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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Monthly Update - August/September 2009

Digging a nest!

This report from Taricaya will bring you all up to date on what has been happening over the last couple of months. Personally, I went on vacation for a couple of weeks and with some major overhauling going on at the centre time has flashed by and so I shall report on the last eight weeks together. As usual my dilemma is where to start with so many projects advancing and the hard work of everyone involved with the project producing such fantastic results.

Nonetheless, I would be remiss not to begin with the completion of the collection phase of the turtle project. Despite fluctuating river levels, freakish cold weather and an increase in poacher activity we have smashed our record for nests and eggs collected. You may well recall how the collection got off to a very slow start with just two nests in July. The female turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) were unable to lay as weather conditions were very unfavourable and whilst we understood they would have to lay eventually it was a great surprise to everyone that we finished August with 77 nests transferred to our artificial beach and an astounding 2400 eggs. This is a true reflection of hours spent camping and walking the beaches, often in unpleasant conditions, and I must thank everyone for their hard work on this project. This huge total could have been even greater but one night a group of poachers beat us to a cluster of 9 nests, more by luck than planning, and so our total could have been higher still. With a potential haul of close to 90 nests on the same beach we have been monitoring for several years now we must ask why more turtles are laying their eggs here every year. It is an intriguing phenomenon because the first baby turtles we released back in 2005 have yet to reach sexual maturity and in a couple of years one would expect a marked increase as these youngsters return to lay their first clutch on the beach where they first entered the river; but why are more turtles appearing every year on our beach?

Gold Miners

I believe that the answer lies in an increase in small-scale gold mining in the area. As more and more people struggle to make a living in and around Puerto Maldonado the continued high price of gold makes mining on whatever scale more attractive. In reality, to start extracting gold all one needs is a small set of machinery and a boat, whilst the numerous beaches in the lower Madre de Dios River are unclaimed sites waiting to be tapped. The miners themselves will not ignore laying turtles as their eggs are an extra income or source of food but it is the 24-hour activity with loud machines that is scaring the female turtles away from the beaches. This year we were forced to ask two separate rafts to move on from our beach and this is further indication of increased mining in the area. With increasingly few untouched beaches our site is becoming a haven for the pregnant turtles and it begs the question what would they do if we were not working in the area? In conclusion, our turtle repopulation project becomes ever more crucial to the survival of this species locally and we can only expect more and more nests as the turtles are presented with fewer and fewer beaches upon which to bury their eggs. This coupled with the imminent reproduction of our first releases means that next year will surely see yet another record broken!

Another first at Taricaya was the official release of three residents from the animal rescue centre. As you will recall, since becoming an official rescue centre we have been unable to liberate any animals as the government struggled to formalise the release protocols. After continued banging on doors and numerous proposals we finally got the green light to go ahead and release two coatis (Nasua nasua) and a Spix's guan (Penelope jacquacu). After blood work and behavioural analysis the animals were deemed healthy and ready for liberation and so the government official responsible for the permits was invited and with great pleasure we took the animals deep into the reserve and returned them to their natural habitat. Over the years, releasing animals back into the wild has given me great satisfaction and now that we set a precedent I look forward to many more releases and a better dynamic in the centre as residents come and go more frequently.

Spix's Guan

Another positive from these releases was the freeing up of enclosures and as we restructured our animal distribution we have been able to separate a set of enclosures for our small felines, a larger enclosure became available for our macaws and a cage has also become available for our group of small spider monkeys. The three young spider monkeys were joined by a fourth juvenile female this month and as they continue to grow and recuperate we shall be looking to move them form the quarantine cages into this larger enclosure so they start to bond as a secondary group that can eventually be integrated with our group of 4 sub-adults. The liberation also meant that we were able to receive new residents and apart from the fore-mentioned spider monkey we had two firsts for us arrive over recent weeks. The neo-tropical otter (Lontra longicaudis) is becoming increasingly rare with increased fishing activities in the rivers causing mortalities in nets and competition for food and so the young male that arrived last month was a surprise to all of us. The youngster became an instant hit and is already running around his enclosure and happily chasing fish we release into his pool. The second arrival is a very unusual one as the red-masked parakeet (Aratinga erythrogenys) is resident in the north of Peru and is not found in Madre de Dios. One can only assume that its arrival in Puerto Maldonado is a reflection of the pet trade ripe in the northern Amazon region of Peru but its release will pose a problem as it will be destined to a solitary existence. We shall have to push for a transfer to its natural dry mountain forests for release as and when the time comes.

September saw a breakthrough with the butterfly house also as the government came to inspect it. The instant approval means that as soon as the paperwork ploughs through the system we shall be able to begin working with our three test species and release them for breeding into the large enclosure. In parallel our permanent butterfly traps have enabled us to capture many new species for the reserve and whilst I do not have the exact total at the moment as some individuals are still being processed for identification, I estimate that we are well over 130 species for the reserve.

Many of you who have visited us over the years will have slept in our huge two storey dormitory block but eight years of jungle storms and wear and tear means that it had to be torn down and replaced and so this month we have been slightly disrupted as the building was taken apart. Materials have been reused where possible and next month will see the completion of a new series of rooms each sleeping four people but with the luxury of private bathrooms. This will take our capacity to 40 volunteers at any given time and create uniform living accommodation for everyone. Whilst maintenance and safety were the primary reasons for this change we need to continue to grow as bookings for 2009 have surpassed all other years and with over 170 volunteers visiting us this year the future indeed looks bright for Taricaya and all that we are trying to achieve.

October will bring us the first heavy rains of the new wet season; the hatching of our first turtle eggs; preparation for the transfer of our adult spider monkey troop to the pre-liberation area deep in the reserve and much more... until then!

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
30th April, 2009

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