The Last Survivors


Start the year as you mean to go on

Posted on January 31, 2012 by jose.nunez-mino

I am convinced that time is speeding up; the last few weeks have absolutely flown by. Our main focus since our last blog has been field work. The whole team has been working flat out. Pedro Martinez and the rest of the “Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola” (SOH; Hispaniolan Ornithological Society) team have completed surveys across two National Parks (“Loma Quita Espuela” and “Guaconejo”) in the northern part of the country – all thanks to the funding provided by the BBC Wildlife Fund. The end is in sight with the last few surveys in “Los Haitises” National Park which is proving to be really hard going – see the photos on our facebook group for evidence of this. The team in the north is about to be joined by a local MSc student (Claudia Llibre) who will be carrying out social surveys along with the SOH team to establish peoples perception of both species so that this can shape and direct our educational campaign in the area.

Jose Ramon Espinal giving a village talk at Nalga de Maco (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Jose Ramon Espinal giving a village talk at Nalga de Maco (Photo: Joe Nunez)

My role, along with Jose Ramon Espinal (SOH), has been to travel the length and breadth of the Dominican Republic to see if the distribution maps we have developed actually reflect what we are finding on the ground. We can report that although we have uncovered populations of solenodon and hutia in some places, it has not been everywhere – our maps on the whole appear to be quite reliable although we still need to continue working on this. Sadly, some places are still being deforested but on a happier note, there are some remaining large areas of forest where solenodon and hutia are holding out. Let’s hope we can encourage more people to value and preserve these magnificent forests for the sake of solenodon and hutia as well as all the other species that depend on them.

Forest next to agriculture (left) and slash & burn (right) (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Forest next to agriculture (left) and slash & burn (right) (Photo: Joe Nunez) CLICK TO ENLARGE

Ros Kennerley and the SOH team based in the west have finished the radio tracking of solenodons and the first ever GPS tracking of a hutia (which happened to be an albino individual). These initial results have provided us with a very powerful visual tool for demonstrating the hutias utter dependence on forested areas. The 3D image shows you the daily movements (different colours) of the white hutia in a forest fragment with a village in the far background.

White hutia and its nightly travels within a forest fragment (Photo: Ros Kennerley)

White hutia and its nightly travels within a forest fragment (Photo: Ros Kennerley) CLICK TO ENLARGE

Ros will be moving to a new field site over the next couple of weeks to see if solenodon in other kind of forests are using the same size of areas and carrying out similar nightly journeys to the ones in the area where she has been. Ros and the rest of the SOH field team really are unravelling the secret lives of these unique species.

Pedro is leaving us for three months as he is attending the “Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate” at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey. He will be sorely missed. We plan to continue with the field work and we will be increasing our efforts on the educational and awareness raising front in addition to training more individuals on how to find the signs that solenodon and hutia leave. Ultimately we need to continue to engage and encourage as many people and organisations on the island as possible to contribute towards the conservation of these truly remarkable species in order to design an effective species conservation action plan.

I think we will have even more exciting news and developments in February and you can get more regular updates about these from our Twitter feed or just keep watching this space.

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