CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE –NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2014
As 2014 comes to a close it is time to reflect on some great progress on our pioneering conservation project deep in the Amazon rainforest. But before I look back on all the successes of the year, the last couple of months have been outstanding in their own right. With volunteer numbers maintaining themselves over the festive period we have pushed on in many projects and had some breath-taking sightings around the reserve. In addition, 5th November saw us celebrate our 13th anniversary. It is amazing to think that we have been able to do so much at Taricaya in that time and with the help of close to 2000 volunteers to date our progress has made me very proud. There have been mistakes and disappointments, no project could expect otherwise, but the positives have made all the hard work worthwhile as we evolve and improve the future looks very bright for Taricaya and our efforts to conserve the rainforest.
Capuchin Monkey Release
In November it was the turn of our mixed troop of capuchin monkeys to be returned to the wild. Both species, brown (Cebus apella) and white-fronted (Cebus albifrons), have been sighted in the reserve although the latter is much rarer. We decided to release the group as one troop to increase their chances of survival with a higher number of individuals. Their wild behaviour and foraging habits are very similar and the hope is that if they encounter wild groups of their kind that they will splinter off and join these other troops. The release site was located and all six individuals placed in kennels for the long hike. These monkeys are very intelligent and if they return to the camp they could cause a lot of damage to buildings and other projects so we needed to ensure that they stay away either in the reserve or adjoining national park.
The monkeys were released around 3km from the camp and three of the individuals had radio collars to track the progress of the group. We were joined for the release by government officials and the adventure was a huge success. Regardless of the number of times we have liberated animals over the years the sense of satisfaction is overwhelming. The rest is up to them as they reintegrate themselves into the complex ecosystem that is the tropical rainforest and I am confident that this is not the last we shall see of them.
Animal Rescue Centre
Unfortunately this time of year sees more unwanted animals arrive at the rescue centre. The onset of the rains allows humans access to remoter parts of the forest by river and brazil nut collectors, loggers and palm leaf harvesters now abound all over the region. These people do not enter the forest specifically to hunt but bush meat is a source of protein and will never be passed up when diets consist of beans, rice and bananas. In the last two months we have received four new animals: Peruvian spider monkey (Ateles chamek), red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus), scarlet macaw (Ara macao) and a jaguarundi (Puma yagouarundi).
The monkeys were both babies and almost certainly the mothers were killed for food and the babies taken from the fallen body. This is tragic but unfortunately we cannot dwell too long on how these youngsters arrived at the centre but just in getting them healthy and ready for release into an area where the same fate will never await them. In the case of the magnificent scarlet macaw, the likelihood is that the chick was found in a felled tree. Over recent years we have received fewer and fewer parrots and macaws and whilst in appearance this is a good thing I am less convinced. In the case of the macaws, their preferred nesting sites are tall emergent canopy trees. These tend to be the hard woods and first choice for loggers. The lack of macaws arriving in the centre reflects the fact that these hardwood trees are no longer easy to find. Their absence is critical for the macaws as they have lost their nesting sites and I believe that wild numbers must be dropping just as those found in captivity. I hope I am wrong but there is definitely a connection between the two.
The final arrival was a young kitten. The jaguarundi is a very elusive cat seldom seen in the wild. Reclusive and dark in colour means that it is very hard to pick out in the dense shade of the forest and I can only assume that the mother had strayed too close to a farmer hunting his chickens or ducks and was shot as a result. The young male was injured but on arrival was quickly treated and is now fighting fit and the terror of any shoes it can pounce on. We have a female in the centre so my hope is that when the youngster grows we can try and start a captive breeding program. It would be amazing to release young cats back into the reserve.
The last couple of months our sensor cameras and mist nets have given us much to discuss. The former gave us a video clip of an animal that I have only ever seen once in my 17 years in the jungle, the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus). This amazing creature is incredibly rare and so elusive that even if you know where a nest is you will still struggle to see it. The size height of a pig and much wider, the video of this animal is breath-taking as it trundles along one of our trails through the forest. In the same location we also caught on video jaguar (Panthera onca), collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu), red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) and much more.
In our final mist netting transect of the year we found bird species number 462 for the reserve. The Blue-tailed emerald (Chlorostilbon mellisugus) is a small hummingbird characterised by two blue tail feathers that are almost impossible to distinguish in the field. By capturing one in our nets we were finally able to confirm its presence in the area and take our staggering total to well over 450.
The rains have also set the reserve alive with the sound of frogs calling for mates and marking territories. We encountered a beautiful clown tree frog (Dendropsophus leucophyllatus) and not soon afterwards a deadly predator of frogs and many other animals- the bushmaster snake (Lachesis muta).
2014 in Summary….
This year we received 214 volunteers who all contributed time and hard work to our projects. Their dedication has enabled us to achieve so much over the last 12 months…..
We released over 800 baby turtles back into the river after our 5 month turtle program finished. We have reintroduced two established troops of monkeys and many other animals back into the wild. We have been recognised, once again, as the best animal rescue centre in Peru. We approach a world record for bird diversity and coupled with our other research work Taricaya is known as one of the planet’s global hotspots for biodiversity. Our dedication to reforestation and environmental awareness has seen us broadcast messages on national television and hold events in the nearby town of Puerto Maldonado….
These are some of our major achievements from 2014 but every day at Taricaya is important and we win and lose small battles as we continue to fight to protect the world’s most diverse ecosystem. I am proud that the positives far outweigh the setbacks and I look forward to 2015 and all the challenges it will bring. As more and more people realise that nature needs our help I hope that even more volunteers will join us in 2015 and we can continue to progress and develop that which we started 13 years ago!
Conservation Director, Projects Abroad
6st January, 2015