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Monthly Update - December 2009

Baby otter

Looking back over the last twelve months it is amazing to see how much we achieved this year. With a record breaking 180 volunteers visiting us in 2009 we have pushed so many different projects forward with truly remarkable results and all the success is a reflection of the dedication of the entire team at the centre. The combination of our staff's knowledge and expertise coupled with an excellent work ethic from everyone who stayed at the lodge has made this year one to remember. However, before looking back over the highlights of the year there is still plenty to report for this month alone and so I shall start there...

The pilot farm at Taricaya has been hugely satisfying in producing new initiatives designed to improve farming techniques and the standard of living for the local communities and as 2010 approaches we aim to shift our study bias and start looking at larger scale projects. Over the years we have discovered and designed some excellent projects aimed at small scale farmers and as these ideas have been accepted and employed by our neighbours it is time to follow the natural evolution of the project and start with some new projects designed on a larger scale. One of the major causes of deforestation in tropical rainforests, if not the biggest, is large scale clearing for cattle farming as millions of hectares of forest are lost annually. After this land is used it is often just abandoned as it is easier to clear more plots than try and maintain the grass cover on over grazed areas. This leaves huge areas of heavily leached and thus infertile land that will never recover naturally and so we wish to set up a study plot to investigate the best methods for recuperating these areas. To initiate this study we need an open grass area and the natural choice is our goat enclosure. After many years with us we have demonstrated successfully that the rearing of these versatile animals is a viable alternative for both milk and meat that can help improve the diet of local farmers and their families but does not require huge areas of land (fifty goats can be maintained in the same area as a cow!).

It was time to move on and start a new project. So, after a few minutes of hectic chasing we herded the animals up and loaded them into the boat to take them across the river to one of our neighbours with whom we have been working for years. He was happy to receive the goats and they were installed quickly with his sheep leaving us an area of just under a hectare to separate into plots ready for our research next year.

Western Woolly Opossum

Back at the rescue centre the animals are all in good health and a source of fun for everyone at the lodge were the first excursions of our Southern river otter (Lutra longicaudis) from its enclosure to the creek. The scarcity of these mammals in the wild means that we want to be able to monitor our young male upon release and part of the process is getting him used to the area around the centre. The playful nature of the otter coupled with relative short-sightedness on land means that he follows people around when let out of his cage and so it was easy to lead him to the creek for his first outings. Once in the water the transformation is complete from a clumsy, almost comical, lope to a truly graceful hunter and volunteers have enjoyed swimming with him as he appears and disappears at will, obviously enjoying startling people with gentle nips and nibbles. The future looks very bright for the otter and we shall continue his rehabilitation into the New Year.

Before looking back over the last year I would like to add some additional thanks to those volunteers and staff that stayed in the lodge to look after the animals over Christmas and the New Year. Yet a further demonstration of the high levels of commitment that has become the norm at Taricaya....

Reflecting on 2009 gives me a huge sense of satisfaction as every project has evolved and developed and perhaps I should start by mentioning our ongoing research into biodiversity. From plants to frogs; mammals to butterflies; birds to bats; we have continued to make some amazing discoveries around the reserve and our species lists are a source of immense pride. They reflect innumerable hours checking traps and mist nets, visiting platforms, patrolling the trails and poring over field guides. To date we have registered 48 species of amphibian, 61 species of reptile, 86 species of mammals (including 34 species of bat), 167 species of butterflies, 286 species of plant and 428 species of bird. These figures are remarkable for an area of 476 hectares and the biodiversity of the reserve has already marked Taricaya as a hotspot for wildlife and our findings will undoubtedly figure in future field guides to the flora and fauna of Peru. I am in no doubt that these numbers will continue to increase next year as our research will now become even more specific as we target new monitoring techniques and areas of the reserve least studied thus far.

It seems that every December I comment on fresh successes in the turtle project and this year is no exception as we released 1600 baby turtles (Podocnemis unifilis) back into the wild. This is a truly astonishing figure and I am sure that next December I will be praising an even higher number as our first turtles released in 2005 will start to reproduce next year also. The knock-on effects of the project have also led to several local schools building artificial beaches and releasing their own youngsters back into the wild. In fact, the Ministry of Education for the whole province of Madre de Dios has declared our anniversary (5th November) as the "Day of the Taricaya", Taricaya being the local name for these endangered turtles. Such improved education on conservation and getting youngsters involved has been thoroughly rewarding and I hope that 2010 will see us build on this excellent foundation and push environmental issues to the forefront in schools and communities both in Puerto Maldonado and the surrounding areas.

2009 saw huge progress with the animal rescue centre with our first official releases since receiving our legal status in January. Both the coatis (Nasua nasua) and Spix's guan (Penelope jacquacu) have been seen around the reserve and their good health in the wild reflects a good release protocol and the future for many of our residents looks bright as we commence the lengthy rehabilitation of our spider monkeys (Ateles chamek) in 2010 as just one of the many releases planned over the coming months. A new experience for us next year will be captive breeding programs for our tapirs and jaguarundis as we attempt to repopulate the area with offspring raised successfully in the centre.

Our international status has continued to improve this year also with a new documentary aired in France based on our ongoing work in the field of conservation, the first international bird banding course in Peru being hosted at the centre and the ever growing number of volunteers from an ever broader range of countries.

The future looks very bright for Taricaya and as we are now in our ninth year and, as we approach out 1000th volunteer for the project in 2010, the achievements are a result of hard work and dedication on every level and it just leaves me to thank everyone involved with Taricaya for their efforts...roll on 2010!!!

Stuart Timson
Conservation Director
Projects Abroad
6th January, 2010



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