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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - July 2007

Micrurus Obscurus

July 2007 saw the arrival of our first 2-week special volunteers, the commencement of the turtle project, a trip to the world famous Tambopata macaw lick and the continued advancement of our ongoing projects. The problem, as usual, is where to start?

I think I will take the month in chronological order and so will start with our second trip to Tambopata. It was unusual for us to make a second trip so soon but popular demand won over and so we headed back up into the world famous Tambopata-Candamo National Park. The weather was good to us and we avoided both rain and cold as we headed further away from civilisation. The first night as usual was spent at "El Gato" waterfall and after swimming and a decent meal there were minor celebrations to honour the 4th of July with our American volunteers! Still the next day we up bright and early and off again upstream to the "Chuncho" colpa where I had heard that the macaw and parrot activity was better than ever. However the next morning we were to be disappointed for whilst there were flocks of birds everywhere not one came down and fed on the clay and so we were left to pin our hopes on the "Colpa Colorado", the world's largest and most famous clay lick (Nat Geo- July 1996). As we headed up to our final campsite we lunched at a spot with crystal clear water and saw a group of capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris), the world's largest rodent, moving along the far bank. Then, the campsite for our final night was home to paca (Agouti paca), dusky titi monkeys (Callicebus m. brunneus) and razor-billed currasows (Mitu tuberosa). The following morning we crossed the river early to gain a good viewing position and we were rewarded by parakeets, parrots and macaws all coming down to feed on the clay. A total of eight species actually fed but many more were circling overhead and it was in good spirits that we headed back to town for a cold shower and a cold beer!

Taricaya Turtle

After such a successful trip everyone was keen to get down to work and this year we decided to start the turtle project earlier than in 2006. The gamble paid off as in July alone we have collected 19 nests and over 500 eggs and with August still to go we are hoping for a record year on the turtle beach. The numbers could have been even higher but a freak storm followed by a long "friaje" (cold weather spell) meant that not only did the river rise to cover the beach for almost a week but the temperature was no longer conducive for egg laying in the females of the freshwater species, Podocnemis unifilis, or Taricayas as they are known locally. Volunteers have been working non-stop on this project as they have fully grasped the importance of our work and the dire situation that this species finds itself in. They have rotated weekends at the lodge and again my heartfelt thanks goes out to each and every one of them, and the staff at the lodge, for giving up their free time and helping us continue to make a difference.

Such enthusiasm is no less than what I have come to expect over the years from our volunteers and again something that all our past visitors can be very proud of. However, this year saw a new initiative with the arrival of our first ever volunteers joining the 2-week special program. This program is aimed at potential volunteers with less time available but still keen to do their bit and so we received our first recruits halfway through the month. I can imagine it must be very hard to get ones head around everything that we have going on in the jungle in such a short space of time but not only did they manage it but their dedication and effort was faultless. They fitted right in with our longer standing stalwarts and the extra input of energy enabled us to push on quicker than ever. One such push came with the animal release program as we started to build the juvenile cages next to the nursery. Many of our younger residents are often too small or too ill to be put straight into the larger enclosures but once they are out of the woods it is a shame to keep them inside the nursery where they would see little sun. Nonetheless, putting them straight outside increases the risk of death during the often cold jungle nights. Thus, these new enclosures are designed so that the animals have a sleeping box well protected from the elements but also an outdoor area half under cover from the rain yet half open for the sun. I hope to have these five cages finished by the end of the first week of August as we need to move on and perform some repairs on the cage of our larger jaguar, Preciosa.

White Browned Hawk

Elsewhere in the release program we have had some new arrivals in the form of two white-fronted capuchin monkeys (Cebus albifrons) which are happily living in the small primate enclosure with a couple of our other residents. Still the largest bit of news has been the release of our Brazilian tapir, Winnie. Some of you may remember the small ball of bones and fur we received last year and that her first few weeks with us were touch and go as we force fed her and looked after her until she was able to feed herself. Less than twelve months later we have opened the door and a 200 kilo plus tapir wandered off into the jungle. At least that is what we thought until one night at dinner we heard a crashing and banging along the shore of the creek. Fernando and I went to investigate and it turns out that Winnie has chosen her territory around the lodge. This is great as she wanders off but comes back in the mornings for a diet supplement of milk and papayas. This way we can keep track of her as she adapts to her new lifestyle although we might need to reinforce the walkway as she finds it easier walking along it than continually leaping over it!!

The mist netting was put on hold this month with the turtle project and 2-week specials but we still managed to increase the number of known species of birds in the reserve as I spotted a new species at New Farm Platform in the form of a Brown-crested flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus) but even more amazing was the unexpected capture of a White-browed hawk (leucopternis kuhli). This errant raptor had managed to fly into the temporarily uninhabited turtle enclosure and having got in was unable to find a way out. With thick gloves we captured and safely released the bird but not after a couple of photos for our Taricaya Bird Guide which continues to take shape.

Winnie Already at Home

Elsewhere we have been building new cages for the guinea pigs at New Farm as they live up to their reputation of being very quick breeders. Indeed the first of our guinea pigs were lent out in July to our neighbour across the river, Pedro Guevara. Once he has built up his base breeding population he will return the dozen animals to us and it is always nice to see our projects taking form and a genuine interest from our immediate neighbours.

I guess that wraps it up for now but I have to mention the spectacular capture of one of the world's most poisonous snakes, the coral snake. Whilst these snakes are relatively passive and rear-fanged (i.e. cannot strike easily) the venom of the coral snake attacks the nervous system in a very short time. The species captured was Micrurus obscurus and this particular individual was over a metre long. This snake has never been found in the lower Madre de Dios area of Peru and so for scientific study and volunteer safety we eliminated it the next day and it has been preserved in alcohol for transport to the Natural History Museum in Arequipa. This may not seem like a conservation-orientated decision but at Taricaya, volunteer safety is foremost and we do not want inexperienced volunteers standing on lethal snakes!!! The photos we got whilst it was alive were amazing and it was an honour to handle such a beautiful yet deadly animal.

August will see the continuation of the turtle project, ongoing work at the farm, more work on the animal release program and much more so I say farewell until then.

Stuart Timson
2nd August, 2007
Conservation Director,
Projects Abroad

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