Jungle and Jaguars - Latest from Peru Conservation
May has been a month of great excitement with the implementation of our first initiative at the Ese'eja community of Palma Real, a visit from an old friend of Taricaya, Mauricio Ugarte, the commencement of our first in depth botanical investigation and some breathtaking wildlife sightings around the reserve.
We have had some truly fantastic sightings around the reserve. On the mammal front we had sightings of two indicator species- a Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and a jaguar (Pantera onca). The tapir was seen coming down the river bank before striking out across the river. It was just two hundred meters from the lodge and a great sign of how the confidence of the wildlife has returned as we strive to protect their habitats. The jaguar sighting was a little tenser as we all split into groups one evening for a frog hunt and in good spirits Richard led his group up Quebrada trail. After about 20 minutes there was a thud and a large set of green eyes appeared on the trail in front of them. The situation was handled excellently and the volunteers slowly retreated down the trail whilst Richard kept his light shining on the cat.
A wild jaguar will never attack people if not provoked and the calmness Richard showed was exactly the reaction necessary as I had explained to all staff should such situations arise. The cat waited a few seconds before getting bored and then wandered off back into the jungle. Obviously there were a few startled volunteers after the encounter but after the adrenalin wore off they realized just how lucky they had been to see such a majestic creature in its natural environment. There was never any danger to the group if they behaved accordingly and I am just jealous that I was not there to see it myself!! A great moment for Taricaya as we have not seen a wild jaguar for several years now (just racks previously) and the presence of this top predator reinforces that the ecosystem is healthy and thriving.
There was also some excitement after the sightings of two of the most poisonous snakes in the Amazon within a couple of days of each other. The first one was one afternoon as I was working in the creek near the dam. A volunteer shouted "Wow, look at that pretty snake!".... as soon as I heard this I thought it might well be one of the coral snake species found in the area and I dashed up the bank to where it had last been seen. Now whilst the coral snake has fatal venom it is not an aggressive species and so I started to search in the long reeds. I caught a glance of its tail and quickly grabbed it before it disappeared into the undergrowth.
Whilst these snakes are unlikely to attack I was keen to remove it from the camp area and release it back in the reserve. After what must have appeared a comical dance avoiding the snake's head I managed to immobilize it and capture it. This is something that requires experience and I would not have been so keen should the snake have been one of the more aggressive species but it was truly beautiful and large for this particular species and I was unwilling to kill it as a potential threat. After capture we were able to identify it as Micrurus spix and then it was released far away from the lodge. Volunteers are told never to get close to any of the snakes they might come across and so it was great for them to see such a magnificent species up close. The second sighting was on one of our daily observation walks and the lucky group came across a huge bushmaster (Corallus sp.) on one of the trials. Retreat was the order of the day and the snake then moved on as the group chose another route! Such encounters are rare and such snakes found around the lodge are quickly eliminated or captured as they tend to be more aggressive. Nonetheless the size of the individual suggest good feeding and yet another indicator of the wellbeing of the forest in the reserve.
As you can gather May has been full of excitement, hard work and a bit of relaxation as the volunteers took an overnight trip to Lake Sandoval where they saw giant otters, monkeys and large caiman in addition to the abundance of herons and other water-edge dwelling bird species. June promises more of the same including the building of the artificial beach for the turtle project. So until then....
To read more of Stuart's Conservation Project update from Peru click here