Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about tayras, short-ear dog, and bush dog

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These series of posts continue with some of the medium-sized predators that persist in some parts of the study area. Probably the most common are tayras and short-ear dogs. They can be found crossing pastures, tertiary roads, savannas, and palm oil plantations as well as inside forest fragments.

They eat small birds, mammals, and reptiles. Tayras are more omnivorous as they also eat fruits and insects. We had observed tayras attacking primate groups in the study area, especially of squirrel monkeys and black-capped capuchins, targeting the younger individuals. Groups of up to three tayras had been observed in the area. They are good climbers and sometimes when scared by humans or domestic dogs they climb to escape.

Short-ear dogs have been seen using palm oil plantations as hunting grounds, it seems opportunistically, while dispersing in the study area. They are carnivorous and they have crepuscular habits. Usually observed alone or in pairs in the study area.

Local people also reported both tayras and short-ear dogs attacking chickens and other domestic birds. Therefore, on some farms in the area, they are killed when near to the houses.

The less known are the bush dogs, very similar to domestic dogs in appearance. We had seen them only in the biggest fragments in the area (Carretero-Pinzon 2013), but there are reports in the Llanos of their use of savannas as hunting grounds too. Bush dogs are cryptic animals that live in pairs or small groups. We observed them near to the edge of a big forest fragment using a trail used by humans, early in the morning.

All observation of these medium-sized predators had been opportunistic with some few occasions in which we also had found feces or footprints that seem to be from them.

In recent years we had observed an increase of feral dogs in the area as well as the use of dogs in hunting inside of the biggest forest fragments. Although we still don’t know what the effect of these feral dogs on the populations of medium-sized predators can be. There are reports of disease transmission, especially skin problems, transmitted from feral dogs or dogs used in hunting to bush dogs, from other parts of their distribution area. This can be especially important for the population of this species that we suspect is low and rare in the area. More monitoring on this will be needed in the future.

Carretero-Pinzón, X. 2013. Bush dog sighting in a large forest fragment in the Colombian Llanos. Canid Biology & Conservation 16(5): 16 – 17.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about coatis, crab-eater raccoons, other mammals in the area

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Solitary coati from one of the forest fragments in the study area.

Today’s post we are going to talk about other mammals present in the study area, that are perhaps a bit less attractive to people but all the same important for the forest. Mammals are the group of animals that are covered by hair or hair modifications, such as thorns in porcupines. They can be omnivorous (which means that they eat other animals, fruits and other plant parts) or they can be carnivorous, which means that they eat other animals. In this post, we are going to talk about all the other mammals present in the study area that we didn’t mention in the previous posts, like all the wild cats, peccaries and tapirs.

Today we are going to talk about coatis, medium-sized mammals with long snouts that usually are found in the forest in big groups up to 30 individuals (usually females and their infants) or solitary individuals, generally males. The first time I saw a big group of coatis was in a big forest, I was walking looking for monkeys of course, when a feel some noise near to the ground and on the trees. Coatis are great climbers and sometimes they climb to escape from predators. When they notice me, they just stop every movement, it was like if they were playing freezing. A kind of a game we used to play when I was a kid in which someone screams “freeze” and everyone needs to stop their movements in the position they were when they hear the scream, and you can move until someone scream again after a few minutes. It looks the same to me. It was funny some animals were just moving their eyes following my movement, some had a hand in the air as if giving a step forward or trying to catch something in midair. They are omnivorous and goes around the forest looking for fruits and insects. In the study area they are present in some forest but not in all. In the forest fragments where this project started 15 years ago, there were not common to see coatis in the past, however in the past 5 years or so it has been more common not only to find solitary males dispersing but also to some groups of females and their offspring.

An even less common mammal present in the study area is the crab-eating raccoon, I only had seen them once in the study area. They are solitary and nocturnal animals. They eat small crabs, fish, mollusks and some frogs and insects. I only notice his presence because he had to move a bit from his hidden place in a high tree cover with lianas and vines after the group of squirrel monkeys I was following wake him up. A couple of times after this I had found some tracks that seem to belong to them.

Porcupines are more common in the study area, not so easy to see as they are nocturnal, but we sometimes found some thorns in the ground or even some dead animals. It seems domestic dogs attack them very often. When waking in the forest at night sometimes it is easy to hear them scratching bark from dead trees and it is one way to spot them as the noise, they do is loud.

Even more common and less loved are the common opossum as well as other smaller opossums that can be seen in the area. They are marsupials, like koalas and kangaroos, which means that their babies grow up outside of the body in a small pouch located in their belly. They are omnivorous and one of the reasons most people in the study area don’t like them is that sometimes they eat small chickens. They are solitary and nocturnal; they climb trees and their tail is like another limb they can use to hang to reach fruits.

Although all these mammals had been observed in the area, all of them had been observed inside forest fragments and we still don’t’ know how much they use pastures and palm oil plantations. For the crab-eaten raccoon, it’s possible that their persistence in the area is due to their use of forest around streams that are the most common in the study area. Porcupines and opossums, in general, seem to move between forest fragments using living fences as well as pastures. Local people had reported coatis crossing pastures and savannas on a few occasions, and they probably use living fences as well to move through the area.

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A common opossum in the study area.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about wild cats in the area

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Cougar footprint found in a tertiary road in a cattle ranching farm in the study region.

Today’s post is about another group of native fauna inhabiting the study region. We are going to talk about the wild cats that persist in the study region. As I mentioned previously, the study region is highly transformed landscapes with forest fragments of different sizes (range 0.5 to > 1000 ha) in a matrix of palm oil plantations, perennial crops, cattle ranches and natural savannas covering several thousand hectares.

Because of the constant human activity in the area, you could think wild cats, especially the big ones, jaguars and cougars, won’t be able to live in the area. However, that is not true. Although not very common and mostly observed in the farthest part of the study region, towards the “serranía”, as it is locally known, it is possible to find some wild cats.

Mostly footprints, as well as some feces and tracks, are possible to be found for the bigger cats, like jaguars and cougars. Small cats like margay, ocelot, oncilla, and jaguarundi are sometimes found on pastures, natural savannas and even in small forest fragments. Observations are rare over the years but from time to time we found footprints and tracks that let us know they still present in the region despite the human activities.

From time to time, there are also reports from some cattle ranchers about cougars or jaguars attacking livestock, and some of these reports ended in the killing of a jaguar or cougar in the region. Fortunately, those cases are still rare.

Tracks and footprints from all species had been observed on tertiary roads, as well as pastures, natural savannas and inside of forest fragments of different sizes over the last 15 years. No clear pattern of more observation in some years than others is evident from our surveys.

The region still maintains a prey population that seems to be stable in general, with some local extinction in the more human-populated areas, close to towns and main roads. This is probably the reason that wild cats are still present in the region.

Some reports of chickens and other small domestic animals killed in farms are more often attributed to more conspicuous carnivorous and opossums such as tayras, short-eared dogs and the common opossum, which are more visible and often seen by local people.

The persistence of gallery forest fragments in the area around small streams is probably one of the reasons we still have some wild cats moving in the region without many observations except by some sporadic tracks and footprints.

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Feces of a wild cat found in a forest fragment at the study region.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about peccaries and tapirs

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The study region despite to be highly fragmented are, still has some areas in which native wildlife of big size persist. Today’s post, as well as some post in the following weeks, is about that fauna different from monkeys that is still present in the region in which the study area is located.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to survey some of the biggest forest fragments in the region (500 – 1000 ha). Although immersed in a cattle ranching matrix combined with tertiary roads and perennial crops, as well as palm oil plantations. These forest fragments still have the characteristic mammal fauna typical of more preserved areas, including big mammals such as peccaries and tapirs, as well as their predator’s jaguars and cougars.

In those fragments, it is in some ways common to find tracks and even to see groups of collared peccaries (Tayassu tajacu) when they are present in those fragments. Observations of small groups and solitary individuals have also been done in fragments around 100 ha in the area, but with less frequency.

Rarer are the observations of white-lipped peccary (Tayassu peccari) in the area, although there are still present and in the past, they use to reach the town park. Last time a group of white-lipped peccaries was observed in town was 10 years ago, according to some local people. However, in the largest fragments, herds of white-lipped peccaries had been reported by locals the last year. Both are still hunted in the region and their meet is highly appreciated by locals.

Landowners in the region have problems with illegal hunting for the town’s market although it is illegal as it is not a subsistence practice. Information from local people suggest that a kilogram of peccary’s or tapir’s meat in the illegal market can cost around USD 11.5 in 2014. Today, probably that price had increased substantially due to the long-distance and time needed to hunt these species in the area.

Also, it is still possible to see tapir (Tapirus terrestris) in the region, especially tracks and footprints more than observe them. Most of the observations in the region have been done in forest fragments of more than 500 ha surrounded by savannas, with some observations were done in the savannas near to watercourses. Swamp areas inside of big forest fragments are the areas where most observations have been done in the area, as well as close to the main streams in the region. Observations in small fragments are rare, probably because of hunting.

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Most observations of collared peccaries lasted just a few minutes, depending on how fast they perceived my presence. However, I had the opportunity to see groups as bigger as 15 individuals, including several females, a few males, and some young individuals. No threatened behaviors towards the observer has been observed on all those encounters, even when the peccaries’ herd had small individuals. Mostly once they perceived my presence, the whole group just scape, running sometimes in opposite directions. Sometimes it is possible to observe some individuals coming back to follow the rest of the group after the initial encounter.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Challenges for the new year, 2020

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As we approach a new year, I want to share with you some of the plans we are making to continue this project. Thanks to the willingness of some of the landowners in the study area and some new collaborations with people in the area. During 2020, we are planning to continue doing the long-term monitoring of native fauna in the region, as well as include some new areas close to the main city in the region, Villavicencio.

One of the main lessons for me over the past 15 years has been the importance of being in the region over time with perseverance despite the challenges. This presence had increased the interest of landowners to know and learn about the native fauna that they have in their land and in some cases to go beyond that simple knowledge to try to preserve it.

Some of the new data we want to collect on this new year in collaboration with institutions like William Barrios Foundation and Professor Martha Ortiz, Ph.D. from Universidad del Llano is:

  1. Information about the effects of road killing on primates and other fauna in the urban and rural areas of the region
  2. Establish the current conservation state of dusky titi monkey in their distribution area
  3. Continue with the demographic data collection on primate species in the San Martin area and expanded to other towns in the region
  4. Information about the economic cost of crop-raiding by black-capped capuchins on perennial crops in the region
  5. Expand our data collection to other native fauna in the region
  6. Implement some citizen science data collection in the region to monitor threats for native fauna in the region
  7. Assess the impact of food provision on urban monkeys in the Villavicencio area

Although some of the topics are more challenging than others, new collaborations were formed in the past months that make me confident that it is possible to reach this new information. My main motivation is the increased interest from students from the regional universities that want to work for the native fauna in their region.

If you want to support any of these initiatives or want to be involved in any way, please don’t hesitate to leave a message on this website or write to me at xcarretero@zocayproject.com. There are many ways in which you can be involved and we will be happy that you join us.

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