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martes, 22 de mayo de 2012

Newly documented behaviour in the bedroom and buckets of poo!

Several months ago I was delighted to catch a Monodelphis kunsi in one of my pitfall trap lines. This species of opossum was a significant find as it was only the 4th record in Paraguay and the 11th in the world. A week ago not one but two more appeared in the traps. As there is so little known about this species we are currently studying some of their behaviours. So after going to great lengths to make them both large and comfortable enclosures (next to my bed no less), the first thing I was able to establish was just how good the male was at escaping! Despite my best efforts he has escaped twice and is currently AWOL. However as he didn’t get far last time I am hopeful he will reappear in a couple of days, keep your fingers crossed for me guys. My female, Delilah, however is a wonderful study animal and is giving me lots of great data on the diet of this species. I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on with this one. The M. kunsi aren’t the only arrivals we have had at the reserve, last week we were delighted to welcome Scott Felgner and Sabrina White (apologies for that extremely tenuous link there!). Scott is planning a 4 month stay with us and will be going out with Jonny and the primate team to help with the habituation of our group of capuchins. Sabrina is studying entomology (insects) and has some rather interesting means of capturing beetles. So it seems that beetles aren’t called dung beetles for nothing. And horse manure really isn’t getting the results she needed. So with 12 volunteers in the house and there being a global water shortage… well yes you guessed it, human poo really is the best bait to use! Thank you very much to all the boys in the house who have donated so far, the girls have been a little less forthcoming! And finally from human waste to compost and the garden as a whole actually. I am delighted to report that things are really going on in there. The tomatoes have gone crazy and are fruiting wonderfully, we have picked our first crop of green peppers and the chillis have turned into a delightful red (but aren’t very hot by anyone’s standards!). We also have a squash dominating a whole vegetable patch and the passion fruit are finally beginning to flower. Thank you also to Maria and Sabrina for helping me dig some soil from the forest for my new raised bed and to Dec and Rich for getting it out of the car and into the garden. I am really looking forward to seeing what will grow in there! Right that’s me for another fortnight; I’m off to pick some tomatoes. Chauuuuuuuuuu Helen

viernes, 11 de mayo de 2012

A State of Equilibrium and Covering up Our Dirty Little Secret

A couple of weeks ago I dropped Mick and his family off at the bus terminal in Santa Rosa and collected two new arrivals. Inge, from Denmark, has joined the primate team and Kelsey from the USA, is a general volunteer and is helping out with the many projects we have running at the moment. Their arrival marked the beginning of a period of calm; you could say equilibrium, here at Laguna Blanca. Much as I enjoy the high turn over of volunteers we have passing though here, there are also rare occasions when we have a few weeks with no arrivals and departures. It’s at these times when I get the chance to pause for a moment and reflect on what a wonderful life I lead and how lucky I am to be here. And so with that in mind I thought this would be a good opportunity to give you the reader a taste of what a typical day at Laguna Blanca is like. There are currently 10, soon to be eleven, of us in the house. Our mornings begin at first light which is when traps need to be checked. So everyone who is undertaking fieldwork us usually up and fed by 6am. The primate team head out into the forest on our motocart and spend a few hours looking for the monkeys in an effort to increase their contact time and work towards habituating the group. This will then be followed by machetting new trails in order to open up the forest to allow further access to the monkeys. Nick and Noah are studying the opossums we have here and so check the traps each morning. Rich has just had his proposal approved and will beginning trapping and recording the behaviour of Microteiid lizards this week. Dec is running the camera trap project so is moving his traps on a regular basis and Augusta is out in the cerrado getting filthy measuring Clyomys burrows. By mid-morning/lunch time everyone is back at the house. Nick and Noah might have a small mammal for me to process for the museum and Dec doesn’t get any peace and quiet until he has seen if there was anything on the cameras! After a hearty lunch the volunteers all work on a number of tasks needed to help keep this place running; varnishing butterfly boxes, painting signs, improving our maps, laminating photographs etc all of these small but significant jobs are so important to us here at PLT. It’s not just the little jobs that the volunteers do to help keep this place amazing. Last week we took on a massive job. Here in rural Paraguay there is NO environmental awareness and waste management or recycling are simply not concepts people understand. So for us as an environmental organisation it is a real challenge disposing of waste. We reuse what we can, glass jars or bottles for example are used in the museum or as vegetable patch borders and cans can be sold for a small amount of cash. Beyond that however the only options we have are to burn or bury our waste and with limited space the latter has now become a problem. We had a couple of large pits behind the house where non-burnable waste was being “disposed” of. However over the months these have overflowed and needed a good sort out. So that is exactly what we did! All of us took it on one morning last week and in the space of two hours had collected, sorted and organised all of the rubbish from the two pits and the surrounding area. Plastic bottles, cans and glass jars that had made their way in there have been removed and sorted for various projects we have coming up, tins are ready for collection and best of all the two pits are now buried and a massive new pit has been dug. Not only that but we now have a fully functional fire pit once again and on our next trip to Santa Rosa we will buy some new big bins so we can continue separating our waste and keep this good thing going. All of our volunteers past, present, and I am sure future, are so precious to us at Laguna Blanca, we simply could not do what we do without them. And it is nice on occasion to have the chance to sit back and reflect on what a great project I work for. “Volunteers aren’t paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless” (Anon)

martes, 1 de mayo de 2012

Here we are, this is Paraguay. Amazing.

First I will introduce myself a little bit. My name is Noah Slot, 21 years old and born in the Netherlands. I am studying wildlife management in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. I am in Paraguay for my final thesis, so almost done with school! Today it’s the 28th of April, 2 p.m. and the weather is s**t. No worries. We’ve got loads of cozy places, loads of space, loads of nice volunteers, interns and researchers, a projector and enough DVDs here in the field station of Para la Tierra. I think today it’s going to be ‘2 fast, 2 furious’. Good choice, right?! These afternoons are really relaxing and cozy. Especially after a long, interesting and demanding morning of work. Other, let’s say sunny afternoons, are filled with swimming in one of the most clear lakes I’ve ever seen, playing volleyball with everybody and/or reading on the porch, with jungle sounds in the background. Or listening to reggae, Spanish music and R&B. But at the moment I am the only one who likes that… A little bit more about the research I am working on. I am here together with a fellow student, Nick Pruijn, from my university, to do our final thesis. We’re both from Holland and will be here for 3 months in total. Unfortunately only 3 months. Our final thesis is on the Vertical Stratification of Gracilinanus agilis, Cryptonanus chacoensis and Marmosa constantiae in relation to morphometry and habitat structure in the Cerrado, Transitional Forest and Atlantic Forest habitat types. Clear enough? Basically we’re trying to catch as many opossums as possible to find out whether there is or isn’t a relationship in morphology, occurrence at different heights and preferred vegetation characteristics for each species. This is important to know because, maybe you didn’t know this, opossums have been shown to play an important key role in neotropical forest ecology through being seed predators and dispersers, pollinators, regulators of insect populations and a food source for predators. Therefore, changes in their abundances affect forest regeneration and succession. Thus a very important and interesting animal if you ask me. Besides this, all species are also very cute looking and wicked to see. Especially while they are trying to run away from you as fast as possible, on the thinnest branches you can imagine. We’ve been here for about a month now. Time flies. After loads of preparation work, such as reading books on the porch, swimming and volleyball. …Oh I mean; cutting trails in to the dense forest, placing and hoisting traps in to the trees, hoisting them again because the string snapped, preparing bait, baiting traps, carrying out vegetation measurements, you name it. Finally we’ve started catching animals last week! And that is amazing! We’ve caught about 10 opossums, 2 Marmosa and 8 Cracilinanus so far and loads of other ground, arboreal and canopy rat species. Important and really nice to catch as well, but less important for our study. I can go on for ages, but guys, ‘2 fast, 2 furious’ is waiting for me! I can write whatever I want, but you really have to experience it yourself to know how awesome it is! Words can’t describe it. Para la Tierra, keep up the good work! … And enough beer, that’s always good. Pura Vida, Noah Slot