Monthly Update - June/July 2008
I must first apologise for the delay in getting this news out to you all but as you will see as you read on we have been incredibly busy and have reached new highs in volunteer numbers to the point whereby we had to build a new bungalow just to give everyone a bed! So as always my dilemma is where to begin as the last couple of months have been packed with adventure, hard work and enthusiasm.
At the end of my last report I mentioned that we were about to start building the first artificial turtle beach for the start of this year's egg collecting season. As it turns out we have had to finish a second one also as we are set to break our record for the number of nests and eggs collected in a single year. After starting our monitoring on the 14th July we already have over forty nests in the two artificial beaches and close to two thousand eggs. This is a major achievement and a reflection of great dedication and perseverance by both staff and volunteers. As those of you have been with us at this time over the years will recall it is hard work walking around all night looking for nests and, with luck, turtles but at the same time the starry skies and noises out on the river can make even an unsuccessful night worthwhile. However this year there is an extra facet to the turtle repopulation project as we are working for the first time with the Ese'ja community of Palma Real. This time of year is very hard for native communities as the brazil nut season is over, wood is harder to extract due to low river levels and animals disperse in search of food reducing the possibility of good hunting. This means that turtle eggs at a local price of 12 soles a dozen are a very important source of income and one that the natives will never willingly give up. Nonetheless we pride ourselves at Taricaya on our determination and creativity when it comes to designing and carrying out projects and we have found a way to bring the natives on board into the conservation of these freshwater turtles. To sum up, the turtle species, Podocnemis unifilis, has a reasonable price in foreign countries such as Japan and the US and what we proposed to Palma Real was something similar to a project run in the north of Peru. The idea is to collect all the possible nests, something which the natives do far better than us, from within their area of influence and place them in artificial beaches. Upon hatching 20% of the hatchlings can be sold abroad at a price much higher than would be received from the sale of eggs locally, the remaining 80% are released back into the rivers. This initiative has three prime benefits: the locals get a much higher financial gain from the turtles thus improving their standard of living; they repopulate the most impacted areas and they learn that by utilising their resources sustainably they will have turtle eggs/babies to live off for generations to come. Of course, in Peru, we have had to fight for the paperwork and this year we are running a pilot project with them demonstrating our intentions. With volunteers we have built them an artificial beach and we, Taricaya, have agreed to pay them for 20% of the turtles from 40 nests we have asked them to collect. Obviously this year all the hatchlings will be released back into the wild but as I have mentioned in previous reports we have to work hard to gain the confidence of the locals and by showing them the benefits from just 40 nests we hope that next year with export licences etcetera we can make the most of all the nests they usually collect from both the Madre de Dios river and the Heath river. They are responsible for sweeping these beaches clean and by getting the natives on board we would be taking a huge step forward in both saving this species of turtle and improving their quality of life; both great reasons to persevere!
Back at the centre it was time for us to dedicate more time to the animal rescue centre with the potential influx of animals from the local government. This has meant modifying/improving many of the cages so that they are more suitable for specific types of animal and also freeing up the quarantine area for the arrivals we expect over the coming months. So there was plenty of work for everyone as we started to build new feeding tables, construct new sleeping platforms and move some of our older residents around. Now many of you are probably wondering why there have not been any new arrivals in the program recently and this is because we can no longer receive unwanted pets unless INRENA (government area for natural resources) gives them to us with all the necessary paperwork. At the moment this has put us on standby although we have received several offers of animals recently but we have to set an example as we are the first such centre in the area. Since we legalised the centre all our animals technically belong to the government and so we need their permission to receive them and then to release them also. This may seem a very time consuming way to manage the project after the dynamism of previous years but long term we have the potential to do much more good as we will start receiving more animals and also, perhaps more importantly, by working with the government we facilitate access to the national parks for releasing our residents. The Taricaya reserve can still accommodate new releases but long term the area will become saturated in that the ecosystem will not be able to maintain any more animals and this is when we have to start looking elsewhere for release sites and potential partners.
Speaking of partners it was time to visit "El Jaguar" in town to deparasitise the animals in the zoo. The gentleman who owns the zoo is also applying for animal rescue centre status but is limited by his location in the town with regards to release locations. Thus we hope to form a partnership both with him and another rescue centre recently approved, Amazon Shelter. This will mean that we could take the baby animals currently housed in El Jaguar that have a great chance of being reintroduced and give them a chance at being released back into their natural habitat. Discussions have just begun but the only potential obstacle is the government and I have already started talks so things are certainly exciting at the moment.
Our observations have also thrown up some great sightings around the reserve as our increased numbers meant we could maximise our presence in all parts of the reserve. Some of the more exciting mammal encounters include a female Giant anteater and baby (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), a pair of Neotropical otters (Lontra longicaudis), several sightings of a Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis) and Red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus). Bird sightings from canopy included the rare Curl-crested aracari (Pteroglossus beauharnaessi), a Black-faced cotinga (Conioptilon mcihennyi) and a Purple-throated fruitcrow (Querula purpurata). As you can see we are finding increasing numbers of rare species in the reserve and this can only reflect the continued recovery of the ecosystem and increased confidence of birds and mammals alike. Just last month you will recall me recounting the sightings of both tapir and jaguar also!
However at Taricaya it is not always just work and we took some time off to visit Lake Valencia and to kick back relaxing on the beautiful lake. The water was very clear this time as it had not rained hard for several weeks and so the sediment had sunk to the bottom of the lake making swimming even more pleasant. The trip back was a bit more adventurous than we had hoped for due to temporary engine failure in one of the two boats but all was well in the end and good day out was had by all. We were also glad to welcome back an old friend from Lima. Thalia is a vet student in Lima and she came back to visit and help out with the animal rescue program. This time she came with a friend of hers, Cathy, and I would like to thank them both for their help over the last few weeks.
July also saw our first group of two week specials come and go and as our numbers approached forty, I would like to thank all my staff for their extra work over this very busy period and also all the volunteers present in the lodge for their dedication. Taricaya could not function without all the hard work put in by all involved and the projects continue to go from strength to strength and our reputation locally, nationally and globally continues to grow. August will see our second group of two week specials come and go and the continuation of the turtle project plus much more......
7th August, 2008