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CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016
With the holiday period over and new faces arriving to help, 2016 has continued where last year left off. The onslaught of the rainy season has not prevented us from pushing on and we have been busy in the rescue centre, clearing away the storm damage on our trails and welcoming old friends to help out with our biodiversity research. Everybody has been working hard and things are looking good for the New Year…
Animal Rescue Centre
As you will recall just before Christmas we received two beautiful spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) seized in a raid high in the Andes. The confiscation and transfer of these magnificent animals from misery and poor health was a challenge but in reality that was the easy part. Now comes the months, and possibly years, of rehabilitating Lucho and Sabina. Mistreated by humans, deprived any stimuli and often left days without food these animals are both afraid and angry and we must encourage them to leave their old life behind and to learn to be bears again.
Once we got the bears to Taricaya it soon became apparent that the enclosures designed to hold Cholita, our elderly and handicapped bear, would not be adequate for Lucho and Sabina. The fencing is strong enough to withstand an elephant but the two new arrivals can do something Cholita cannot- climb!! Spectacled bears spend a lot of time up in the trees and whilst we had built an inward facing perimeter at the top of the fencing we soon realised that once the bears gained confidence it would not be enough. We had to act quickly and take advantage of their quarantine time to build a new climbing deterrent. Fortunately at Taricaya we see such challenges as inconveniences and not problems and staff and volunteers quickly got to work. We hauled in over 800m of metal planks and got to work cutting them into 2m sections. These were then slotted into a horizontal frame and welded to the fence. After two weeks of working at a height of close to 4 metres the entire cage perimeter had a seamless slippery top section that the bears would not be able to get a grip on. Fingers crossed- we let Sabina out first!
Despite the heavy rains the wet season is a wonderful time of year in the rainforest. Food is abundant and jungle residents take advantage of the bounty by raising families in this time of plenty. Troops of squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciurus)three hundred strong come together and make the canopy come alive; peccaries form herds close to a hundred and the forest comes alive as jealous male birds sing to protect their territories and mates. In short, it is a perfect time to hang mist nets, climb the platforms and wander the trails.
Over the years we have welcomed many Peruvian biologists to Taricaya and the majority are from one of the best national universities in Arequipa. The long vacations encouraged some old friends to visit us to continue their research and over the last few weeks volunteers have been helping study bats, insects, amphibians and reptiles. As I mentioned in my last report our species lists for Taricaya are quite remarkable and with so many years of research the chances of discovering something new for the area are ever decreasing but that does not mean that we should stop looking or study the populations of the animals we know to be present.
In fact, with seasonal water levels so high the forest is alive with frog calls and the splash of caimans avoiding the churning rivers. Several night walks enabled us to catch some beautiful tree frogs, less endearing toads and several different snakes. Our visiting herpetologist was able to take some spectacular photos as he continues to compile a photographic guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the reserve.
Elsewhere in the forest our bat experts were kept busy extracting, measuring and releasing bats from the mist nets. The capture rates were excellent with some nights seeing us catch 20 or more individuals. Again there was nothing new for the reserve but all the volunteers got a chance to learn about these amazing animals and how to study them. A big thank you to everybody involved and we look forward to their next visits!
Heavy rains and hot suns mean that plants are in optimal conditions for quick growth and reproduction. That is great for our bananas, papayas and timber saplings but also for the weeds! These last few weeks volunteers have been going the extra mile as we maintain our second farm plot further down river. Early mornings, to avoid the tropical sun, sharpened machetes and fully fuelled strimmers meant that we soon got on top of the thick undergrowth and gave our precious plants breathing space. The mahogany, cedar and ironwood plants are growing well and the bananas are already producing to help feed all the animals in the rescue centre and humans at the centre!!
Trail Maintenance/Bridge Repair
Tropical storms and torrential rain means that trees crack and fall and so it is essential that we head out onto the trails to keep everywhere accessible. Our GPS map on hand and new flagging to mark diversions meant that we quickly covered the 60 plus km of trails and pleasingly the damage this year was minimal and we got to see some wonderful wildlife the more time we spent trekking through the reserve.
Water and humidity take a vicious toll on wood and after 5 years of use one of our longest bridges succumbed to the elements and needed to be replaced. It was easy to take the decision to avoid using wood and so we got to work welding metal poles into several supporting platforms back at the lodge. Then, in one day of tremendous effort by everybody we hauled these out to the site and got them embedded in the ground. The timing was perfect because three days later the area was underwater as our stream overran its banks. The platforms in place it was easy and dry to lay the bridge panels and suspend them from the cables. In less than a week we had dry access to our canopy walkway and another major challenge accomplished.
As we continue to work on our many projects and I am certain that there will lots more excitement over the coming weeks as we work hard looking after our animals, monitoring the reserve and repairing some of our other older structures…until then!
Conservation Director, Projects Abroad
7th March, 2016