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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - April 2007

Bianca the released paca

Another month has zipped by and expectedly there is a lot to report on from the Peruvian Amazon as we continue our pioneering work for conservation in the area. I have often mentioned in the past that we truly recognise our status in the area when outside parties come to us for help and advice on matters concerning the environment. Last month was perhaps the most satisfying yet as Fernando and I were invited to perform a presentation at a town called Iberia, about two hours from Puerto Maldonado towards Brazil, for various private organisations. The conservation projects which we operate out of the pilot farm are gaining momentum every year and as we expand our radius of influence more and more people hear of us and our work. The invitation requested that we discussed topics concerning agriculture and forestry, not livestock, so we prepared a power-point presentation on everything from the mahogany, flowers, chillies, coffee, cocoa and many more themes as well. Unfortunately work summoned me to Mexico leaving Fernando to give the presentation. Nonetheless, it was very well received by all the interested parties and I just hope that this is just the tip of the ice-berg as we fight to improve the lifestyle of the forest's locals whilst keeping them out of the jungle. As our ideas and projects gain more recognition we are approached more frequently and the latest interview request has come from none other than the president of the Madre de Dios region, Señor Santos Cahuayi. I will let you know how that goes next month..

New lizard species

Another exciting announcement is that we have officially fulfilled all the requisites to become an official animal rescue centre and in the coming months Taricaya will be announced the first sanctuary of its kind in Peru. The paperwork and bureaucracy of the Peruvian government have been painfully slow over the years but we have persevered, adapted to the observations, both sound and ridiculous, we received on each evaluation and the hard work has finally paid off. The dedication of all our volunteers that have been involved in this program either building enclosures or just feeding the animals daily has kept us motivated to fight this until we have finally triumphed. I have been told by one contact in the government section concerned that a new law has been created to accommodate us. If this is the case then it truly demonstrates that perseverance and dedication will eventually pay off as we achieve yet another first for conservation in Peru and for the Amazon as a whole.

Rainbow Boa (skin shine)

Back at the lodge there were some new arrivals to the animal release program including a first for us at Taricaya- a pair of white-throated (or Cuvier's) toucans (Ramphastos tucanus). These noisy new inmates are currently housed in the nursery whilst we condition one of the older enclosures for them. They eat huge amounts of food and I was intrigued as to why their appetites we so voracious. After some research I discovered that whilst a toucan is outwardly well-designed for its lifestyle, evolution has failed to provide them with a complex digestive system and so the constant need for food reflects that a toucan is unable to extract many nutrients from foodstuffs and so must depend on quantity not quality. This also explains the constant need for cleaning the cage as the largely unprocessed food is constantly ejected by the birds!!!

We also received another pair of yellow-crowned parrots (Amazona ochrocephala) as unwanted pets from Puerto Maldonado. These large Amazon parrots have an uncanny knack for copying words and sounds and now that there are four individuals at the lodge together with, a yet more vocal mealy parrot (Amazona farinose) lodge maintenance has become a more lively chore as one is bombarded with a range of phrases in English, Spanish and an array of sounds worthy of Doctor Who's space-ship. Other arrivals to the program included a beautiful baby male red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus), named Alex, and a three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) we found abandoned by the side of the road one weekend in town. The sloth has already been released near the lodge and the howler monkey is currently in the nursery as it recuperates its strength. Next month we plan to move the toucans and howler monkey from their nursery into larger outdoor quarters but I want them to become stronger first.

Smooth fronted Caiman

I remember reporting to you in February the amazing capture of a dwarf caiman out on the river and I cannot believe my luck as just last week I captured the final of the four species found in the area: a smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus palabrosus). The regular caiman lecture and river search lead us further upriver than usual as a full moon made the caiman more wary. Nonetheless as we were approaching the further western limit of the reserve I finally caught the tell-tale eye-shine in my flashlight and as the boat edged closer the caiman stood its ground. This is unusual in caimans as they are generally passive animals but this one did not move and even swam slowly towards us. It was then that I started to suspect something as the smooth-fronted caiman is the only naturally aggressive species in the area due to its main prey being the young babies of other caiman species. This high-risk lifestyle makes then both fearless and aggressive and they have strong body armour to deal with the constant threat of attack from disgruntled mothers. Needless to say I was thrilled with the capture and to get photographic evidence completing the catalogue of the four known species of caiman at Taricaya.

More herpetology news was the capture of an adult rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) on one of the trails. After photographing and measuring it for our study we released it underneath the kitchen in the hope that it might help us control the rodent populations inherent to any jungle field station. We did a similar thing last year with a red-tailed boa (Boa constrictor) and the snake grew quickly and the rats and mice were scared away just by its presence- let's hope the same thing happens!!

The final bit of news was the happy return of a pair of pacas (Agouti paca) to the lodge. One night they scared volunteers with a cameo appearance by the interpretation centre when everyone was on their way to bed. We had not seen them for a while and it is good to know that they are in good health and wandering further a field. The month of May will see me presenting the findings of our bird studies to the VIII Neo-tropical Ornithological Conference in Caracas, Venezuela and a trip for the volunteers to the Tambopata-Candamo National Park and the world famous macaw clay lick, or colpa...

Stuart Timson
4th May, 2007
Conservation Director,
Projects Abroad

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