Monthly Update - April 2008
This month at Taricaya has been one of ups and downs with some excellent advances in some of our longer standing projects but some very sad news about our resident tapir, Winnie. I shall start with the bad news before moving on to happier reports.
During the first week of April we heard rumours that some new settlers down river had shot and killed an adult tapir and we thought nothing of it at first. However after a few days Winnie, our released female tapir, had not returned from one of her regular forays into the reserve and we started to get concerned that she had been the victim of the hunters down river. As it turned out she had been shot and whilst she had apparently strayed from the reserve it was a very sad time for staff and volunteers alike. Our closest neighbours are familiar with our work and know of the animals we have released but because the settlers were new to the area they thought nothing of finding an adult tapir on their land. Those neighbours we work with know that species such as tapirs and peccaries have been hunted locally to the brink of extinction and so to find an adult of these species so close to farms and people means that it is one of our released animals. Where hunting is a problem, not only are there fewer animals, but those that remain would never knowingly roam near human settlements, however small, due to fear of people. We have obviously spoken to the newcomers and whilst they are now familiar with the limits of our reserve and the concept of the animal release program I hope that no more of our animals stray in that direction because they did not seem as receptive as our other neighbours.
On a much happier note we had some excellent publicity for our work this month both nationally and internationally. Firstly, we were very happy to receive a film crew from France dedicated to making wildlife documentaries around the world. The series is called "Guardians of Nature" and they came to film an hour long feature on Peru. The program will contain many different aspects of Peru's rich ecology and Taricaya was chosen to feature in three specific areas; animal release, birds and our on-going diversity study and finally herpetology (reptiles and amphibians). After a brief stop in Puerto Maldonado it was straight to work and off for a very hectic yet rewarding few days of filming. This was not the first film company to come to Taricaya but it was the first that will give a true insight into some of the work that we perform out here in Peru. The footage will show Taricaya in its true form with the amazing scenery, fantastic wildlife and the dedication of staff and volunteers alike. The film will be aired later in the year on French cable and then it might well be sold to other companies around the world. On a much smaller scale but equally rewarding nonetheless I was invited to appear on local television to talk about our work and some of the projects that are benefiting the people of Madre de Dios. The interview lasted about 40 minutes and the feedback has already been very positive as local awareness of our work has been greatly increased by this excellent publicity.
This leads me nicely to a new initiative that we have been striving to implement in the nearby Ese'eja community of Palma Real. This month we have started to work in the community with a project designed to help the people keep their settlement clean. We have offered the community of around 80 families a specially designed trailer for rubbish collection. The trailer will be pulled by one of our resident donkeys at the farm and the animal has been trained over the last twelve months by the volunteers at the lodge. This month we took the 90 minute boat trip down to the community to help them build the enclosure for the donkey and next month we shall be taking the donkey and trailer. We shall start the initiative by working together with the community and spending a day collecting all the rubbish lying around. The animal will them be left in their care to be worked by the community in an attempt to help sanitation in and around their homes. This is a small project initially but the willing reception of our aid is a great sign for the future and the confidence the community will get from our commitment and our quick completion of the proposal will help us with larger projects in the future. Such projects include a pilot project with the freshwater turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) and a dam to help the community obtain freshwater on a daily basis.
Back at the lodge there was some moving around of our residents in the release program as we received a new Cuvier's toucan (Ramphastos cuvieri) and some of our juvenile residents had started to outgrow their nursery accommodation. As a result the three toucans and the smaller chestnut-eared aracari, a member of the toucan family, were moved to a larger cage where they can exercise their ever stronger flight muscles and the old toucan enclosure was given to our quick-growing pacaranas (Dinomys branickii). These comical looking rodents have a voracious appetite and had quickly outgrown their previous cage. Elsewhere the baby tapir (Tapirus terrestris) was also quickly outgrowing its enclosure and so it was moved to a bigger cage together with the young peccary. As for old friends from the release program we were happy to get several sightings of our previously released brown agoutis (Dasyprocta variegata) whilst feeding the other animals and the occasional return of our pair of scarlet macaws (Ara macao). These macaws are threatened by loss of nesting sites as they look for holes in large emergent trees such as Ironwood and Brazil nut and so it would appear that they are performing forays into the reserve looking for such a site and returning every few days to top up their energy reserves. Obviously this sort of behaviour is encouraging in that we can monitor their continued survival but it does suggest a lack of available food in the wild. This is something I have noticed as being a particular problem this year and I can only associate it with the floods of a couple of months back. It would appear that the temporary submergence in water has affected many of the plants that would normally produce fruits and seeds around this time of year and walking in the reserve it soon becomes apparent that fewer seeds and fruits are laying on the forest floor. This will only be a temporary problem as the forest will soon recover but this shortage of food has undoubtedly made this year tougher on the wildlife in and around Taricaya as the plant reproductive cycles have been interrupted, at least temporarily.
Elsewhere we have been continuing to work on the farm project and our daily observations and investigations have been as exciting as ever. We have been able to add two new species to our bird list in the White-browed hawk (Leucopternis kuhli) and the Swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus) which brings our total to over 360 species for the reserve. I expect this number to increase greatly with the return of an old friend Mauricio Ugarte next month as together we hope to head out and look and listen for new species yet to be noted in Taricaya. In addition to these exciting additions I have been able to capture some of our rarer birds on camera and so the photo guide to the birds of Taricaya continues to grow also. It was just new species of birds this month as we found a new species of frog for the reserve whilst the film crew was here and although we have yet to narrow it down its classification to species level it will add to our ever increasing list of amphibians and reptiles found at Taricaya.
May promises to be our busiest month yet this year with the arrival of close to twenty new volunteers, Daniel Medina, a botanist from Arequipa, and Mauricio. Volunteers will be helping them in their respective investigations and naturally there will plenty to do elsewhere, including our continued work at Palma Real. It just leaves me to thank all staff and volunteers for their continued dedication and hard work and I look forward to an exciting update once again next month..........
6th May, 2008