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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - August 2008

Brown Capuchin

It's time for the latest from Taricaya and, unsurprisingly, there is a lot to report on as we received our second group of two week specials, continued our nightly patrols of the turtle beach, worked hard on our animal cages and much more...

This month I would be remiss to not start with the turtle project. As many of you will be aware this our fourth year officially collecting the vulnerable nests of the freshwater side-necked turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) and volunteers and staff have been tireless in monitoring the river island allocated us by the Peruvian government. Last month I anticipated that we would break all previous records for nest and egg numbers and true to form I am very pleased to announce that we have reached an all time high of over 60 nests and well over 1500 eggs. Now these remarkable numbers are a true reflection of the hard work carried out every night for the last six weeks where the allotted groups have had to deal with cold weather, fluctuating water levels and intruding fishermen intent on poaching the nests. Indeed, the collection phase of the project was so successful that we had to build an emergency third turtle beach. Naturally this did not pose a problem and everyone concerned took the extra workload in their stride and the new beach, albeit slightly less sturdy than the first two due to time constraints, was erected and the overflow was accommodated without any problems. Now the turtle project enters a dormant phase as we await the occlusion of our first eggs collected nearly six weeks ago. These first nests should start to hatch in the first week of October and if we achieve the same survival percentage as last year we will be able to release well in excess of a thousand young turtles. Whilst our collection techniques are extremely careful there are will always be natural fatalities caused by a range of factors that include shell weakness, insufficient egg yolk to feed the developing babies and some offspring are genetically weaker also. We have achieved fantastic survival rates these last few years and I have every confidence that as we have learnt from each year's experience we will establish an even higher rate of survival this year.

Turtle catching some sun

Elsewhere at the centre we have been forced to strengthen our large tapir (Tapirus terrestris) enclosure as she has discovered a way of leaning against the wire until it falls low enough for her to jump over or just plough through! Our only option was to reinforce the entire perimeter with large bamboo poles at the base of the fence and all along the top also. Normally this would be an ideal time to release her as she is almost fully grown and the oncoming rains would ensure a plentiful food supply for her first six months in the wild as she establishes her new territory. This said, there a couple of reasons why I am reluctant to release her at this time. Firstly, as many of you will recall our first tapir released was shot by our new neighbours down river. These new settlers were unreceptive when we have tried to explain our project to them and whilst the tapir has many directions in which she could head I do not want to risk her wandering out of the reserve in that direction. Secondly, our young male tapir is growing fast and it would be fantastic if we could breed them further down the line. There is a long way to go yet but the first stage will be to place the young male in the female's larger enclosure and see how they react to each other.

Data collection on turtle beach

Other cages have also needed a few repairs and the small parrot enclosures were stripped of all their branches and feeding tables so that we could assess each cage and fix any small holes and replace any rotten wood posts. As usual the humidity and termites of the rainforest had taken their toll and there was plenty to be done but the repairs were finished quickly and our focus switched to Preciosa, our longest standing resident of the rescue centre. Again the weather conditions of the jungle have meant that the jaguar's old cage has reached the end of its short lifetime and so we have decided to build her a larger cage as her release still does not look imminent. The papers are dragging in the government offices as no one seems to want to take responsibility for authorising her release in the national park system so still we wait!

A further annual responsibility in the reserve is the evaluation of all the trails and this is the best time to move around the area as there is now no water in any of the swamps and depressions. Old signs need to be replaced, certain areas reopened, and some diversions made to avoid huge trees that have fallen across the trails. It is hard work and many blisters appeared on volunteer hands but, as ever, nobody complained and there is very little left for us to complete next month. If that was not enough there was plenty more manual labour as we struggled to raise the water level of our dam. The concrete support structures we had built were soon destroyed by the powerful flow of the not-so-gentle stream and so it was back to the good old fashioned sacks filled with mud. In ten days we filled and placed over 460 sacks and now we wait for the wet season to cover them and seal the gaps with sediment so that next year this new higher level will enable to us to move two huge wheels and not just pump water but also generate electricity with a dynamo.

New dam design

After all this hard work it was time for a bit of relaxation and so we headed off to Lake Sandoval. An increased entry fee for the national park meant that we could not stay overnight at the lake but the day trip was still great fun and we managed to see plenty of wildlife including brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), a huge black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) and even caught a small swamp snake (Liophis reginae). As usual there was a wide collection of water birds including many species of heron, kingfisher and parrot.

It just leaves me to thank everyone for their continued hard work and as numbers continue to be high for the rest of the year we shall not lose our momentum from these very busy couple of months.......

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