TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2013
This is always an interesting time of year in the rainforest as cold weather is not uncommon, rains are infrequent and animals begin courtship and mating so that their young are born to coincide with the start of the bountiful wet season. In other words, the jungle becomes noisy and almost frenetic as animals search constantly for both food and a mate! These natural cycles and basic instincts have been manifested in Taricaya by one of the most bizarre set of circumstances I have witnessed in over 15 years in the jungle.
Over the last few weeks we have been visited every night by a huge male jaguar (Panthera onca) intent on mating with Preciosa, our resident female. We first encountered her suitor early one evening as we were performing our final check on the animals for the night. He was standing in the middle of a trail just a few feet from the female’s enclosure. Many people would consider the presence of such a powerful animal a threat but this is not the case and the male ran off after just a few seconds. However, this piqued our interest and we decided to install our sensor cameras all around the rescue centre to discover if he would return or not. The answer was a definite yes! For close to a month we recorded his behaviour on film as he was captured on camera every night and often during the day. Both wandering around the centre but most often just lying next to the cage and interacting with Preciosa.
The fascination of seeing a wild jaguar apart, this behaviour, whilst unusual, is actually very satisfying. The Taricaya reserve is obviously in great shape and the presence of jaguars and pumas (Puma concolor), like the one we caught on film last month, is an excellent indicator that the ecosystem is very healthy and these alpha predators can find food in the area. The second pleasing aspect is that the male jaguar, whilst uncomfortable with direct human contact, kept returning to the site and this displays increased confidence in the area. Hunters and loggers are a thing of the past for Taricaya and the adjoining national park and the animals are back to stay!
Elsewhere in the animal rescue centre we have been working hard to rebuild the small cat enclosures. In a remodelling project we have basically razed the existing cages to the ground and started again with galvanized poles and cement bricks. As you all know, wood has a very limited life span in the hot humid conditions of the tropics and it is false economy to have to replace cages every couple of years. This, coupled with, the distress caused to the animals by temporary small cages means that we are systematically replacing old cages with new animal-specific enclosures. We have completed the primate section and tapir paddocks. The puma has its brand new cage and next to follow are the small cats and bush dog. Currently, we house two margays (Leopardus wiedii), one jaguarondi (Puma yagouaroundi) and a short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) and the new small carnivore section will have inter connecting doors to allow the easy transfer of individuals between cages. This stress-free management should help encourage captive breeding success as we aim to emulate our success with the tapirs (Tapirus terrestris).
On such a note, I am very excited to announce that we have had our second successful captive birth at Taricaya. Our razor-billed curassows (Mitu tuberosum) rescued from Lima have now settled in well enough to start mating and just a couple of weeks ago our first young chick hatched alive and well. This is great news as the curassows were badly malnourished on arrival and we were doubtful as to their survival chances much less anything else. However, a good diet and space to exercise has done the trick and I am confident that we can continue to see our two mating pairs breeding. These large ungainly birds are the first to disappear in areas impacted by humans as they make easy hunting. As Taricaya is now a safe environment I hope we can release them back here into an area where they were once common and their cackles can become a regular sound in the jungle we protect.
The turtle project has continued since I last reported and after a successful trip to the Heath River with the Ese’eja community of Palma Real we have continued to monitor our own island in the Madre de Dios River. Fluctuating river levels and the seasonally cold nights meant that it was hard work patrolling the beaches. We went days without a single nest and then several females would lay their eggs in one night. This meant that the work was often frustrating but everybody stuck at it and we were able to reach a final total of close to fifty nests. This may not appear to be a staggering number but the turtle species (Podocnemis unifilis) is suffering with the increased mining activity and more fishermen placing their nets in the rivers. One satisfying result from this year is that our weekly turtle censuses performed by boat produced sightings of several individuals with the characteristic mark on its shell. All our young hatchlings are marked before release and the presence of marked adults/juveniles in the area means that we are making a difference. As our released turtles reach breeding age we should see an increase in the number of nests and the populations should begin to recover over time.
Next month I shall be reporting on the baby turtle releases and the success of our pilot project with the local community.
We continue to monitor the reserve with our sensor cameras and this month we caught a beautiful ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) on camera underneath one of the camp bungalows! These diurnal cats are very reclusive and its familiarity with the camp area could suggest that this individual is one that we released four years ago. It is impossible to confirm this theory as the leather collar we placed on the released cat will long since have disintegrated and fallen off but it is very interesting that just a few days later we saw an ocelot swimming in the river just up from the pilot farm. Whether it is the same animal or not the sighting is very encouraging. As I said earlier, these rare predators residing in the reserve is a testament to all our hard work and as Taricaya reaches its 12th anniversary in November we can be very proud of all that we have achieved.
As we continue to hang our mist nets and walk the trails we push forward in our biodiversity research. This month we caught a new species of bird for the area and it was a small but striking flycatcher. The white-bellied tody-tyrant (Hemitriccus griseipectus) was caught near some stands of bamboo on the western limits of the reserve and this specialist is a rare sighting even though its range is wide. In other words, it can be found in many areas but not in high numbers! Our mist nets have thrown up some other surprises in that we have caught some birds that were ringed in our initial study in 2004. Most people would associate small understory birds with a high-risk short life cycle. Predation and resource competition are fierce and we have now captured several birds that must be at least ten years old. This sort of data is very important because when you study animal populations and their dynamics it is not just necessary to discover what is present in the area but also how populations evolve and change over time. For example, if small manakins have survived a decade then their territories must be well defined, their displaying leks nearby and much more….
After twelve years of research and hard work we are now in a position to start analysing data from over long periods of time and this coupled with our inventories can help us understand how the most diverse ecosystem on the planet changes and adapts over time..
That is all for now but there will be lots more to report on next time as we close out yet another year in the Amazon and our piece of paradise here in Peru…
1st November 2013