new animal enclosures draws closer to an end.
Biodiversity Research- A new species of bird for Peru!
After close to 14 years of research into the birds of our reserve I thought that we had discovered almost everything there was to be found. Our list of species edges ever closer to a world record figure for an area under 500 hectares and this month we went about our research as usual. Mist nets were hung, platforms monitored and trails walked. Our mist nets gave us a lovely surprise in the form of the Picui ground dove (Columbina picui). This beautiful little bird is associated with shrub land and degraded forests which made it surprising that we found it as the Taricaya reserve has neither. Still it was measured, photographed and became species number 466 for the reserve.
This was exciting enough as finding new birds in the reserve becomes ever more difficult as the years of study progress so imagine our amazement when one evening as volunteers and staff were watching a film there was a thud as something flew into the netting of the TV room. Bats often get caught out at night and even stray into the buildings so we thought little of it. However, as one staff member headed off to bed he stumbled across a small bird lying on the floor. It was a magnificent specimen of the Stripe-backed bittern (Ixobrychus involucris). This small nocturnal bird is a poor flier and lives near marshes and streams where it feeds on small fish and invertebrates. We could not believe our eyes. This bird is officially registered as hypothetical for Peru as there have been two alleged sightings previously but with no published photos. We had just confirmed its existence in Peru! This was species number 467 for Taricaya and the next day we took biometric data and photographed it both in the hand and in the butterfly house where it performed the characteristic pose of bitterns with its head pointing straight up into the air.
The bird had been stunned and we hoped it would recover and we tended to it but it died 36 hours later. This was a shame but the specimen has been prepared and is off to the largest ornithological museum in Peru. I am currently working with Rachel Kilby and Mauricio Ugarte, our consulting specialist, and we are writing a paper for publication. This is a huge breakthrough for our research and whilst Taricaya has hosted many international bird banding courses and has featured in the Birds of Peru, the confirmation of a new species for Peru is new high and one that we are all very proud of.
As we enter the dry season many migrant species will be leaving or arriving on their annual journeys and I hope that there will be more exciting news as our bird list grows and our reputation as researchers with it!
Animal Rescue Centre
The nature of our work in the rescue centre is a rollercoaster of emotions. There are so many highs when we release healthy animals back into the wild and the occasional low when animals arrive beyond our help and die or must be put down. The last few weeks have been confirmation of why we do what we do. There have been two births in the centre and mothers and babies are doing great! The first was the birth of our third red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) in captivity. The baby is the second of our alpha female and the encouraging news is that the mother has appeared to have learnt from her negligence first time around that led to the death of her new born at the hands of a jealous female before we could intervene. This time baby and mother are inseparable and remain happy with the troop. This is great news for many reasons but perhaps the most important is the confirmation of the social hierarchy in the group. Just over a year ago the fact that another female felt bold enough to attack the young baby meant that the troop was still evolving and positions had not been defined. Now that the troop has collectively welcomed the youngster confirms that the group is well defined and is suitable for future release.
The second arrival was a complete surprise to us all. You may recall that a few months ago we released a mixed group of capuchin monkeys back into the forest. Of this troop one appeared back at the lodge about 2 weeks later. She was a female brown capuchin (Cebus apella) and we thought nothing of it as we returned her to the enclosure where she quickly mothered the young monkeys forming our second release group. None of the monkeys currently residing at Taricaya are mature enough to breed so imagine our surprise when just a week ago we entered the enclosure to feed the animals only to find a new born baby clutching at its mother’s neck. This means that the female had mated whilst free and we will never know if it was one of our released males or a wild capuchin that she encountered during her brief freedom. I suspect the later because had she stayed with the group then she would not have made her way back to the lodge. Either way another great day for the centre and all the hard work spent feeding, cleaning and tending our animals was rewarded.
Elsewhere in the centre our young Maguari stork (Ciconia maguari) is growing quickly and gaining weight on a fantastic diet of fresh fish caught daily by our industrious volunteers in the creek that runs through the lodge. We are awaiting the sightings of other individuals on their return migration so that we can release it at the right time of year and give it a fighting chance of meeting with other members of the species. As you will recall this bird is very rare in Peru and most sightings are of birds flying overhead on their autumn and spring migrations. Let’s hope we can get the timing right as it is definitely healthy enough to complete the rest of its journey home. We suspect late July/early August to be the right time so we are all eagerly checking the skies as the time draws closer.
We are fast approaching the time of year for our freshwater turtle project. Every year since 2004 we have been given custody of a river island called Playa Alta and we patrol and monitor its beaches collecting and removing the precious eggs of the turtle species Podocnemis unifilis. This species, the Yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle, is under threat from poachers and we collect all the nests we find and take them back to artificial beaches and safety at Taricaya. However, before the patrols begin late in July we must get the beaches ready and this involves removing and sieving all the sand from the previous year to remove bits of rotten shell and insect larva laid during the off season. Then we cover the base of the beaches with an insecticide to prevent burrowing wasps from tunnelling up to eat the eggs. This done we refill the beaches, mark out quadrants with string for each nest and clear all surrounding vegetation so that the sand is in the sun and warm all day.
This is hard work and tropical heat a factor as the beaches are in the open as those in the river would be. Nonetheless we are progressing well and have nearly finished preparing the second of three artificial beaches and already are able to receive 70 nests. We will have the third one up and running soon and ready to take to the river every night in our quest to beat the locals to the precious nests.
We are entering our busiest time of year and with over 70 new volunteers arriving in the coming two months we will be able to make huge progress on all our projects and have plenty of man power for the turtle project. I look forward to bringing you more news next time and until then….
8th July, 2015