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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - January 2008

Start of the heavy rains!

2008 promises to be yet another year of successes on our conservation project out in the Peruvian Amazon. Last year ended on a high with the official recognition of our on-going work with rescued animals and the completion of our GPS map covering all the trails in the reserve so we had plenty of momentum as we moved into the New Year. As usually happens around this time of year we had just a few volunteers over the holidays but as January progressed we slowly grew in numbers and by the middle of the month we were at fighting strength once again!

Tapir taking breakfast in its new enclosure

Nevertheless there was plenty of work being done and since the rescue program was the highlight of December I shall pick up there once again. This month saw some highs and lows in the animal release centre as we said goodbye to an old inmate, received some new ones and suffered a couple of losses that served to reinforce the difficulties we face in our struggle to rehabilitate these mistreated pets. Some of you may recall that last year we tried to release Winston our collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) but he persistently returned and so we re-housed him in his old enclosure that he used to share with Winnie, our successfully released tapir. However, over the last couple of months he was becoming increasingly aggressive to manage comfortably, an attitude that will serve him well in the wild, and we needed the enclosure for our second tapir that had quickly outgrown her nursery accommodation! So with a make-shift sling we started the arduous task of carrying a fully grown peccary out to Briollo creek the furthermost point of our reserve. This time the release was successful and he has undoubtedly already come across one of the wild packs of peccaries we so often see around the reserve. So with Winston gone our young female tapir, Isabella, was moved into his large enclosure and there continues to grow at an incredible rate.

I never get tired of seeing these animals released back into their natural habitat and Winston was no exception. Our next releases are likely to be our dusky-headed parakeets (Aratinga weddellii) that we have moved into a larger enclosure to allow them to strengthen their now regenerated flight feathers. Our latest arrivals to the centre are a tiny S. American coati baby (Nasua nasua) that is being housed in our new juvenile enclosures and two red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) a sub-adult and juvenile. Both are in good health and whilst animals as young as the coati are usually problematical due to their age I am confident that this baby will make it as coatis are very resilient animals that will feed on anything from insects to fruit and eggs. I also have high expectations for the howler monkeys which is a species we have had trouble with before. I think that here we will be okay though as usually we get these monkeys when they are very young and cannot be placed in with the other primates. These youngsters crave social contact but cannot look after themselves in a group dynamic especially with individuals of different species. In this case the two howler monkeys are big enough to share the same cage and so I am confident that the social contact will help their survival chances.

Three-toed sloth-happy to be released!

Unfortunately there have been three loses this month in the program and these always cause us concern even if some mortalities are to be expected in such a project. Two of them can be labeled as almost freakish accidents whilst the other was very mystifying indeed. Our razor-billed currasow (Crax mitu) has been with us for two years now and was in excellent shape but unfortunately one of the wild residents of the reserve chewed through its cage and attacked the animal one night. Such persistence would suggest the work of the largest marsupial in the rainforest- the common opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) - a known chicken-stealer and general nuisance to farmers. This incident is unfortunate but short of electric fences on all cages (impossible for our location) something that we could not have foreseen. The second casualty was one of the scarlet macaws (Ara macao) which appeared to be stung on its face by one of the rainforest's large wasp species and the shock and/or venom was enough to cause a heart attack. Both of these occurrences are very unfortunate and also unlikely so to receive two such occurrences in one month is something we should not expect to happen again. Nonetheless, the third mortality was our baby collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) which had been with us for over three months. The youngster was very active in its cage but had hardly grown at all during its time with us. Peccaries, like all members of the pig family, are usually very quick growers and so the stunted development would suggest a genetic problem or that the baby was in fact the runt of the litter. This would have signified a swifter death in the wild but having survived for so long in captivity I had hoped that the youngster would make it. These deaths, whilst unpleasant, are only to be expected in such work and as always we would do well to remember the successful releases and the certain fate of all our residents had they not been rescued and brought to Taricaya.

Young coati biting off more than he can chew!

To finish up with the release program news we had one of our quickest releases of all time as a lady informed us of a stranded sloth just outside the town and so we duly went and collected it before transferring it down to the lodge. It turned out to be a brown-throated three toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) and it was released immediately upon arrival as the journey down river had stressed it out immensely and it was in danger of harming itself with its razor sharp claws. Sloths are not uncommon throughout their range but their inactivity makes finding them very difficult. We have seen several sloths over the years around the reserve and I am sure that the newcomer will soon find a mate and the abundance of suitable tree species for feeding, such as the Cercropias, will guarantee its survival for many years to come.

January also saw us working hard on the pilot farm as the heavy rains and longer days, and so more sunlight, meant that the weeds grew incredibly quickly, threatening to choke our saplings and flowers. Many hands were blistered as we struggled to keep on top of the invading jungle but as usual we were up to the task and our rows of flowers, coffee and cocoa are now recognizable once again. The pilot farm project does not often get more than a mention in these monthly updates as it is a project that has been with us for many years and has taken a long time to develop. It is obviously never going to surprise us from one moment to another such as the sighting of a large cat in the reserve or arrivals to the animal release program but it is the project that we have invested most time in over the years. The potential of the project to improve the standard of living for the local inhabitants and reduce their negative impact on the ecosystem is very exciting and each year we move closer to our goal. In 2008 I think that we will finally see the true extent of our hard work and patience as many of our earlier projects will start to reach fruition and this is a very exciting prospect. The idea of this model farm is to demonstrate how poly-cultures can be successful in the rainforest and our selection of the most economically viable products has made this all the more exciting to develop over the years. We have now reached a stage where our young mahogany trees are no longer under attack from the Ipsiphila moth and the majority now reach over three meters tall; the flowers are reproducing not just for sale but well enough for re-plantation in neighbouring farms; the donkeys are now ready and trained for working; the coffee and cocoa trees are now all old enough to produce; and still much more. Therefore 2008 promises to be the year when all these smaller projects finally gel together and we can see the overall success of these last five years of effort. I am truly excited about what we can expect as the individual successes have been very rewarding but an amalgamation of all these will be better yet.

February will see our numbers increase and hence we will be able to achieve even more and I just hope the heavy rains abate as we are already suffering one of the wettest starts to a year for a long time. We hope to start our newest research program next month also with the arrival of some botany students from Arequipa. The idea is to officially identify the different habitats around the reserve and this new information will be useful as we can use it to further process the findings from our other investigations as we will be able to relate bird, mammal and herpetology distribution data to specific forest types.

Stuart Timson
3rd February, 2008
Conservation Director,
Projects Abroad

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