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CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – MAY/JUNE 2016
First of all my apologies in the delay in getting this latest update to you but as you will see we have been incredibly busy. We have been preparing for the upcoming turtle season, studying our spectacled bears, rebuilding animal enclosures and much more..
One of our longest standing research projects is the study of the family Chiroptera (bats) and we were happy to welcome back our long term researcher Hugo Zamora from the Museum of Natural History in Arequipa. Over the last seven years we have been compiling an extensive list of the bats of our reserve and our current total of 67 species is a staggering 5.5% of all known species. The Taricaya reserve represents a tiny percentage of the planet’s surface area but to have so many bats is a testament to the biodiversity we are protecting.
With such an extensive species list compiled using call recordings, mist net captures and chance encounters we believe that more data on the life history of these animals is the next stage in our project and so Hugo spent many hours out in the reserve with volunteers looking for nesting sites and bat roosts. In the jungle this is a difficult and fascinating task. In temperate and mountainous areas bats tend to roost in caves in groups often surpassing millions. In the tropical rainforest the lack of caves makes this impossible and bats have evolved remarkable strategies to survive. So far we have found and identified multiple bat roosts that include hollowed out trees, old termite nests, abandoned bird nests and even the spectacular tent making bats that build and seal a roost every night out of the huge Heliconia leaves found in secondary forest.
All of this data is being recorded and GPS mapped as we now hope to further improve our understanding of the population dynamics of these amazing yet elusive creatures.
Spectacled Bear Behavioural Study
As I mentioned last month we were working hard to finish the two new enclosures. This is now done and the next phase of our work with the bears is to put them together. However, these animals have spent a lifetime not being bears! Tiny cages, poor diet, physical abuse and dirty conditions have left them very delicate psychologically and we want to evaluate their behaviour before risking a union. The location of the enclosures side by side is perfect for such a study and we have spent the last eight weeks carefully watching the two individuals.
Presented with natural stimuli, open spaces and potential company for the first time it has taken them a while to adjust. The cool pools allow them to escape the heat and the placement of food all over the enclosures encourages foraging. In just a short space of time the difference in their attitudes and behaviour has been quite remarkable. Volunteers and staff have been recording their every move and activities such as feeding, sleeping, climbing, bathing have all been recorded on data sheets. A first for me and everybody at Taricaya was then the bears started to call to each other. One would expect a huge roar or at least a guttural rumble from such big powerful animals but the series of clicks and “coos” they use to communicate is one of the most beautiful calls I have ever heard. They seem to like each other and I am confident that next time I will be reporting on their official introduction as we open the door adjoining the two cages!
In the other enclosure, Cholita, our elderly matriarch seems unimpressed by all the comings and goings and continues to thrive and put on weight. There are even signs of new hair growth after her terrible alopecia with the healthy diet and exercise she now gets in natural surroundings.
As the rivers continue to drop and the beaches exposed grow ever larger we must prepare for this year’s turtle project. For over 10 years we have been pioneering the conservation of the endangered freshwater turtle known locally as the “Taricaya” (Podcnemis unifilis). To date we have released close to 10,000 healthy back into the river system and this year we aim to continue the good work. Whilst the females do not actually start laying until mid-July there is a lot of preparation work needed not least the artificial beaches.
This year we have decided to relocate the artificial beaches to the main camp area. The forest has been growing around our old site at the farm and we do not want to cut down trees just to prevent shade on the beaches. The turtle females select areas to lay with most exposure to the sun and so we must locate our beaches in equally open areas. This meant a bit more work than previous years where we filtered and cleaned the existing sand and then topped up the levels. We had to start from scratch!
As usual, no task is too difficult at Taricaya and we quickly hauled up all the materials needed from the boats. Cement, breeze blocks and gravel were quickly turned into two equally sized “boxes” ready to be filled. The artificial beaches require three tonnes of sand each to be filled and this must be done with shovels and sacks as we collect from the nearest beaches. The sacks are filled, loaded on the boat, taken to lodge, carried up the river bank and emptied into the beaches. It is gruelling work that we undertook early in the mornings to avoid the midday sun and in less than 5 activities it was done. The physically demanding activities are often the most rewarding because we could see the progress and every day the beaches were fuller. My thanks to every volunteer involved!
In parallel we started our turtle census for 2016. Every year about 2 months before the females start laying eggs we start patrolling the rivers counting males, females and juveniles as they bask in the sun along the river banks. The reason behind collecting this data is that we want to verify if indeed the population numbers are recovering thanks to our efforts. The dry season is the ideal time to collect this data as water levels are low exposing great basking logs and trunks, water levels are low in the swamps and lakes and the females all head to the river looking for large beaches to lay their eggs.
It is even more rewarding when we see adult turtles that we have marked as babies in previous years. This is just further proof that we are making a difference!
As we continue to upgrade the rescue centre one of the final enclosures to be rebuilt was the small animal compound. A striking octagonal design this set of cages is ideal for small primates, parrots and even our resident kinkajou (Potos flavus). The special netting with small holes was brought in from Lima by truck and we got underway welding all the metal poles for the structure. Once completed, we had to secure the roof panels, attach the net and then decorate the 5 different cages. As usual the work was quickly finished and the new residents are enjoying their spacious surroundings and new environment.
That is all for now but as we approach our very busy season there will be plenty of hands on deck as launch the collection phase of the turtle project, put two of our spectacled bears together and welcome back some old friends to help in our biodiversity research..until then!