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Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates

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CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018

Dot-backed Antbird- species number 499 for Taricaya

It is hard to believe that another year is upon us but 2018 looks to hold plenty of promise for our long standing conservation project deep in the Peruvian Amazon. In January we received our first large group of the year and the extra hands were greatly appreciated as we were able to get a lot done and keep to our demanding schedule. Volunteers and staff alike have been hard at work around the rescue centre, out in the forest and at our farm plot.

The rains have been very heavy this year and depressions around the reserve have quickly become lush and vibrant swamps alive with the chirps of frogs and the splashes of caiman. Huge troops of squirrel monkeys forage in the treetops taking advantage of this time of plenty and large breeding herds of wild peccaries crash through the jungle flushing out insects for mixed species flocks of birds to feast on as they trail behind them. The jungle is alive this time of year and so we must take advantage with our sensor cameras, mist nets, platforms and trails.

Animal Rescue Centre

Our ever growing reputation as the best run and largest rescue centre in Peru has led to further partnerships with the Peruvian government. A couple of weeks ago officials arrived at Taricaya with close to fifty turtles and tortoises confiscated on the Peruvian border with Chile. These animals are popular in the illegal pet trade as they are low maintenance, easy to transport and fetch high prices from buyers. The government operation rescued seven yellow-footed tortoises (Chelonoidis denticulatus) and forty two freshwater side-necked turtles or “Taricayas” (Podocnemis unifilis). After a long journey by road, air and water these lucky few were released back into the wild within the safety of our reserve and are back where they belong safe from further poaching.

Releasing the turtles back into the wild

Unfortunately we get to rescue and release such a small percentage of all the animals taken from the jungle and so when we get the opportunity to help it is important we do our best and give every individual the best chance to return home. Last month it was the turn of three brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Having been raised from babies by dedicated volunteers and staff these three young adults are getting a chance to make it on their own. The generalist nature of capuchin monkeys´ diets means they are very good release candidates as finding food is not an issue. They will feed on fruits, insects, invertebrates, lizards, eggs and even meat if they can find it and there is plenty of everything in the forest at this time of year. Highly intelligent, social animals they will quickly join with wild troops in the area and start families of their own over the coming years. We wish them all the best!

Elsewhere at the centre our four spectacled bears (Tremarcos ornatus) received their annual health checks with complete x-rays and blood work. Our resident vet was aided by external consultants from Animal Defenders International (ADI) and I am pleased to report that all four are strong and well. Cholita, our most famous and oldest resident, is getting old but at close to thirty she appears to have plenty ahead of her still. Her life expectancy undoubtedly extended from living in a natural environment with a balanced and proper diet.

Biodiversity Research

As I mentioned before this time of year the jungle is never quiet. Hunters and hunted take advantage of the forest´s bounty to raise their offspring and this year we have made an amazing discovery. The nest of a harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) has been located in the canopy of an emergent ironwood tree close to one of our mammal colpas about 1.2km from the lodge. The world´s most powerful bird of prey and top alpha predator is an indicator species and its presence in the area further confirms the health and balance of the ecosystem. Fortunately the nest is over 1.5km away from the spider monkey release site as these fearless predators prefer large monkeys and sloths as prey. We have lost some of our spider monkeys to eagles over the years which in itself is part of nature´s cycle but we want to try and avoid such encounters with the population still new in the area. So far we have sighted the female twice which would suggest that the nest is being readied for use or that the chick has indeed already fledged. We shall keep monitoring the site hoping for some good photos and more information on whether the nest is active.

Volunteers off to check sensor cameras

The heavy rain has made access to some parts of the reserve more difficult as deep swamps fill thus isolating some areas if you do not wish to swim! Nevertheless we have continued our sensor camera survey and whilst there has not been any truly breath-taking footage recorded this month there has been a steady traffic of animals passing through the colpa. Deer, peccaries, tapirs, pacas and agoutis have all been recorded and also a rare sighting of an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) casually checking for any unwary prey.

499! That is now the new and official number of bird species found at Taricaya as once again our mist nets proved effective. Sampling in a distant part of the reserve close to natural bamboo stands and river edges we found the latest species to be added. A female dot-backed antbird (Hylophylax punctulatus) flew unsuspecting into the net pushing us ever nearer to the elusive 500 species! When we started our bird research all those years ago I never though such a total was ever possible. After publishing in several journals and visiting conferences all over the Americas, Taricaya has become famous for its diversity but the magical 500 species would be beyond even my wildest estimations!

Agroforestry Project

An often forgotten conservation tool is artificial timber plantations. However, by providing easy access to profitable timber we reduce the need for mass deforestation in search of similar amounts and quality of wood. Over the years at Taricaya we have investigated the best techniques to mass produce and cultivate high quality timber trees such as mahogany and cedar. With our results presented and techniques finely tuned we have shifted our focus to the lesser known ironwood tree.

Volunteers loading ironwood plants to take to the farm

This huge emergent tree has traditionally been harvested for charcoal production. It is one of the hardest woods on the planet and, as such, very heavy to transport. Extractors preferred to fell the tree and slow burn it to remove and sell the much lighter charcoal. However, with a scarcity of high quality timber left in the wild the ironwood has become a highly sought after timber for parquet flooring. In the wild, ironwood trees have a very complex natural history and rely on a symbiotic relationship with bats to spread and open their exceedingly hard seed casings. This has deterred people from trying to grow the species in plantations along with the length of time it takes the tree to grow. However, we have now successfully germinated over a hundred saplings in our nursery by opening the hard cases in a vice and planting the bean shaped seeds in plant bags.

Now it was time to plant them at our second agroforestry plot. After a couple of days of clearing the ever present weeds and shrubs we got to working digging holes and planting each one carefully. The advantage the ironwood tree has over other timber species is it is incredibly resilient to parasites and disease and requires minimal maintenance once in the ground and free from the shade and competition of weeds. We shall now monitor growth rates and evaluate how successful our efforts have been.

There is always something to do and projects to be planned and I will keep you updated on our efforts to protect and conserve the most diverse ecosystem on the planet- the Amazon rainforest!

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director, Projects Abroad
05th March, 2018

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