Taricaya Turtle Repopulation Project
The Yellow-spotted river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) is rapidly disappearing from the rivers of the Amazon Basin due to poaching and other human activities that destroy their ecosystem. In 2005 Taricaya was awarded custody from the government of a river island about 1.5km from the reserve known to be a nesting spot for this river turtle during the dry season. We employed the help of an Ese-Eja native as our guide to monitor and protect the beaches of the island from poachers and our resident biologist set the methods for collection and relocation of the eggs in artificial beaches and release of the baby turtles when born. The methodology worked and since then we have been involved in the repopulation of the Taricaya turtle in the Madre de Dios river and help in its conservation.
Every year for two months (July/August) volunteers and staff camp on the island deterring poachers and collecting the eggs from every nest laid. Once a nest is located, GPS coordinates are taken and the eggs are removed carefully and placed in sand in buckets. Data is collected from the nest including depth, number of eggs, sand temperature and weather conditions. This is important as we must recreate the individual conditions of each nest in the artificial beaches at Taricaya.
After an incubation period of 70-90 days the baby turtles hatch and they are measured, weighed and marked with a small cut on their shell. We go back to the island to release the baby turtles a few meters away from the water for them to remember their first walk down to the river so they will return as adults to the same beach to lay their eggs.
The project also involves censuses of wild turtles in the river. We patrol river banks and island and all turtle sightings are recorded to assess population of wild turtles and record the increase in numbers resulting from our annual releases.
After 12 years of working on this project we are confident that our methodology is efficient and confirmation of marked adult turtles in the rivers confirms this. We have also involved the local community and raised awareness about the importance of this species in the rainforest ecosystem.
- Work towards the conservation of the endangered Taricaya river turtle.
- Collect nests of the Taricaya turtle to save them from poachers and relocate them in artificial beaches at the reserve.
- Repopulate the Madre de Dios river with baby turtles born from the artificial beaches.
- Monitor our methodology to improve survival rate of the babies and study the species to learn more about its biology and behavior.
- Educate and create project awareness to convince more people to replicate this project, either independently or with our help to expand our area of influence.
During July and August, you will help the staff in the following:
- Artificial beaches: Help the staff to prepare and maintain the area of the artificial beaches.
- Beach monitoring: Prepare supplies and equipment for camping and the project and load the boat to go down the river to Playa Alta. Set the camp and take turns to explore and monitor the island as we look for nests.
- Nest collection: Follow the staff´s lead and protocol to collect the eggs from each nest found carefully putting them in the designated bucket.
- Nest relocation: Transfer the eggs to the artificial beaches at the reserve following the protocol. Monitor the eggs and control against parasites and infection during incubation period.
- In November, when all the turtles are born, help mark and measure the turtles and be part of the event of releasing the turtles into the river at Playa Alta.
- Year long, on a monthly basis, go with the staff on censuses of the species along the river banks and to check for sightings of marked individuals from previous years.
About the Taricaya Turtle:
- Taricaya turtle eggs are a delicacy and during the dry season when local tribes and communities are looking to supplement their income the eggs are sold as delicacies in local markets.
- Adult turtles are also poached and eaten when caught in fishing nets or on the beaches when laying their eggs.
- Females lay their eggs at a fixed depth on purpose as the sex of the baby turtles can be determined by the temperature of the sand during incubation. Cooler eggs are more likely to become males and warmer eggs females.
- Survival rate of the babies in the wild is very low due to their vulnerability to predators at that early stage in life.
About the project:
- Since the project started in 2005, we have released over 10,000 baby turtles back into the wild.
- Every November 5th we celebrate the anniversary of Taricaya Reserva Ecologica and as part of the celebration we release the baby turtles at the river island Playa Alta.
- We sent 20 still-born babies from different nests to Lima for sexing and were very satisfied to discover that we are producing both males and females. This reinforces that our methodology is sound and we are replicating natural conditions to the best of our ability.
- Every year when all the babies are hatched we calculate the success rate for the occlusion of the eggs (number of live babies from the total number of eggs) and in 2014, we had a success of 80%, a fantastic achievement we must look to improve.
- Every year, when we mark the baby turtles, the location of the insertion changes so that when we spot one in the wild we can assert which year it was released.
About the local efforts:
- In 2012 we work with the school of the Native community of Palma Real to help them manage their own artificial beach for the students to learn about the importance of protecting their natural resources and involve their families to work together and protect the turtles.
- In 2013 we reached a new level working directly with the government and the national parks authorities. A field trip was taken to the Heath River on the Peru-Bolivia border and over 70 nests were collected and brought to Taricaya. By working with the park rangers and the government employees we hope to raise awareness and help to protect this species in the future with the correct enforcement of laws prohibiting the illegal collection of eggs.