CONSERVATION IN PERU: TARICAYA RESEARCH CENTRE: MONTHLY UPDATE – MARCH/APRIL 2018
We have done it! After 17 years of ongoing research we have identified the 500th species of bird for the Taricaya reserve and, unbelievably, three more were soon to follow thus bringing our total bird list to 503 species. This represents about 5% of all the known species of bird on the planet. In other words, in our relatively tiny area, one of every twenty birds known to man can be found!! If that was not exciting enough we also found a new species of bat and two new species of frog. You would be forgiven for asking how we made so many discoveries in quick succession. The answer is lots of volunteers!!!
In March we welcomed a fantastic group of 34 people from Capel Manor College in the UK. Eager to learn, enthusiastic and willing to work hard we put them to good use alongside our other experienced volunteers and we were able to undertake so many activities simultaneously. We welcomed back old friends, leading biologists in their fields, from Arequipa to help us out and in an intensive two weeks we were able to open mist nets, monitor platforms, tend the rescue centre, check sensor cameras/pit fall traps and track the spider monkeys every day- morning, afternoon and night! With so much activity, exciting things were bound to happen and we were not disappointed.
The four new bird species for the reserve were: Guianan woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes albolineatus), plain softtail (Thripophaga fusciceps), Eastern wood-pewee (Contopus virens) and scale-breasted woodpecker (Celeus grammicus). The first two flew conveniently into our mist nets whilst bird banding; the wood-pewee was identified by its distinctive call and response to playback techniques and the woodpecker displayed itself to a lucky group performing bird observations from the canopy platform.
With groups patrolling the forest every evening looking for the jungle´s nocturnal residents it was the perfect opportunity to focus our efforts on amphibians. Undeniably the noisiest animals in the jungle, frogs and toads are also some of the most elusive. Small and well camouflaged they can become invisible even when chirping and catching them by day is almost impossible. At night however we gain an advantage as we can find them with flashlights, catching their unmistakeable eye-shine in the powerful beams. This time of year swamps are teeming with life, food is plentiful and amphibians take advantage and breed. As you sweep your light around the forest trees light up with hundreds of eyes reflecting back. Spiders and insects provide a wonderful display when lit up but we were interested in the amphibians! During the study period we captured and identified 26 species of amphibian, the majority were frogs but two toad species also. Included in this number were two new species for the reserve: a monkey frog (Phyllomedusa sp.) and a tree frog (Scinax sp.).
Elsewhere we had some great sightings on the night walks including caiman in the swamps, night monkeys (Aotus nigriceps) rustling above and a magnificent bi-coloured spined porcupine (Coendou prehensilis) trundling down one of the trails in front of the awestruck group. Whilst we were hunting for frogs and toads the jungle´s true predators were also prowling in search of food. The camera traps recorded two of the jungles top predators during the group´s visit: a large male puma (Puma concolor) and a female ocelot (Leopardus pardalis). Both were recorded near the small mammal colpa (clay licks) which is logical as they are focal points for their prey species. Other camera footage revealed the usual suspects: peccaries, deer, monkeys, agoutis, pacas, jungle turkeys and opossums.
The final addition to our species list was a new species of bat. Searching for roosts during the day we were able to identify some new nesting sites and at night we opened up mist nets and that is where the individual was caught. The genus of the bat was Peroteryx but the species is yet to be confirmed.
During the visit of the college group 104 species of bird were identified, 32 species of mammal, 26 species of amphibian, 16 species of bat and 14 species of reptile. Well done to everybody who worked so hard- staff and volunteers alike!
With so many volunteers it was an ideal opportunity to visit a large Ese´eja community called Palma Real. This native settlement is about 2 hours downriver from Taricaya and we have helped them many times over the years. This time we headed off with four main objectives- tend to their domestic animals, plant ironwood tree saplings, build a plant nursery and donate books and stationery to the school.
Dogs and cats throughout Peru are often left almost feral with poor diets and fur loss common problems. We took our trained team from the rescue centre along with medications and invited the locals to bring their pets to the communal area for treatment. Some of the animals were painfully thin and suffering severe alopecia and we treated them as best we could whilst offering advice on how to better care for them. The vitamins and parasite injections will give the animals a welcome boost but long term the owners must pay more attention to their pets.
Over the years we have experimented with many different timber species in our plant nurseries and the current species of choice is the resilient ironwood tree. Able to withstand extreme weather conditions and resistant to insect parasites, the ironwood is an ideal gift for the community as we know from experience they will dedicate little or no time to tending the plants. Armed with hole-diggers some of the group headed down the main trail that joins the community with a nearby creek, planting the trees every 10 metres. Meanwhile back at the school another group helped the teachers and children erect plant nurseries we had pre-fabricated in Taricaya. The location is ideal as the school has running water and we showed them how to make and sew germination beds. The hope is that the school will start to produce saplings that they will plant thus reforesting the huge areas that the community have cleared over decades.
Finally the Capel Manor group had brought gift bags with notebooks, pens and other goodies which were received gratefully by the community´s children. The day was a huge success and I hope that the next time we visit there will be plants in the nurseries and the animals will be healthier. Fingers crossed!
Spider Re-Introduction Project
Our long term project with the Peruvian spider monkey (Ateles chamek) has been the focus of interest both nationally and internationally as we continue to re-establish wild populations of this endangered primate. To date we have released 34 monkeys back into the wild and they have established well in the area with two distinct groups that occasionally interact. Tracking them with radio collars we have been able to follow the monkeys since the first release back in 2010. Personally I consider the project a success as we now have wild spider monkeys back in the area for the first time in over 50 years. However, if the populations do not breed then the project will eventually falter and that is why I am thrilled to report a seventh baby born in the wild. This figure is beyond my original expectations as it reflects that the monkeys feel completely safe and at home in the forest. Generally animals that are stressed will not mate and breed and the fact we have seven monkeys born free and wild is a testament to the success of the rehabilitation process.
Further vindication comes in that we are about to publish a behavioural paper based on data collected from three release groups. We monitored them every day for three months after release recording their behaviour. We focussed on diet, range, nesting trees and use of the forest levels. These results were then compared to literature that already exists on wild spider monkey populations. The results are immensely satisfying as over as short a period as three months each group progressed to behave like wild monkeys. The model of our project is already being used by other conservation groups in Peru and also internationally in Belize and Colombia. With the publication of this paper later this year the project will gain further recognition but, more importantly, we have proven statistically that the monkeys have adapted and the project works!
As the river continues to drop and the rains dry up the dynamics of the forest ecosystem shift. Large troops of monkeys split into smaller family groups as food becomes scarcer, animals are forced to range further afield to find food and the colpas become more important as animals are forced to change their diet often feeding on unripe fruits high in toxins. The turtle season approaches and we prepare for the project by cleaning and refilling the artificial beaches and starting our annual census of wild turtles sunning themselves on the logs no longer covered by the river. There will lots more to report on as we continue to conserve and protect the world´s most diverse ecosystem, the Amazon rainforest.
Conservation Director, Projects Abroad
02th May, 2018