Monthly Update - September 2006
As expected numbers rose again in September enabling a lot of hard work at the centre but also plenty of fun with a trip to the world-famous Tambopata clay-lick (or colpa). With the termination of the collection phase of the turtle project everyone was ready for a bit of a break before putting our fingers back to the grindstone and an ideal escape was a four day expedition up the Tambopata River. Thus with both boats fully loaded we were off!! As with all our previous excursions the plan was to take our time cruising upstream stopping off at "El Gato" (a beautiful waterfall) and a smaller colpa, El Chuncho, before reaching the huge clay lick on the third evening. The late arrival of one of the planes meant that we had to camp on a beach the first night, unable to reach "El Gato", but we stopped off there the next day and from then on all went to plan. Not only was the weather kind but the fauna was co-operative too and it is hard to know where to start.
As far as mammal sightings go there were plenty and perhaps the most bizarre was when some nosy dusky titi monkeys (Callicebus moloch brunneus) got to close while we were eating breakfast and literally fell into our laps!!! I am not sure who was more startled the volunteers or primates!! Elsewhere we saw several capybara, the world's largest rodent, squirrel monkeys and saddleback tamarins but the most amazing sightings were undoubtedly; a Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and a group of red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus). The colpas did not disappoint either and we treated to five species of macaw (Ara sp.) and numerous parrot/parakeet species at both locations. The trip was a huge success but even after such a great break an enforced long weekend in town meant that volunteers and staff alike were itching to get back to the lodge and there was plenty to do as always.
This month in the animal release program it was the turn of the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) to receive its new enclosure but what I thought would be a relatively easy task turned out to be more problematical than anticipated. The uneven terrain meant that it became very hard to getting the supporting bricks level and even harder to raise the wooden structure on top. Still we did not give up and it became a matter of pride for the volunteers to get the job done properly. As usual they did not disappoint me. Whether they were balancing on beams ten feet above the ground or trying to manoeuvre huge rolls of wire netting, work did not cease and the ridiculously high temperature could not deter either. The result, as I have come to expect, was the completion of the cage in record time and as I write this now the final touches are being completed and the ocelot should be transferred this week.
The animal release program had several new arrivals also this month including another male brown capuchin monkey (Cebus paella) who quickly made friends with Lucas our resident brown capuchin. Elsewhere we were given another brown agouti (Dasyprocta variegata) but this one appears to have been captured recently because when we put it with the other agouti in the program it proceeded to attack the younger animal. Animals that have been in captivity shorter periods of time tend to be much more aggressive and respond quicker to their natural instincts which makes our task of re-introducing them easier but nonetheless it would be better to release the pair together and so until they adapt the new arrival is in an adjoining cage so that they are constantly in close proximity but unable to fight. I am confident that in a couple of weeks we will be able to house them together in anticipation of a swift release soon after. Our last arrival this month was a ridiculously cute night monkey (Aotus sp.) brought to us just a few days ago. This only true nocturnal monkey in the world has large round eyes for night vision which in turn gives rise to its alternative name, the owl monkey. We have twice received night monkeys over the years and both were successfully released and quickly united with wild groups; one still visits us occasionally startling unwary volunteers on their way back to their rooms!!
At the pilot farm construction was the order of the day also as we had to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of guinea pigs. The original 14 animals that Fernando and I brought from Cusco have been true to the nature of all rodents and their rapid reproductive rate means we now have in excess of 60 with numbers continuing to increase. The new enclosure has been based on previous studies of guinea pig management in the higher mountainous areas of Peru and with the correct management of the larger numbers I am hoping the project will continue to flourish. The idea of providing the locals with an alternative food source to reduce their impact on the ecosystem is looking very promising and just last week volunteers had their first taste of guinea pig. In many areas of Peru the meat of the guinea pig is a vital source of protein and whilst it can be a struggle to extract the meat from the numerous bones it is a staple part of their diet. By demonstrating that this traditional food of the Andean regions can be farmed in the jungle we are giving the native people a very healthy alternative to jungle meat and also a much less time-consuming option than illegal hunting and poaching. Let us hope that the numbers continue to grow so we can start to implement the project in the local communities.
On a personal note I am off on vacation to the UK for both business and pleasure and Taricaya will be left in the more than capable hands of Fernando. Work will continue as normal and I am expecting to return to our new welcome centre/museum, a project which will help us display a lot of the programs we are actively undergoing and the results of successful ones now completed. As ever volunteers and staff continue to work hard and I am sure there will be plenty of new stories and successes to relate upon my return.
Taricaya Research Centre
3rd October 2006