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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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It is hard to believe that we are hurtling towards the end of yet another year as time is just flying by here in Taricaya. The reason for that? So much to do! Luckily we still have plenty of diligent and industrious volunteers and over the last few weeks we have been carefully monitoring the progress of our freshwater turtle nests, continuing our expansion in the rescue centre; clearing trails before the start of the wet season and much more…

Before I continue with the news I must officially thank everybody for their continued hard work on the project. The nature of what we do and our living environment means that there is a large physical element to the project but with the continued partnership with Animal Defenders International (ADI) we really have been pushed even harder as we laboured hard to finish a second bear enclosure. Thank you!

Animal Rescue Centre

As I just mentioned we have continued our successful partnership with Animal Defenders International and as they looked to finish up their long term initiative in Peru we were made aware of two more Spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) suffering in a town called Sandia in the Puno region of Peru. Both bears were snatched as babies from their mothers and have been living in 3mx3m cages ever since in a makeshift “zoo”. Lucho is an 11 year old male weighing in at over 100 kilos and Sabina is a 4 year old female and weighs slightly less. Their plight caused a quick meeting between ADI directors and ourselves and we agreed to try and get them out of their nightmare.

As a result we had to start moving quickly and prepare enclosures. Materials were sent from Lima and Puerto Maldonado and every single brick, pole, cement bag and roll of netting had to be hauled up the river bank. This in itself was no mean feat with the river so low at the end of the dry season but that was not the end. Everything then had to be hauled to the back of the rescue centre and stored next to the enclosure of our first bear, Cholita. Needless to say it was done with minimum fuss and maximum effort and now we must build the cages ready for a possible intervention with government officials in the month of November that would bring the bears to a new home at Taricaya.

Our long term aim with this project is to captive breed the bears and use the offspring to repopulate areas where once they were common. It is an ambitious project but at Taricaya that is what brings the best out of us. First, however, we must get the bears to the reserve and I hope to have positive news for you next time around!

Turtle Repopulation Project

The first week of September saw us wrap up the collection phase of this year’s turtle project (Podocnemis unifilis). After nearly two months of nightly patrols we had collected all the nests that fell under our jurisdiction and now we must wait for the eggs to hatch.

Despite our best efforts every year we suffer attacks on our artificial beaches from burrowing parasitic wasps and ants. We clear the surrounding areas and use insecticides at the base of the cement beaches but this only seems to hold them off for a few weeks. Fortunately that is all we need. It is very important during the eggs’ early development that conditions are identical to those on the river beaches. The female turtles lay their eggs in a very specific way and at a very specific depth. We take all this data and recreate the same conditions in our artificial beaches for each nest. Climatic conditions such as temperature can affect the sex ratio of each turtle clutch and so the female lays her eggs accordingly.

However, once this first critical phase in the egg’s development is completed the babies are already either male or female and can be moved. They must be kept warm and in sand but the depth becomes less of an issue. We decided to put each nest in large buckets and move them to the laboratory of the butterfly house. Here they were safe from predatory insects and sure enough they have started to hatch. I do not have all the figures yet as our last nests are still to hatch but I am confident that this year we have achieved our greatest survival rate ever and that this new methodology removes many of our problems from former years.

It has become tradition over the years to release our baby turtles on the anniversary of Taricaya in November. However, before release, we must measure, weigh and mark every hatchling. This is an important but time consuming task. Every year the turtle shells are marked with a small cut and the location of the incision reflects the year of release. We have started to see adult turtles with distinctive markings along the river banks and this tells us when they were born and that our project continues to be successful. Their release next month is always one of the highlights of the year and I am looking forward to it.

Biodiversity Research

The end of the dry season is a good time to put up mist nets and climb up our platforms as it is the time of year when many migratory birds pass through the region. Our efforts in the rescue centre cut into our research work a little but we still had time to get out and about and some of best sightings this month came from our record-breaking canopy walkway. Sightings included a magnificent purple-throated fruitcrow (Querula purpurata) and black faced cotinga (Conioptilon mcilhennyi).

Our mist nets were also busy but this month we were not able to add to our impressive species list. This is really not surprising as all our hard work over the years means that the species lists for the reserve are extensive and finding new ones becomes that much harder.

This month we spent a lot of time walking the reserve and clearing our trails. It is nice to get deeper into the jungle and the groups enjoyed the time spent under the dense canopy. Many groups came across some of the mammal species we find in the reserve and perhaps the luckiest group was the one that came across a splendid Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).

Next month I hope to bring some more news on the bear rescue effort, the release of this year’s turtle babies and much more as 2016 draws to a successful end…..until then…

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
8th November, 2015

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