Conservation and Environment in Peru: Monthly Updates
CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – MAY/JUNE 2018
With the rains now a distant memory the forest is drying up. Food becomes scarcer and animals and plants go into survival mode until the rains come again later in the year. This time of year sees the forest not only struggle with lack of water but also the seasonal cold weather spells (friajes) that can cause the temperature to drop as low as 10oC. The first of these friajes to arrive was brutal. Normally just a couple of days the cold lasted well over a week and even when the thick cloud cover finally broke up and the sun blazed through it still took a further ten days for the sweltering heat to return. Smaller animals suffer the most and hummingbirds in particular will have found it hard to get enough energy to survive the long cold nights. For us the cold is a welcome change but this friaje was a serious threat to many of the jungle’s residents and I am glad it has finally passed.
As I mentioned lack of water means less food. However, the lack of ripe fruits means that activity increases around the clay licks (colpas) where animals and birds go to eat clay high in minerals that flush out their digestive systems and hence the accumulated toxins from the unripe food. Lack of food also means that animals have to travel further to forage and natural corridors are great places to set up motion-triggered cameras.
With this information in mind we left cameras at our two main colpas but moved others to two large fallen trees. One crosses the creek that runs through the camp about 1800 metres back upstream whilst the second one is a recently fallen kapok tree that bridges the large swamp deep in the reserve. These two natural bridges seemed ideal locations to place the cameras as they provide the wildlife with safe crossing places and save lengthy detours, often for kilometres, to get around. I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams the amazing footage we would record.
On the creek we were able to catch footage of small cats, anteaters, monkeys, tapir, birds of prey and even our wild spider monkeys but the best was yet to come on the kapok tree. In a period of 4 weeks we recorded an amazing five species of cat; jaguar (Panthera onca), puma (Puma concolor), margay (Leopardus wiedii), jaguarundi (Puma yaguaoroundi) and ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) which was filmed with a young cub! The jaguar was so relaxed it stayed lying on the tree for close to an hour and often returned to bask in the sun in the clearing provided by the swamp. A powerful scarred male, he appears to have made this kapok tree part of his territory which might not bode well for other animals wishing to use his bridge! There were also videos of squirrel monkeys, saddleback tamarin monkeys, tayras, coatis, squirrels and opposums.
Mammals were not the only wildlife we filmed as we recorded a magnificent barred forest-falcon (Micrastur ruficollis), a rufescent tiger-heron (Tigrisoma lineatum), a golden tegu lizard (Tupinambis tequixin) and a common mussurana snake (Clelia clelia).
I look forward to what will appear on these natural bridges over the coming weeks as, naturally, we have no intention of moving the cameras anytime soon.
As the dry season kicks in the river levels have dropped dramatically leaving long serpentine beaches scattered all down the Madre de Dios river. This means that before long the freshwater turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) will soon haul themselves up onto the sand to lay their eggs. In preparation we have started monitoring the wild turtle populations by undertaking river surveys and counting males, females and juveniles. Signs are promising as we counted 186 individuals on our first census of the year. If the cold weather holds off then as soon as the sand warms up enough then the laying season will begin in earnest.
Back at camp we have been preparing the artificial beaches by removing and filtering all the sand from last year. This is very important as during the time since the last eggs hatched in November many wasps and ants could have made nests or laid eggs in the beaches. These voracious insects are the biggest cause of damage to our rescued nests and can bore into the eggs and cause them to rot. The sieving of the sand also removes any debris and breaks the sand down into fine dust. This is essential when the baby turtles hatch as they must push their way up close to half a metre to reach the surface and the loose sand makes this first journey easier!
I often mention in these updates the immense satisfaction when we get to put animals back where they belong. Many residents are with us for years before they are ready for release. During this time we have to care for them, feed them and stimulate them in preparation for being free once again. Many will not have remembered living and roaming in the jungle, taken as pets when young mostly as a result of their mother being killed for food. The process is long, expensive and arduous but when you can open the door and set them free it all feels a small price to pay.
This month it was the turn of our small troop of brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). The four young adults passed their final health checks and were loaded into the boat for a short journey to a large riverine island across from Taricaya. Close to 2km long the island is an ideal place for the youngsters to live. Food will be plentiful as capuchin monkeys are omnivores and will eat fruits, insects, eggs and even small birds and lizards but there will not be many natural predators on the island, their only worry large birds of prey passing through. We have been back to check on them and they seem very content in their small patch of paradise!
Back at Taricaya we released a channel-billed toucan (Ramphastos vitellinus) and a rock parakeet (Pyrrhura rupicola). They are flying free around the centre and hopefully will fly off into the jungle when their confidence grows.
As our status continues to grow and our successes spread we get more and more requests to take animals into our care. Sometimes due to lack of space we cannot take them all, especially those from zoos and parks in Peru’s large cities. These animals will never be able to be released and so we must keep our enclosures and energies for those which have a chance of going back to the wild. That said, we did receive two razor-billed curassows (Mitu tuberosum) from Lima. Flown in, we picked them up and transferred them to the centre the same day. The reason for taking these birds is for captive breeding purposes. The razor-billed curassows are large noisy birds that spend most of their time foraging on the ground in pairs or small groups. Easy to find and a good source of meat they are often the first species to disappear when man arrives. Notoriously skittish and difficult to breed in captivity we are hoping that a large enclosure in their natural environment will encourage them to breed here at Taricaya. If successful we will be able to release young birds not just in Taricaya but all over the region and help replenish natural populations. It is a gamble but one worth taking the risk!
When I next write to you we will be fully immersed in the collection phase of the turtle project, camping on the beach every night. Our young high school volunteers will have flown in to boost numbers and provide more welcome man power and I am certain our reserve will have given us many more amazing moments and memories. Until then!