The last couple of months have been very challenging for the project on all sorts of fronts but thankfully we have simultaneously been making good progress with all of our work. I guess one of the most exciting bits of news that I have to share with you is that thanks to the BBC Wildlife Fund we will be able to start working in the northern part of the Dominican Republic while simultaneously continuing our work in the areas where we are already having a positive impact. In fact, this work has already started since we have just got back from our first reconnaissance trip to Los Haitises National Park where we were hosted by the eco-tourism project Paraiso Cano Hondo. As always, it’s very encouraging to have so many individuals and organisations support our efforts – but more on that later. The part of Los Haitises that we explored was in quite a sad state with the vast majority of the areas we got to having been heavily impacted on by subsistence agriculture and livestock farming. Having said that, we did manage to confirm the presence of a hutia population in some of the forest fragments that are still left. We are looking forward to keeping you updated with our progress in this part of the country.
In March, we received a massive voluntary contribution from Nadine Trahan of Gaiaspatial (in construction) in the form of her time, skills and knowledge which have helped us to build our first distribution model for solenodon and hutia with the data we have collected so far. Nadine ran a GIS (geographical Information Systems) course for 10 days for a small group thanks to the supports of the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation . We will continue to work with Nadine and Dr Mark O’Connell from Ecological research and training in order to further develop our models which will help us decide on the best future course of conservation actions. We were able to present our very preliminary maps at a talk given at the Dominican Republic National Academy of Sciences on invitation by the Dominican Geology Society. Keep an eye on this space for updates on how our distribution maps develop.
Apart from our first expedition into Los Haitises we have continued to work in the magnificent forests in Sierra de Bahoruco. It’s an amazing large protected area where, in just a short distance, you can go from open pine forest through to dense cloud forests that reminds you of something out of Lord of the Rings. Sadly we also witnessed some areas of deforestation deep in this national park too although once again we managed to find evidence of both species in places.
Ros Kennerley has continued to make some amazing progress in radiotracking solenodon across Sierra de Bahoruco. Her work will undoubtedly produce some incredibly interesting and useful results about how, when and where solenodons move around the agricultural landscape where she is working.
Funk productions have edited and produced the first of the infomercials (in Spanish) for the project. There is a long (10 minute) and short (4 minute) version which can now be viewed on line at: http://vimeo.com/18604440 and http://vimeo.com/20015567 Have a look and let us know what you think? We will be using these infomercials to reach out to as wide an audience as possible.
We had a particularly sad 24 hour period at the end of March where 4 hutia deaths were reported to us. One was killed by dogs in the north, one by a child in the south west and for the other two the cause of death is still unknown. We obviously have a lot more work to do and our holistic approach takes us down some seemingly odd avenues. Kate Wallace of Tody Tours has been knitting solenodon furiously, yes I did say knitting! Its partly thanks to Alan Dart who donated his solenodon knitting pattern so we can raise funds for our conservation project. We are now trying to find a local community group to knit these solenodons for us since they are proving very popular and Kate alone cannot keep up with the huge demand. Ideally this would raise money for the project, awareness of the species and provide some rural communities with an alternative income.
Over the next few weeks we will once again be very busy as two masters students arrive on site to carry out their projects with us and we make our first trip into Haiti. We have also started to think/plan beyond the end of our Darwin Initiative funding which ends in October 2012. We want all that we have learnt and done so far to serve as a very solid foundation for all that is still left to be done – exciting times lie ahead. Remember that you can keep up to date with our work more regularly by following us on facebook and twitter.