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Conservation and Environment in Costa Rica: Monthly Updates

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Conservation in Costa Rica - Monthly Update April 2012


There is a lot for me to tell you about the past month! In the middle of April it started raining which was very surprising for us because we didn't expect it to rain until the middle/end of May. The start of the rainy season so early is very unusual. Every year there is lots to do to prepare the camp and the roads down to the entrance of the park and up the hill for the rainy season and until now we didn't need to start preparing the camp for the rainy season.

For example the gutters for the buildings had to be cleaned, which had been stuffed with dry leaves from the dry season, and we had to re-dig the old drains so the water, coming down from the hill, finds the right way. We also repaired the drains on the sides of the road down to the entrance of the park and started doing the same up the hill so that the main trail can still be used by cars. We will have to maintain all these drains in the coming months. If we don't do anything about that some of the rooms could get flooded and the roads damaged by the heavy rain that we will get over the coming wet season.

This month we also started an experiment in which volunteers were given the opportunity to learn about investigation work by doing it themselves. In this new project we had two groups of volunteers with 4 persons each who left the camp to find groups of monkeys in and around the park. The staff members were only present to help out with problems or to give advice if asked but the volunteers ran this project completely by themselves.

After a little talking between themselves the volunteers decided to work with Howler Monkeys, Howler monkeys live in groups of up to 20 individuals. They are found throughout Costa Rica and are present in Barra Honda and whole of Guanacaste. These animals spend most of their life time up in the trees feeding on fruits, flowers and leaves. Because of the low nutrition of their food you can see them moving around slowly or resting in the trees for a big part of the day.

Macaw chick

The howler monkeys are named after loud howling sounds which are the characteristic sign for that species. The very deep howls are mainly produced by the males, can travel several miles and are used to show their territory and tell other groups of howler-monkeys to keep their distance. As soon as the volunteers found a group of monkeys they counted how many individuals there were all together and wrote down exactly how many females, males and juveniles, which are often sitting on the backs of their mothers, they see. The volunteers then choose one monkey of different ages and sexes and watched it for exactly one hour.

The volunteers wrote down exactly what their monkey was doing in that time (e.g. sleeping, eating, cleaning, playing, fighting,...) so that we can put the information into a table afterwards and are so able to make an analysis of the behavior of the monkeys at that time. The volunteers have all been very enthusiastic about that idea and came up with a lot of other ideas and motivation, they even left the camp early in the morning before breakfast to do observation. This showed us that the monkeys seem to be more active at that time and use the cooler hours of the day to forage for food because only 2-3 hours later we only watched them resting.

The volunteers also wrote down if they can see a change in behavior when they observe something special like for example another animal showing up or a car driving by. What we didn't expect is that the monkeys do not really care about the volunteers sitting close to them, in fact most of the time the volunteers were being ignored or only looked at curiously. It is really amazing how much you can learn by just watching the animals for a few hours. After a short time with the group you are mostly able to see the different positions of the single individuals and their standings in the group. We are all very surprised by how interesting the first sessions of the monkeys have been and how motivated all the volunteers are about doing their own project!

What is also interesting to tell you is that we started doing the Scarlet Macaw project 24 hours a day this month. That means that each nest site has to be watched by one member of staff and two volunteers. So far we have one group leaving the camp in Barra Honda at 8:00-8:30 am and arriving at the nest sites at about 9:00 am where they swap with the group that has watched the nests during the past 24 hours. So far this has all worked very well!

At the weekends we ask volunteers if they would like to help out and additionally we get a lot of help from volunteers of the Red Cross here in Costa Rica and almost every weekend we have had friends or family of staff members helping us out. Recently we checked one of the nests by climbing up one of the two nest trees and took a look inside and saw two chicks in there!

The Macaw-chicks hatch some days apart from each other so while one of them was about to hatch when we checked the nest, the other one already seemed to be a couple of days old. That just motivated us more to work even harder in protecting these beautiful birds! The next 3 months of the Macaw project will be tough but seeing the birds fly around at the nest sites makes it all worthwhile!

Lisa Kubik
Assistant Manager
Barra Honda National Park
April 2012

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