TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MAY/JUNE 2013
Welcome to the latest from the Peruvian Amazon and what news I have for you all this time. The liberation of our third group of spider monkeys (Ateles chamek), our bird list surpassing 450 species, the sensor camera survey capturing on film a magnificent puma (Puma concolor), new arrivals to the animal release program and continued work on our two farm plots. This is just some of what has been going on over the last few weeks.
It appears that lately I have been concentrating on the work of our animal rescue program and that is simply because we have so many amazing things going on within the project. This month we were able to release our third group of black spider monkeys back into the wild. You could be excused for thinking that this third release should be more straightforward as experience counts for a lot! It turns out the rainforest thought otherwise!
Things were going well as we performed the final health checks, double-checked the frequencies on each individual radio collar, cut and trimmed carrying poles and finally placed each of the five monkeys into their own kennel for transport. It was hard work to get the five individuals the 3.5km to the pre-release enclosure but, as expected, volunteers rose to the occasion. Food was left in the hanging bins and each monkey was released into its new temporary home. This system had worked well with previous groups as it allows the monkeys to familiarise themselves with what would become their new territory. No-one saw what came next! Two days after leaving the monkeys in the spacious enclosure, on one of our daily food runs, we were astonished to find an unwelcome visitor sitting in the trees above the cage. A Harpy eagle (Harpia harpya)! The young adult continued to hang around the cage and being the world’s most powerful bird of prey it was obviously waiting for us to open the door so it could hunt. Many of you may recall that we found remains of a spider monkey from our second group released 18 months ago. This individual had been killed by a harpy eagle, almost certainly this one’s parents. Whilst that incident was sad it was part of the jungle’s food chain and the harpy eagle itself is a rare and endangered species. That said, I did not want to give it free meals when we released the monkeys. Four years of hard work in forming the group cannot be relinquished so easily even if it is a spectacular predator benefitting.
Solution- we had to move to the monkeys again!
Harpy eagles have huge territories but they are very shy of human activity. Secondly this young adult will stay relatively close to its nest even thought it could be 3 years old. Therefore we had no choice but to bring the monkeys back closer to camp. So after weeks of preparation we had to change plans in a matter of days and recapture the monkeys and bring them closer to home. In the end we decided that near the canopy platform was as good a place as any to release them and so they experienced true freedom a little earlier than planned. The moment we opened the doors on the five kennels was exciting and one of the best feelings in our line of work. In this case, five black spider monkeys have re-incorporated themselves in an ecosystem that has been missing them for far too long!
With the release successfully achieved we now must monitor the progress of the group and every day we shall be tracking each unique radio signal and supplementing the monkey’s diet as they adjust to the new foodstuffs that the jungle has to offer naturally. I will keep you posted next time on the group’s progress.
Elsewhere around the reserve we have been rotating our new motion sensitive cameras. Whilst the long term objective is to monitor the entire reserve we have been targeting areas of interest thus far. Such areas include mammal colpas, places where herbivores come to eat clay to aid in digesting plant poisons, peccary mud baths and areas where many different tracks have been seen. Ironically these areas produced some good quality photos of animals such as tapirs, deer and peccaries but nothing to blow us away. These new cameras definitely produce a much higher quality image than the older models we have used in the past and there is much more activity around the reserve due to the increased confidence of the fauna that they are no longer in a high-risk hunting area. Nonetheless, I wanted something spectacular to get the project off to a flier. It came from a misunderstanding as to where to put the cameras. I had requested an area where I had seen ocelot tracks along with possible giant anteater footprints. However, when the group went out to secure the cameras they headed to a different area of the forest. Of course this confusion resulted in a fantastic photo of one of the jungle’s most elusive residents, the puma (Puma concolor). This beautiful male was wandering along one of our trails just 500m from the lodge. This is our first feline captured on film and whilst we have had sightings over the years our last puma encounter was in 2005!
With our mist nets back up in place and groups out and about around the reserve there was always the possibility that we could add to our already extensive bird list. However I did not expect that we would reach the milestone of 450 species so quickly. This is a truly phenomenal number and further confirms Taricaya’s status as one of the world’s most diverse hotspots. New discoveries included the pygmy antwren (Myrmotherula brachyura) and purple honeycreeper (Cyanerpes caeruleus). The number of birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians and non-flying mammals we have already discovered demonstrate the value of our private reserve and such detailed studies in the same place over more than a decade are producing some fantastic results.
As the turtle season approaches we have been busy at the pilot farm straining the sand in our artificial beaches to remove any undesirables such as ants, wasp larva and tree roots. This is an arduous task and once we had cleaned the sand from last year it was off in the boats to fetch more to top up the beaches. The turtle season is but days away, if previous years indicate a good time line, but the river levels refuse to drop and we have yet to see the beaches in front of the lodge. Even when water levels do recede it will take time for the sand to warm up to the ideal laying temperature and I can just hope that these bizarre weather conditions are not a sign of global climatic changes that have been manifesting themselves in so many different ways over recent years.
July will see us hit an all-time high for numbers at Taricaya with all 46 beds taken and I am sure that with so many willing hands there will be huge advances in our work and many more adventures to be had by all…
9th July, 2013