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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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Agroforestry Project at Palma Real

As the heavens opened here in Peru it was a nervous few weeks deep in the rainforest as the rivers swelled and threatened to burst their banks. As other parts of the country suffered flash floods and localised states of emergency we were lucky at Taricaya with the river failing to flood by a matter of inches as the rainy season hit in earnest. Our often languid river, Madre de Dios, became a raging torrent with whole trees floating down, occasionally with stranded wildlife aboard! Whilst the total rainfall for this wet season appears to be lower than in previous years the fact that 80% of it arrived in the space of a couple of very wet weeks meant that the rivers struggled to move the quantities of water down from the foothills and flash floods affected many areas. Nevertheless, the rain was welcome in the reserve as our many depressions started to fill; providing sanctuaries and breeding areas for so many of the reserve's frog and reptile species. Trees sucked up the fresh water to produce fruits for so many of the jungle's bird and mammal residents. In short, the jungle is alive with the sounds of new life being born; males protecting their territories and large groups reunited during this time of relative abundance. The drawback: to see any of this we must virtually swim the trails in some places just to get around! Such inconveniences are not a problem at Taricaya, many volunteers learned quickly it is best to keep a set of wet clothes for heading out into the reserve and others for work closer to home. With only the heaviest storms keeping us indoors we were able to accomplish a lot in this the shortest month of the year. As usual, where to begin?

This month I would like to start with the pilot farm. Being our longest running project I tend to overlook the hard work and dedication it takes to keep the farm operational and running. It is not that I consider the farm any less important it is simply that I have become accustomed to all the sweat and blisters it requires on a weekly basis. Nonetheless, this month has been tough with the quick-growing pioneer species threatening to overrun our established plants and so large groups toiled hard clearing these weeds and transplanting some of our nursery saplings. This is the ideal time to move our young plants from the shaded nursery into the farm itself as the heavy rains and tropical sun provide perfect growing conditions. At the moment we are working with three different types of tree: ironwood, cedar and "huayruro". The first two are timber species and the third a quick growing palm tree that can be used for timber but has also beautiful red and black seeds used by the locals in their artesanias and hand crafts. As our long standing mahogany trees start to dominate the view it is time to start studying the growth of other important species. Our germination beds are providing enough saplings to work at the farm and continue our agro-forestry project downriver at the Ese'eja community of Palma Real.

This month we paid two visits to the community and whilst large groups of volunteers continued working on our reforestation transects others helped in the health controls of the community's pets. Medication for parasites was administered and vitamins injected into those animals that were emaciated and under weight. The veterinary work is an ongoing battle but we try to help when we visit. It is just unfortunate that caring for pets is a cultural problem and the general attitude in most of Peru is that if the animal dies we just get another one! Still, it was good to get out and work in a different area and we shall continue our efforts over the coming months. Back at Taricaya it is time to select some of our 7-year old mahogany trees for felling allowing us to work the timber and freeing up space for the sturdier individuals to keep growing. More next month!

Seedling Nursery

Back at the research centre the storms caused chaos around the animal rescue centre and out on the trails with trees crashing down around us. As a safety precaution, we fell any potentially dangerous trees wherever we build but the ferocity of this weather was remarkable. Fortunately the majority of the tree falls were out on the trails and so we now face a few weeks of tough work clearing our routes again. The biggest problem for us at the rescue centre is the rain. We must walk the paths around the rescue centre several times a day and the quantity of water had made the whole system a quagmire. The only solution was to haul up gravel from the river banks and lay it around the centre. With close to 400m of paths this was not going to be achieved overnight and so we programmed two days a week when we all jump on the boats with hundreds of sacks and bring back the stones to lay the routes. It is very physical labour and working conditions are better in the rain which is ironic since that is the cause of the problem. I want to thank everyone who has toiled on this project over recent weeks and I am confident that we will finish next month. Fingers crossed!

The wet season is a herpetologist's dream as swamps fill and water abounds and every night the chorus of frogs provides a wonderful harmony to fall asleep. Therefore it was logical to head out into the reserve at night and see what we could discover. At this stage in our research it was very unlikely that we would find a new species for the reserve as we have been studying the amphibians and reptiles for over 5 years. That said; wading through the swamps collecting beautiful specimens to photograph whilst the beady orange eyes of caiman glow in the distance is a fantastic experience. We caught some wonderful tree frogs and there is the possibility that we did capture something new after all. We have sent the photos to another expert for confirmation but we might have found yet another treasure previously unrecorded in the area.

Working Hard at the Pillot Farm

In parallel to the herpetology walks we continued with our mammal survey and monitoring our released group of spider monkeys (Ateles chamek). This month volunteers were often seen wading through chest high swamps in search of some of the more elusive residents of the rainforest. Whilst conditions are perfect for most of the jungle's mammals finding them becomes harder as we are hampered in our movements by the water but we managed some great sightings nonetheless. We saw coatis (Nasua nasua), brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) and one lucky group saw the very rare giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis). A group of six giant otters had come into the creek on a foray from the nearby lake Sandoval as water levels were so high. A great sighting for the fortunate few! The wet ground meant that tracks abounded and we saw jaguar prints at several different locations around the reserve. All these sightings indicate a healthy ecosystem and, reinforce further just how much of a positive impact we are having in the area after ten years of dedicated work.

Next month will see us reach capacity for the first time in 2012 and with 38 volunteers at Taricaya there will be lots of projects running in conjunction with a healthy mix of hard labour, relaxing wildlife observations and pioneering research. Lots to look forward to....

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
7th March 2012

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