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Plan de Acción para la Conservación de los Mamíferos Terrestres Endémicos de la Hispaniola (Solenodon paradoxus y Plagiodontia aedium) 0

Posted on October 26, 2012 by pedro.martinez

Durante los días 10 y 11 del mes de octubre 2012 un nutrido grupo de personas trabajando por y para la conservación participamos en el evento que tuvo como titulo “Plan de Acción para la Conservación de los Mamíferos Terrestres Endémicos de la Hispaniola”. Durante estos dos días se analizaron la situación actual de las especies así como sus amenazas a corto y largo plazo.

 

Participaron en el taller El Ministerio el Ambiente quien fue el organismo convocante, organizaciones no gubernamentales trabajando en la conservación como: The Nature Consenvancy, Grupo Jaragua, El Centro para la Conservación de la Bahía de Samaná y su Entorno (CEBSE, La Fundación Ecológica Punta Cana, el movimiento campesino MCCQ, La Sociedad Zoológica de Londres y Durrell Wild Life Conservation Trust entre otros.

 

Se presentó  además un resumen de los hallazgos mas importantes  del proyecto durante su desempeño. Ambas especies estuvieron ampliamente distribuidas en toda la isla. Los registros fósiles muestran que el Solenodonte y la Hutia tenían un amplio rango de distribución.

 

Actualmente, ambas especies se encuentran en Massif the la Hotte and Massif de la Selle en la parte oeste de Haiti. En la República Dominicana ambas especies se encuentran en Sierra Bahoruco, Parque Jaragua, Los Haitises, Parque del Este, Punta Cana, entre otras zonas.

 

La deforestación y los perros representan la mayor amenaza para estas especies, siendo responsables del 68 % de las muertes reportadas en la Sierra de Bahoruco donde se realizó el estudio. Nuestros hallazgos muestran que la Hutia está en un grado mayor de vulnerabilidad que el Solenodonte debido a la fragmentación y la pérdida de hábitats observados en todo el curso de nuestra investigación. Hay además causas indirectas que podrían estar teniendo un impacto negativo y que no se le ha puesto la atención requerida. Es el caso de muertes por envenenamiento de ambas especies al comer sebos que los agricultores usan para eliminar hurones y ratas debido a los daños que estos causan a la agricultura y a las crianzas de corral.

 

El evento inició con las palabras en representación del Ministro a cargo del profesor Rafael Almonte. El profesor Almonte quien fuera parte del equipo que trabajó la ley 64-00 y la articulación del Ministerio del ambiente reconoce la importancia de preservar estas especies y el papel que juegan las organizaciones conservacionistas en la preservación de especies y sus hábitats.

 

El evento contó también con la participación del Sr. Embajador del Reino Unido quien enfatizó el papel jugado por el Reino Unido en la conservación de estas especies únicas y la importancia de este proyecto de conservación.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figura 1. Mapas de distribución del Solenodonte de la Hispaniola.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figura 2. Mapa de distribución de la Hutia de la Hispaniola

El mapa demuestra los sitios mas probables de encontrar la hutia muestrados en intenso segun el modelo Maxent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biosphere Reserve La Selle Field Investigation and Training Workshop Report August 9 and 10, 2012 0

Posted on September 07, 2012 by pedro.martinez

Pedro Martinezand Masani S. Accimé

The Last Survivors team spent two days in August 2012 on a research trip to southeast Haiti, within the Biosphere Reserve La Selle (UNESCO).  The purpose of this trip was to conduct field-training exercises with a local team led by Dr. Masani S. Accimé, and to investigate for the presence of the two Hispaniolan endemic terrestrial mammals, Plagiodontia aedium and Solenodon paradoxus.  During this trip the local team was trained to find and identify Solenodon and Hutia footprints and other signs of their presence.  Dr. Masani is a veterinarian working with the International Iguana Foundation and Grupo Jaragua to protect some of the remaining populations of Cyclura and other endemic species in the vicinity of Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti.

 

We traveled northwest approximately 35km by truck from the town of Anse-a-Pitres to an area locally known as Kawouye at coordinates X = 200480E Y = 2018307 and Z = 756 meters of elevation (UTM NAD 27), until it was no longer suitable for four-wheel vehicles.  From there we hiked to an area that used to be pine forest, which had undergone changes.  This area is severely modified with mango, avocado and other agricultural crops growing under the canopy of the native pine. In this area, locally known as Nan Bwa Pen, we found 6 nose pokes at the coordinate X = 2019090 Y =201526 and 987m elevation. These nose pokes had the same characteristics of those found in other areas where the two species are known to occur in the Dominican Republic.  However, due to the severity of habitat degradation observed, we believe it is best to be cautious, and not prematurely conclude that Solenodon still occurs in this area until we have further evidence. A second hole was found in an area locally known as Kolen, 1km from  Kawouye.

 

Table 1: Areas where evidence of presence of Solenodon paradoxus is suspected

NO. UTM_X UTM_Y UTM_Z
80 206928 2003076 297 m
81 201571 2019289 998 m
82 201981 2019143 989 m
83 205499 2007458 317 m
84 205904 2006848 346 m
85 205452 2007265 320 m

 

 

During the second day, we looked for evidence in the south of the Municipality of Anse-a-Pitres, in areas known as Lasalin and Savann Lafleur, where Masani’s team (Junior Toussaint, Evanita Sanon, Pierre- Richard Sanon, and Johnny Jeudy) are monitoring Iguana’s nests and nesting sites in the dry forest. Unfortunately, in these areas we did not find any evidence any Solenodon occurring.   We then explored another area within the Municipality of Anse-a-Pitres, known locally as Zèb Ginen X = 205452 Y = 2007265 and 320m elevation, where 1 nose poke was identified.  It was evident throughout the whole area that alien invasive species such as cows, goats and donkeys are present. We strongly believe that if there are any populations of Solenodon in this area, the most suitable area is the pine forest although it is degraded. Although the area has been severely modified there is a mix of broadleaves vegetation and pine forest.

 

There is an area locally known as Tè Frèt that was not surveyed during this trip on the northeastern edge of the Municipality of Anse-a-Pitres, which we recommend exploring for presence of Solenodon and Hutia due to its isolation.  However, to get there will require a setting up of a camp in the area because of the remoteness.  There were also several other areas of dry forest between the towns of Anse-a-Pitres and Banane in the Municipality of Anse-a-Pitres, which were not surveyed due to lack of time.  We also recommend these areas be surveyed for presence of Solenodon.  We met a young man from Banane while out in the field on August 10 who, when shown a photo of  Solenodon paradoxus, confirmed that he has seen this animal in his community and its local name is Konbi.

 

Acknowledgements: This work would not have been possible without the generous support of the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, International Iguana Foundation, Grupo Jaragua, and Durrell.

Moving on 0

Posted on August 08, 2012 by jose.nunez-mino

There have been some substantial changes since our last update and, along with all the other work that has been going on, has kept us all very busy. The main news that I have to share with you is that I have now left “The last survivors” project to take up a new post in the UK. After a period of handover the project is being run on the ground by the Hispaniolan Ornithological Society (Socieded Ornitologica de la Hispaniola – SOH) team with ongoing support from project partners in the UK (EDGE & Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) and the Dominican Republic (DR National Zoo) along with all the other individuals and organisation that have helped along the way . For my part I will definitely continue to support the project from afar in every way I can, furthermore I will be returning to the DR in order to assist in a Species Action Planning workshop in early October. This event will be the focus of the project over the coming months and represents the culmination of the Darwin Initiative funded part of the project. The workshop will bring together all the people involved in the conservation of both solenodon and hutia, it will represent a huge opportunity to create a set of actions that can help the long term conservation of these species. Before then though all the information available for both species including the extensive data that has been collected over the last 3 years needs to be summarised, this is quite a task.

 

Original Team photo back at the start of 2010

One of my last acts before leaving was to set up an online survey to get a feeling for what you thought of the work we have been doing. If you have five minutes to spare, we would really like to hear your voice. The link for the survey is: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TYSJ278

Looks like the solenodon has the slight lead in the popularity vote

Our project in the north of the country, sponsored by BBC Wildlife Wildlife fund, has now come to a close. Timoteo and Rafael have done an outstanding job over the last year. Not only doing some very hard core field work in remote areas but also engaging very positively with their local communities to make them more aware of the importance of conserving the incredible unique plants and animals they share their island with. Both Timoteo and Rafael have life long membership to “The Last Survivors” team and we hope that we can work with them again soon, they have definitely done their bit (and more!) for solenodon and hutia conservation.

 

I’ll be meeting Ros very soon to find out about the last field season results. She has done some great work already but she will be heading out for one final field season very soon. The results of all the work that she has been leading is going to be groundbreaking in terms of revealing more than we have ever known about the secret lives of solenodon and hutia. The whole team, but particularly the research assistants from SOH, have learnt a massive amount from the radio tracking work that is being done. Jess, the MSc student from University of East Anglia, is just about to finish her write up so expect the results on the nightly wonderings of village dogs (we think they might be the main threat to solenodon) very soon.

Hutia being released with GPS collar (Photo: Ros Kennerley)

From my perspective, the last three years in the Dominican Republic have been an amazing experience. I feel very priviliged to have been able to contribute to this project as part of such a wonderful dedicated team. I am also very proud about the amazing work that we have managed to do and I’m confident that the project will continue to grow from strength to strength. Solenodon and Hutia have managed to survive against the odds for a long time and with the continued assistance from the dedicated Dominican scientists and conservationists they will hopefully continue to be flagship species for all the unique flora and fauna to be found on Hispaniola. I will miss all my friends in the Dominican Republic but they can be sure that they will have a steadfast ambassador in me.

It’s been too long 0

Posted on June 05, 2012 by jose.nunez-mino

We owe all of you a huge apology since it has been over two months since our last blog update. To be quite honest the whole team have been so rushed off our feet that we have not had much of a chance to write a blog. Let’s see if we can remedy that and update you with some of what’s been happening.

As in previous years, our numbers have swollen since we currently have two MSc students working with the project. Claudia Llibre from a local University (Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo or INTEC ) has been working with us since January. The Ornithological Society of Hispaniola (SOH) field team in the north of the country (funded by the BBC Wildlife Fund) have been carrying out interviews designed by Claudia in conjunction with MSc students from previous years (Cristina Fernandez) and the rest of the last survivors team in order to establish what the perceptions and attitudes of local communities towards solenodon and hutia as well as other wildlife. They have already interviewed well over 200 people and are simultaneously carrying our talks and presentations independently in rural communities. At the beginning of April, Jessica Knapp from the University of East Anglia, joined the team and has been working very closely with Ros Kennerley. Jess’s project consists on trying to establish where local dogs roam at night. We already know that dogs are the main cause of reported deaths of solenodon but with Jess’s work we will be able to establish just how far the local dogs roam and how their activity overlaps with local solenodon populations. Ros has continued her ground breaking work radio tracking solenodon and GPS tracking hutia. Jess, Caludia and Ros will all be winding down their field work over the next few weeks and will then start to analyse their findings – really looking forward to hearing all about what they have discovered or uncovered through their determination and hard work. It has definitely not been an easy ride for any of them and we think their results will be both interesting and useful.

Jess preparing to put a GPS collar on a village dog (Photo: Ros Kennerley)

Jess preparing to put a GPS collar on a village dog (Photo: Ros Kennerley) CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Pedro Martinez (SOH) arrived back from the DESMAN course at the end of April. He found his three months in Jersey (where the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust Headquarters are) to be both very rewarding and inspiring. You can read all about his experience at the EDGE website. Meanwhile, a large part of the team spent a three weeks in Cuba both in order to attend a conference to share our results but also to meet fellow conservationists working with the Cuban solenodon (the only other solenodon species apart from our own Hispaniolan solenodon) and several species of Cuban hutia. We were very lucky to be joined by Dr. Sam Turvey as well as Dr Selina Brace from Royal Holloway College who have recently published an article that identifies three distinctive hutia populations on Hispaniola and is now looking at hutia populations more widely across the Caribbean. Jose Ramon Espinal (Moncho), our outstanding SOH research assistant, had an experience of a lifetime in the sense that he stepped foot on an aeroplane for the first time and had the opportunity to visit a neighbouring country and the passionate field workers there. Jorge Brocca, the executive director of SOH and the project leader in the Dominican Republic, was the final member of the team and he, along with everyone else, relished the opportunity to meet and talk with colleagues on our neighbouring island.

Part of the Last Survivors Team on the move in Havana (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Part of the Last Survivors Team on the move in Havana (Photo: Joe Nunez) CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

We managed to visit all the major museum collections in Cuba, in some ways it was sad to come across specimens of hutia specimens that may already be extinct.

One of the collections we visited. Sad to think some are probably already extinct (Photo: Joe Nunez) CLICK TO ENLARGE

One of the collections we visited. Sad to think some are probably already extinct (Photo: Joe Nunez) CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

We did manage to get out into the forest a couple of times but the only hutias we managed to see were domesticated ones – very cute they were too although it would have been better for us to have seen wild animals. Everyone in Cuba was extremely welcoming and in the long term we hope to establish strong relationships with our new found Cuban friends in order to share our experience and knowledge to further the conservation of all the unique Caribbean mammals. Cuba has definitely got its own set of unique challenges but the rewards in terms of the benefit to wildlife are as high as on Hispaniola. We really hope the Last Survivors Project will have further opportunities to form a Caribbean wide support network of likeminded conservationists.

Moncho interviewing a local whilst out in the field (Photo: Joe Nunez) CLICK TO ENLARGE

Moncho interviewing a local whilst out in the field (Photo: Joe Nunez) CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Joe holding a domesticated conga hutia (Photo: Jose Ramon Espinal) CLICK TO ENLARGE

Joe holding a domesticated conga hutia (Photo: Jose Ramon Espinal) CLICK PHOTO ENLARGE

We will try not to leave it so long before our next update although we really have our work cut out for us over the next few months. As always, thank you for all your support and encouragement.

Busy times and many visitors by Ros Kennerley 0

Posted on April 04, 2012 by jose.nunez-mino

Two months have passed since the last blog and we have been extremely busy during this time. We had a great opportunity to increase conservation capacity across the border in Haiti by providing training to several members of the Haitian Conservation Youth Group along with another local NGO. The enthusiastic team of volunteers attended a course at our field site in Mencia, and, despite heavy rain, we were able to make the most of breaks between showers to visit den sites and demonstrate the key field skills required for searching. The group went away with the knowledge and ability to undertake their own hutia and solenodon surveys in their study areas.

The hutia GPS collaring work is proving successful, but has also thrown up some challenges for the future. We are gaining a better insight in to the activity and behaviour of hutia, however, the robustness of the collar is being tested by some mischievous members of the family groups, who have been causing damage by gnawing the plastic coating. Ros and the SOH field researchers have now moved to a new field site where there is a greater mix of forest and crop land and they have already caught and radiocollared 13 new solenodons from different families. They will soon begin collecting the telemetry data to see where these animals are moving. The field team in the south-west are about to be joined for three months by an MSc student from the University of East Anglia (UEA) who will be examining the impacts of dogs on solenodon by collecting data on daily and nightly dog movements in the solenodon study area using GPS collars.

Hutia camera trap image - collared albino hutia with fellow family member

Hutia camera trap image - collared albino hutia with fellow family member

Albino Hutia having its collar carefully removed (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Albino Hutia having its collar carefully removed (Photo: Joe Nunez)

We had a very exciting visit from the BBC Natural History Unit who sent a crew out to film our solenodons and the work we are doing here. It proved to be a hectic week with lots of late nights in order to get all the footage that they wanted, but definitely worth all the effort. Our research assistants enjoyed the whole experience and found the process both interesting and also a little bemusing. As soon as we are able to give more details we will reveal the purpose of their work to you in a future blog!

The Last Survivors Team along with BBC Natural History Team (Photo: Jorge Brocca)

The Last Survivors Team along with BBC Natural History Team (Photo: Jorge Brocca)

The SOH team up in the North of the island (funded by the BBC Wildlife Fund) have been busy undertaking surveys within communities close to the national parks in order to find out what people know about our two species. These are now being followed up by talks to villagers alongside environmental discussion, for example in the small village of Cristal de la Laguna.

Joe talking at village meeting in Cristal (Photo: Ros Kennerley)

Joe talking at village meeting in Cristal (Photo: Ros Kennerley)

Start the year as you mean to go on 0

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.

Amazing year…more to come 0

Posted on December 19, 2011 by jose.nunez-mino

As we approach the end of 2011 its time to once again reflect on the year and look forward to the year ahead. This year really has really been quite amazingly productive despite some of challenges that we have faced. Our success has primarily come about through the increasing number of individuals that have been involved in the project at different stages throughout the year. We have had a large team involved in the field work: Pedro Martinez, Ros Kennerley, Nicolas Corona, Jose Ramon “Moncho” Espinal, Sarah Hoy, Rocio Pozo, “Yeyo” Dionis Espinal, Yimel Corona, Anderson Jean, Enold Louis Jean, Timoteo Bueno and Jose Rafael de la Cruz. Huge thanks has got to go out to all of them, they have all contributed to our increasing knowledge of solenodon and hutia on the island of Hispaniola. The management team Dr Richard Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), Jorge Brocca (Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola), Dr Sam Turvey (Zoological Society of London/EDGE) and Dr Patricia Toribio (Dominican Republic National Zoo) also deserve special thanks for their leadership of the project. Several other organisations have also provided us with a lot of help throughout the year (see supporting organisations) but particular thanks has got to go to the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation and to the BBC Wildlife Fund whose backing this year has been absolutely crucial to the successes we have had.

Part of the field team photographed earlier this year (Photo: Rocio Pozo)

As I type this (19th of December), the field work has not yet ended. A team from the Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola (SOH) led by Pedro Martinez is still out in the field surveying areas in the national park “Loma Quita Espuela” and I have recently returned from carrying out surveys with more of the SOH team both within and outside National Parks in the north of the Dominican Republic. Our teams are becoming increasingly independent not just in terms of planning and carrying out scientific surveys but also in terms of educating the general public and making more people aware of the importance of conserving these two unique mammal species. I am particularly proud of this achievement and we will be able to build on this by increasing the use we make of the infomercial films created in conjunction with Funk Productions for the project. One of the infomercials has already proven to be quite a hit on YouTube with more than 1400 views since it was posted at the beginning of September.

Jose Ramon "Moncho" Espinal carrying out educational work with community members (Photo: Joe Nunez)

The year ahead is sure to be full of many new challenges as we strive to secure the project for the long term by sharing what we have learnt here as widely as possible. The conservation of solenodon and hutia both in Hispaniola and across the Caribbean will undoubtedly rely on furthering broadscale cooperation and collaborations. We will continue to rely on the assistance of all the people and organisations who have supported and collaborated with our work so far, which includes you of course.

Seasons greetings from the last survivors team

Seasons greetings from the last survivors team

It just remains for me to wish you all a very happy holiday season and all the best for 2012. With your continued support and encouragement I am sure we can continue to improve the chances of maintaining the last survivor mammal species of the Caribbean.

Making a difference 0

Posted on November 21, 2011 by jose.nunez-mino

Where have the last two months gone? They seem to have flown past and the lead up to Christmas is upon us. We have, as always, been very busy on all fronts over the last couple of months.

On the educational front we have had the first showings of the project infomercials (kids version in Spanish and full version in Spanish) at two very different schools – over 700 students in all have now seen them. The first showing was as at a remote rural school in Los Limones village near Los Haitises National Park. This did not simply serve to educate and inform local students about solenodon and hutia but was also an opportunity to train and empower Timoteo and Rafael (our two research assistants sponsored by the BBC Wildlife Fund) on their presentation skills. The aim is that they will take on educational campaigns of their own in the very near future. The village kids loved the infomercials and enjoyed finding out about solenodon and hutia – unfortunately many saw these species as damaging to crops but hopefully we have managed to change that perception.

Students at Los Limones School watching the project Infomercial (Photo: Pedro Martinez)

Students at Los Limones School watching the project Infomercial (Photo: Pedro Martinez)

Pedro Martinez (SOH) introducing students to the endemic solenodon (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Pedro Martinez (SOH) introducing students to the endemic solenodon (Photo: Joe Nunez)

We were very honoured to be invited back to the Punta Cana International School where we gave presentations last year and where we gave our second showing of the project infomercials (Spanish version and English version). Many, although not all, of the students there were already aware of the species we work on as well as our work trying to study and conserve them so the focus was more on updating them on our findings. We were bombarded with questions which was a great reflection on the level of interest that students had. Amity Beane, a teacher at the school, arranged for feedback from the students and my favourite answer to the question “What was the most interesting part about yesterday’s presentation?” was “What we liked the most was that many people don’t even know that they existed and how they studied them”. As we step up our educational campaign and distribute the infomercial films more widely we want more people to know about these unique species as well as how we study them.

Punta Cana International School students (Photo: Amity Beane)

Punta Cana International School students (Photo: Amity Beane)

On the research front, we were very happy to welcome back Ros Kennerley who has been working really hard to get more data on solenodon night time travels although she has been hampered by loads of rain. Things should speed up now that the dry season is here. We have also continued our work in Los Haitises National Park where Pedro Martinez has been leading the “Sociedad de la Hispaniola” team. We have carried out several expeditions to survey remote bits of this amazing park. During these expeditions we do searches for signs of solenodon and hutia but also carry out interviews with community members to assess people’s knowledge and perception of the species too. Although we have found evidence of solenodon and hutia in some places in Los Haitises, we have also, sadly, found lots of areas that are being deforested, very often by burning. On the brighter side and thanks to camera traps purchased with funds from the BBC Wildlife Fund, we now have the first video footage of hutia from Los Haitises. You can see the footage on our twitter feed or facebook page.

Pedro, Rafael and Timoteo (SOH) carrying out community interviews in Los Haitises (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Pedro, Rafael and Timoteo (SOH) carrying out community interviews in Los Haitises (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Burnt down forest in Los Haitises National Park (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Burnt down forest in Los Haitises National Park (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Over the coming months we will be using all the information that we have gathered to make sure that future conservation plans will be as well informed as possible about what we need to do to ensure the survival of solenodon and hutia well into the future. This means that we will have to use some of our efforts to analyse all the data but this will not put a stop to the work in the field since all our team members are now increasingly independent.

The next phase will be absolutely critical to the success of the project in the long term. We need to build on the collaborations we have formed already and form some new ones in order to ensure that the future of solenodon and hutia is secured. Luckily, there are many people who have expressed a willingness to help and contribute in this cause which is very encouraging. I hope I never have to read a headline about the Hispaniolan solenodon or hutia like I did about the Little Earth Hutia (from Cuba) which was declared extinct in a Cuban press article recently. With all our combined efforts I am confident that we can ensure that these unique mammals and their habitats will be around long into the future.

Two years on – Continued action 2

Posted on October 01, 2011 by jose.nunez-mino

So much has happened since our last posting that I have no idea if I’ll be able to cram it all into a reasonable length blog. Those of you who have been following us on facebook and twitter will know what I mean! One of the main highlights of this period has to be the ISLA (Island Species-Led Action) course which we ran at the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation from the 19th to the 27th of September. This course brought together 18 conservationists which were mainly from Dominican Republic although we also had representatives from Haiti, the Island of Montserrat and Puerto Rico. Participants were both from government and non-government organisations, bringing them all together was in itself a massive opportunity to share experiences and knowledge whilst creating an atmosphere of mutual support and future collaborations. The course provided an opportunity to think and discuss some of the most important challenges faced by island conservationists as well as looking at the methods and options available to overcome these. The course should provide a launch pad for future efforts to continue to conserve the unique and threatened species of the Caribbean. It was, in my opinion, a massive success thanks to all the last survivor project partners and all the participants. Particular thanks has to go to: Island Conservation (Dr. Kirsty Swinnerton and Jose Luis Herrera), Punta Cana Ecological Foundation (Jake Kheel and Ben Hulefeld), Dr. Jose Ottenwalder (Vice-president of Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola), Dr. Yolanda Leon (INTEC/Grupo Jaragua) and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (vice-minister of environmental education, Amarilis Polonia, who launched the event).

ISLA-Hispaniola 2011 group photo

ISLA-Hispaniola 2011 group photo (Photo: Jorge Brocca)

Our work in the northern part of the Dominican Republic (National Parks: Guaconejo, Los Haitises and Loma Quita Espuela) is continuing at a good pace although we were affected by some of the awful weather that swept through the region, namely Tropical Storm Emily and Hurricane Irene. Our two new research assistants, Jose Rafael de la Cruz and Timoteo Bueno, who are funded by the BBC Wildlife Fund have continued to develop their field research skills with the help of Moncho who is our star research assistant.

Rafael and Moncho trecking

Rafael and Moncho trecking through lower deforested slopes of Loma Quita Espuela National Park (Photo: Joe Nunez)

Rafael and Timoteo are not only learning how to find areas where solenodon and hutia are present but are also learning interview skills so they can find out how people perceive solenodon and hutia. Sadly, in the interviews we have done around Los Haitises, we are finding that many people appear to identify Solenodon as a pest species and believe that they are damaging their crops. During the next phase of our work in the area we will continue to search for signs of solenodon and hutia (we have already confirmed their presence in some areas in two of the national parks) but will also be helping Rafael and Timoteo to mount an effective education campaign – hopefully this will mean that more people will have a positive perception of these their unique mammal species.

Community interview

Carrying out a community interview with Timoteo (Photo: Amber Tallon)

At the beginning of September we received several reports of a solenodon which was captured and being maltreated in Samana (northern Dominican Republic). Luckily, Pedro Martinez (Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola) from the Last Survivors project was working nearby so he joined forces with Kim Baddall (Whale Samana), Noelia Jerez (CEBSE) and Dr. Adrell Nunez (Dominican Republic National Zoo) to make sure the solenodon was taken into safety. The solenodon was in a very bad way when it was rescued but is now making a good recovery at the National Zoo. We are hoping that this individual can be released back into the wild once it has made a full recovery. Pedro has already been back along with Kim to establish the area where the animal was captured. A collaborative education campaign is much needed and is on the cards in the next period of the project.

Rescued solenodon

Rescued solenodon being helped by Kim Baddall (Photo: Pedro Martinez)

Rocio and Sarah (who were with us over the summer) have both finished writing up their MSc thesis (Imperial College) and they have some interesting findings which we hope to fully share with you very soon. The bottom line of their work suggests that although solenodons appear to live in some agricultural areas they are still highly dependant on the remaining forest for their survival. Ros Kennerley has also got some ground breaking results from her solenodon radio telemetry work and we are all looking forward to welcoming her back in mid October when she will be continuing this important research as part of The Last Survivors project.

Our final (English version) infomercial was launched on line on the 4th of September and nearly 1000 people have watched it on YouTube already (click the image to have a look)! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the production of all four videos and particularly thanks to Funk Productions. We will begin distributing and using the Spanish version videos over the coming months as a tool to make more people aware of the amazing last survivor species and the project.

Our YouTube infomercial approaching the 1000 mark

As the project approaches its second anniversary in just a few days time, it’s amazing to think how much we have achieved but there is definitely a lot more for us to do. We have our work cut out for us as we continue our programme in the north of the island and then extend into new areas where we have not worked before. The number of people that support our work continues to grow and we count you amongst those that are helping to spread the word of the importance of saving the solenodon and hutia.

Back and ready to go 0

Posted on August 05, 2011 by jose.nunez-mino

After visiting friends and family back in the United Kingdom I am now back in the sunny Caribbean. Actually it’s not been that sunny since we are at the start of the rainy season and tropical storm Emily has been sweeping past us over the last few days. I was itching to get out into the field shortly after arriving but the storm has delayed that departure by dumping lots of rain on us, here in the capital (Santo Domingo) we have had 24 hours of continuous rain so far.

While I was in the UK I was able to meet up with a lot of the other Durrell overseas team in Jersey. This was an incredibly positive experience for me since not only did I get to share and exchange experiences with them but I also got to make a whole lot of new friends. Regardless of which part of the world we are working in, we all seem to share many of the same challenges. It is also great to know that we also share many of the passions that drive us to dedicate our lives to conservation.

Durrell Overseas Team meeting at Jersey (Photo: Luis Ortiz Catedral)

Pedro Martinez (Field Project Manager, Hispaniolan Ornithological Society) has been busy while I have been away. He has been exploring the north part of the island and after meeting and interviewing a range of candidates has selected the team he will be working with. He has also started some initial training with them in our field methods with the assistance of our very experienced research assistants – Moncho, Yeyo and Nicolas. This part of our work is thanks to the BBC Wildlife Fund…you may not know this but the BBC has announced the closure of this fund which is incredibly sad news since it was a vital lifeline for not just this but many other conservation projects too. If you want to help us in the campaign to save the fund please sign the on line petition HERE.

One bit of sad news while I was away is that a large area of forest was burnt down in one of our main study sites. In fact this site is where three post graduate students had been carrying out a lot of research over the previous few months. We know that a substantial population of solenodon lived in this area, hopefully they managed to survive the destruction.

Burnt out forest in Mencia area (Photo: Pedro Martinez)

Burnt out forest in Mencia area (Photo: Pedro Martinez)

Ros, Rocio and Sarah, the three postgraduate students mentioned earlier, are now back in the United Kingdom analysing and writing up their data. We will let you know what their findings are soon. While I was in the UK they presented me with a photo of the three of them holding cuddly solenodons (if your interested in buying a cuddly solenodon please let us know). This pose came about after a phone meeting between us which reminded us all of the classic scene from Charlie’s angels – aptly renamed Joe’s angels

Solenodon's Angels - Sarah, Ros & Rocio (Photo: Rocio Pozo)

The next month is going to be tremendously busy primarily on two fronts. We will be pushing on with our work in the north of the country as well as organising an ISLA (Island Species-Led Action) course for September at Punta Cana Ecological Foundation. After that we will be entering the crucial final year of the project where we use the information that we have gathered to implement effective management and monitoring plans with the help of a broad collaboration of organisations and individuals across the island. Our aim, is to leave a project that will be self sustaining and long lasting.

The final English infomercial will also be finished over the next few weeks if you have not seen the previous ones, in Spanish, check them out here: Video 1, Video 2 & Video 3.

Remember that as always you can keep an eye on what we are doing by following us on facebook or twitter. Hopefully the storm will pass soon so we can get out into the forest!



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