CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – MARCH/APRIL 2015
As the rains start to ease off and the swamps recede we are able to get out and about again in the reserve. The trails must be reopened after the heavy tropical storms but it is great to get back into the depths of the forest and we have been busy with our biodiversity research, agroforestry project and spider monkey release program. The number of volunteers that have joined us this year is even higher than in 2014 and so with many willing hands it was down to work.
Spider Monkey Release Project
As many of you will be aware at Taricaya we have pioneered the re-introduction of the Peruvian spider monkey (Ateles chamek). This primate was locally extinct and after many years of research and dedication we have now been able to release four troops of these monkeys back into the wild. We had already been astounded by the success of our program but 2015 brings us another happy story as our third baby monkey has been born in the wild. Our monitoring of the released animals with radio collars and telemetry equipment means that we have been able to follow their progress over the years and when necessary provide assistance to individuals in poor health or injured. However, the majority of our tracking has just been the joyful encounters with monkeys now totally at home in an area they used to inhabit over 50 years ago. This year we have registered our third successful birth and are pleased to report that last year’s babies are growing and thriving in the troop.
Such is the success of what we have achieved, people from all over Latin America have been contacting us for advice on how to implement similar programs with other large primate species in their countries. Therefore, to address everybody at the same time we held a short course at Taricaya for 5 days where we presented our work both in the rescue centre and in the field. Biologists came from as far afield as Belize, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador to learn from us and if they can implement similar release projects in their respective regions then our pioneering project will have far exceeded even our own high expectations! I am confident that the knowledge we shared will give them all confidence to try similar programs and we will always be willing to advise if necessary.
Animal Rescue Centre
Back in the rescue centre this is always a busy time of year. The rains cause rivers to fill and provide access to parts of the jungle by boat that cannot be reached in the dry season. Unfortunately, the increased human presence in the form of loggers, brazil nut collectors and gold miners means a lot of shotguns in the forest. Bush meat is a much needed source of protein for those camped days from civilisation and living on rice and beans and so anything that moves is fair game. The increased hunting means that orphaned babies that survive to make it back to town as temporary pets become more common.
This year has been no different as we have received some young spider monkeys, red howler monkeys (Alouatta sp.) and a scarlet macaw (Ara macao). The howler monkeys are our second target species for reintroduction and we are approaching a troop large enough for the first release. The problem we are encountering is that the taxonomy of the red howler monkeys is under review and there could be as many as four different species in Peru. This in turn means that we cannot just open the door until we know which species each individual belongs to. They cannot be differentiated with the naked eye and so we must undergo the arduous and expensive task of extracting a blood sample from each resident howler and send it to Lima for genetic analysis. Only once we can confirm that the monkey is the same species as that found in the area can we release it.
You may well ask how we know which is the species found in the area and it would be an excellent question. Biologists disagree! We solved the issue ourselves however as last year a wild howler monkey was found bothering our caged residents and we put it to sleep with an anaesthetic dart to take a blood sample before releasing it immediately back into the wild. As far as I know this is the only existing sample from a wild red howler monkey in the area and so we really will be pioneering their reintroduction once we get all the animals tested and a group formed for release. No one else has ever done this!
On the second farm plot volunteers and staff had been working hard to clear the area for our mahogany saplings (Swietenia macrophylla). Even when the sun was hot and the weeds dense we carried on working and I am very pleased to report that we have successfully planted close to 700 young trees with the remaining 300 to be planted in the coming days. Now planted, we have begun monitoring their growth, collecting data and measuring the effectiveness of our selected insecticide. The problem with high density mahogany plantations is the devastating effect the parasitic moth Hyspihyla sp. can have on the plants. We must control this pest until the young trees reach a height of just over three metres when for some reason this particular species will not fly higher to attack the fresh buds. Our aim is to achieve a survival rate as high as possible so we can teach others how to do it.
Every update I write I seem to mention our long-standing biodiversity research but the truth is we continue to find new species for the area and after nearly 14 years of research that in itself is quite staggering. This month it was the turn of the birds again our list now totals a fantastic 464 species! New additions this month included a beautiful pair of chestnut-shouldered antwrens (Euchrepmois humeralis) perching in the huge Kapok tree where our 42m canopy platform gave volunteers a very special view!
Next month I shall be bringing you more news from the rainforest as we start to get ready for this year’s turtle project, continue building new enclosures in the rescue centre and much more….
7th May, 2015