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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rescate Animal XXV: La Ardilla Centroamericana

Durante varios años, hemos estado ayudando a rescatar animales silvestres cuando sea necesario. Nuestra contribución de GAIA a la vida silvestre en Nicaragua, a través del rescate, rehabilitación, y liberación de animales, siempre ha sido pequeña, sin embargo, ha crecido notablemente recientemente. La diferencia mas notable que ha marcado los últimos años es que la conciencia de las personas que tienen animales silvestres como mascotas se ha ido levantando. Cada día hay mas gente en Nicaragua que reconoce que un animal silvestre debe vivir y morir en su hábitat natural, no en una jaula.

El hecho de que lleguen animales, o de que llamen o escriban personas preocupadas que quieren reportar a un animal, o que quieren entregar un animal, que quieren apuntarse como voluntarios en el trabajo de cuidar a los animales o donar para que hayan condiciones y alimento para ellos, es en si, una manifestación de la conscientización que se esta dando entre la gente por encontrarse con la posibilidad de que los animales silvestres tengan su segunda oportunidad de vivir libres, una vez capturados.

A esta ardilla le encanta el banano! Foto Jeffrey McCrary.

Recientemente, una joven nos escribió, porque había comprado una ardilla centroamericana (Sciurus variegatoides), la cuidó como suya, la trató muy bien, hasta dormía con ella. Pero con el tiempo, la joven reconoció que la ardilla no es un animal domesticado. Una ardilla debe vivir y morir entre los árboles, haciendo lo que hacen las ardillas y no obligada a vivir como el ser humano dicta.

La ardilla centroamericana (Sciurus variegatoides) es común en la región del Pacífico en Nicaragua. Foto Jeffrey McCrary.
Igual como en otras ocasiones, la ardilla presentaba una gran aficion al ser humano. Se dejaba tocar, llevar, y hasta dormia encima de las personas. Cuando la trajimos a la Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo, ella fue cargada por dos adolescentes voluntarios. Comia traquilamente cuando estaba en casa, pero al ver a los arboles y el gran verdor del bosque, se ponia inquieta.

La ardillita come mientras es observada. Foto Jeffrey McCrary.
Ya sabia la ardilla que los arboles se encuentran en su ADN. No se satisfacía con la atención de las personas. Se quiso ir, y pronto, se fue! 

La ardilla socializaba fácilmente con los jóvenes voluntarios en la Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo. Foto Jeffrey McCrary.
Esta ardilla, igual como muchas otras, se fue. Tres dias despues, fue vista, jugando con una ardilla grande, señalando que ya esta bien, fue aceptada entre las muchas ardillas que viven arriba de la Estación Biológica. Esperamos que tenga larga vida, y lo mas importante, que viva segun su naturaleza, que sea corta o larga. Hasta siempre, amiga.

Durante el 2017, muchas ardillas han sido traídas a la Estación Biológica, para su rehabilitación y regreso al bosque para que viva y muera libre. En el vídeo abajo, hay algunas mas ardillas que vinieron para ser liberadas.

Si deseas ayudar a cuidar a la naturaleza, escríbenos y dinos como puedes participar. Estamos siempre a la orden para cualquier comentario. Échanos una mano y trabajemos juntos para cuidar la vida silvestre en Nicaragua. 

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Turquoise-Browed Motmot

Nicaragua does not have an officially designated national bird. Nonetheless, the Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) is widely regarded as the national bird. Its imagery permeates the symbology of the country, even appearing on the recently issued 200-cordoba note. All Nicaraguans love this bird, to be sure. Its name in Nicaraguan Spanish is Guardabarranco, or Bank Keeper.

Eumomota superciliosa
A Turquoise-browed Motmot brings a caterpillar to the chicks in a nest on the patio of Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
This year marked a first. On our, not exactly expansive, patio, a pair of Turquoise-browed Motmots decided to nest. The nest conditions they require has spawned their Nicaraguan name: They choose a horizontal hole in a dirt bank, usually previously made by small reptiles, then expand and lengthen it. The nest is protected from some kinds of potential predators by its location that can be reached only with difficulty by small, clawed animals that can scale the wall, or by flying; by the length of the nest and usually a crook in the access tunnel, which makes any trip into the tunnel treacherous; and by extreme stealth on entering and leaving the nest. 

Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve
The 200-cordoba note, made of plastic, features none other than the Guardabarranco.
The nest site was a drainage hole, placed in a stone retaining wall. It is shielded from easy view by a mahogany tree, but is less than two meters from every person entering and leaving Estacion Biologica. There was just enough cover from the mahogany tree to permit the birds to enter and leave without being easily noticed. 

Turquoise-browed Motmot
A juicy caterpillar is on its way to chicks in the Turquoise-browed Motmot nest. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Once the eggs have hatched, the real work begins. Hungry chicks demand a lot of food, with particular nutrition profiles, particularly lots of protein. Both parents hurriedly made forays into the garden below and the jungle behind in search of fruits and especially small animals.

Eumomota superciliosa
The Turquoise-browed Motmot, caterillar in tow, is waiting for its mate to emerge from the nest, to ferry more food to them. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
We were too busy to monitor the nest constantly. Furthermore, the parents noted whether someone was observing before entering or leaving the nest. We chose to act casually, let them do their thing, and hope for the best. This species is abundant in the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, some nests are found only 40 meters from our gate, but this first use of our own property made us proud.

eumomota superciliosa
The Turquoise-browed Motmot is uncharacteristically abundant in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
We never saw the chicks depart, and the large numbers of nearby birds of this species makes it impossible to state which bird came from where. Whether they survived and fledged, we can only speculate. Hopefully, because we try to make our grounds more natural and friendly to wildlife, the nesting pair was able to use a new site successfully, and perhaps we will get another visit in the future. 

One does not have to be an expert to enjoy birdwatching. If you would like to see this gorgeous bird and lots of other forest birds, ask us to provide a field guide for a short excursion. Birdwatching is an inclusive, learning and enjoying activity, in which beginners can participate. Contact us if you would like to make a birdwatching excursion. 

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Laguna de Apoyo Morning Yoga

Anyone up for some morning yoga? Andras is conducting yoga classes at Estacion Biologica, and you are invited to join it. It's a great way to start the day, by reminding your body of its center, and awakening the relationships between the mind and the body. Starting 6 am, each Monday and Thursday.

yoga in Laguna de Apoyo
Yoga is a great way to start the day, anywhere, but it's best in the jungle. Photo Andras Dorgai.

A hurried day can easily combine with distractions to keep a person from relaxing, feeling oneself, and reducing the effects of all the noise from without and within. Yoga also can get the blood flowing to parts of the body that might not be getting enough attention, without impacts and strains of many sports.

Visitors to Estacion Biologica and students of Apoyo Spanish School can start their mornings with a yoga class. Photo Andras Dorgai. 
The yoga class began on the first morning with sun, following several with impending rain or storms. There was no wind, so the trees were silent, except for the grunts of monkeys raiding the fruits of a couple of Cecropia trees in the yard. They occasionally howled, and a neighboring dog barked. Bella, our own dog at Estacion Biologica, insisted on mixing with the yoga class, too, but she eventually accepted to stay on the margin. Scrubbing of clothes on a wash stand down the way could be heard, as well.

Andras and yoga students on the deck at Estacion Biologica. Laguna de Apoyo makes a great place to practice yoga. Photo Andras Dorgai.
Practicing yoga is good everywhere, although some places call out. If you are visiting Laguna de Apoyo, you are welcome to visit Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo, and practice yoga on our deck. Yoga teachers, experienced people, beginners, and curious are all welcome. You won't need anything special, just come as you are. Our wooden floor is soft enough for most poses, and some cushion can be improvised if you do not have a yoga mat.

Yoga class ends with a moment of relaxation. Photo Pablo Somarriba.

Time for breakfast, then on to Apoyo Spanish School! Or to whatever plan each person has for the day. Some people are Spanish students, others are overnight guests, and others come from nearby hostels just for yoga, or also a great, vegetarian breakfast afterward.

yoga in Nicaragua
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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Petroglyphs in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua

The Apoyo Volcano exploded in what may have been the most powerful of all the volcanic blasts of the quaternary epoch in Central America, around 23,000 years ago. No humans were around to see it, however, as the first direct or indirect evidence of humans in the area seems to be less than 15,000 years old. We can imagine the awe of the first people to look down into the lake seated at the bottom of the crater. Although the name "Apoyo" matches a Spanish-language word, it actually is a precolombian toponym referring to clear water.

We know nothing of the message or messengers who inscribed on the rocks in Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
The precolombian people of the region around Apoyo, particularly on the sides of the Pueblos Blancos to the west, and Masaya to the north, did not die out or migrate away. Precolombian roots are seen in the faces and the traditions of the area. Furthermore, in Masaya and a few other areas, some people maintain official indigenous representation, according to registrations with the government from more than a century ago. The precolombian culture was largely erradicated by the Spanish conquest, but these relics give silent testimony to a society that still lives.

Indigenous people of the area left etchinngs in several rocks in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Pablo Somarriba. 
Students at Apoyo Spanish School can visit the petroglyphs found in different locations near us. The messages have not been deciphered, so each person can imagine and hypothesize about the meanings behind each etching. Some are small, others are a few meters wide. The centuries have passed since these designs and messages were left behind, but thankfully, we are still able to enjoy them.

precolombian culture
Possibly an Insect? Turtle?   Photo Pablo Somarriba.

The hundreds of years of separation from their prior society has left the native Nicaraguans of this area disconnected from the reasons, language, and messages behind these treasures. Someday, hopefully, there could be a rescue of these petroglyphs for the benefit of the people who continue to live in the area. It is no surprise that many petroglyphs are found here, because of the abundance of rock and the marvelous place that is the interior of the Apoyo crater.

Apoyo Spanish School
Students of Apoyo Spanish School sit above a large petroglyph in the Apoyo crater. Photo Andras Dorgai
There are a few nice walks on public-access trails in the crater that pass by petroglyphs. These walks can combine great views of landscapes, birds, monkeys, the incredible diversity of plants, and these relics from another era.  Some of the trails lead to communities along the edge of the crater, so a walk could terminate with a nice beverage while looking across the lake.

This petroglyph has been carved on the top of a flat bedrock. Photo Andras Dorgai.

If you would like to make a hike to see petroglyphs, please contact us. We would love to take you for a hike that can combine birds, monkeys, useful plants, petroglyphs, and majestic views.

A petroglyph in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Andras Dorgai.

precolombian culture
Chilling imagery left behind by the precolombian ancestors in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Andras Dorgai.

A spooky petroglyph with ann oddity behind. Photo Andras Dorgai.

precolombian culture
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Friday, August 4, 2017

Animal Rescue XXIV: Midorna, the Scarlet Macaw

Many wild animals that have been captured and submitted to the pet trade can be given their fair opportunity to live and die in their natural habitat, instead of a cage. Over the last decade, we have participated in the return to the forest of parrots, toucans, squirrels, monkeys, owls, doves, among many other animals. We have also provided a kind of hospice for lots of wild animals that were mortally injured, almost always as a consequence of some kind of human-wildlife conflict. Many times, these conflicts have been non directly intentional. Other times, conscious intent to harm or at least use harmful force against some wild animal occurred. Wild animal rescue may be needed for any of several, different reasons.

animal rescue
Midorna, a Scarlet Macaw, is a long-term resident of Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Andras Dorgai.
One of the ways wildlife encounter conflict with humans is because of the pet trade. Almost any animal can be found for sale on the side of the road at likely locations, many of them offered as pets, others as meat. A few species of animals in Nicaragua, however, are overwhelmingly victimized by the pet trade. One of those species is the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao).

scarlet macaw
New blood feathers, still covered in sheaths, are emerging along the neck of Midorna. Photo Andras Dorgai.
The Scarlet Macaw was first listed in Appendix III in the list of protected species of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in 1976. Its status was elevated to the more restrictive Appendix II in 1981, then to the most restrictive category for international trade, Appendix I, in 1985. In spite of this listing, the subspecies found in Mexico and Central America, Ara macao cyanoptera, has continued on a precipitous decline in wild populations. They had disappeared from El Salvador in the wild by 1987, and today in Nicaragua, fewer than 100 individuals are found in the wild, thanks principally to the pet trade.

ara macao
For the few who earn her utmost trust, Midorna can be quite a playmate. Photo Andras Dorgai. 
Midorna is a female Scarlet Macaw that has lived a fairly typical life for its species in Nicaragua. There has never existed a macaw hatchery in Nicaragua, so she, like all the others of her species in captivity, were once wild animals, flying free over forests and fields. Because Scarlet Macaws fly above the canopy, and make tremendous rackets while flying, they do not go unnoticed, making their presence-and their absence-conspicuous. Until 1983, several individuals that roosted in the Chiltepe Peninsula would routinely fly over Lake Managua to reach the capital, where they were easily observed. Likewise, the last corroborated accounts of the Scarlet Macaw in the villages around Laguna de Apoyo were from 1969, where they were regarded as potential sources of income for those who could catch them for the pet trade, and as pests by farmers whose corn could be decimated quickly by a flock. Although we don't know her age, Midorna is evidently decades old already. 

pet trade
Midorna craves attention and loves especially the company of males. Photo Andras Dorgai.
The pet trade has meant for Midorna, and for hundreds of other Scarlet Macaws in Nicaragua, a lot more than the tragedy of passing decades of her life in cages instead of the wild, where she belongs. During her capture and handling, or more bones in one of her wings was broken, leaving her absolutely incapable of flight. She knows perfectly well that nature gave her wings to fly, yet she cannot fly, or even make a soft landing if she falls from a height. She has been codemned to a flightless life in her conscious being, albeit she surely flies in her dreams. She loves to raise her wings and feel the wind in them, and to observe below from a high perch.

Midorna and her special friend. The majority of the red feathers that should provide a complete covering over her breast have been plucked by her. Photo Andras Dorgai.
Prisoners go mad when faced with extreme boredom in their incarceration. It should not be any surprise that a Scarlet Macaw would also react poorly to years in a cage. Boredom and isolation are guaranteed. Midorna has developed a behavioral disorder involving breaking and/or plucking her feathers. This disorder is chronic and recurrent: her feathers periodically regrow, only to be broken or plucked again. Even if she were to fly, this disorder would make her life in the wild impossible.

animal rescue
Midorna benefits from company, and becomes visibly happier with more interactions. Photo Andras Dorgai.
In these ways, not only has her life been robbed of years; her sentence for captivity is lifelong, and her own behavior is now plagued with pernicious actions that prejudice her own happiness. These issues are extremely common among macaws in captivity.

ara macao
The Scarlet Macaw is no longer seen in the wild, almost anywhere in Nicaragua. Photo Andras Dorgai.
There are many issues at stake with what to do with Midorna. First and foremost, is the issue of the integrity of the wild populations that currently exist in Nicaragua and the region. If there is any way that Midorna's life can contribute to the healing and recovery of a stable, continuous, wild Scarlet Macaw population, then she should be at its service. There are many, many Scarlet Macaws in captivity throughout Nicaragua, and they could be placed into a captive reproduction program with the intention to create a new generation for release into the wild. Unfortunately, releasing Scarlet Macaws supposes a safe place for them to be released, which effectively does not yet exist. First, we need to create the conditions which discourage people from capturing them in the wild. At the moment, those conditions do not exist. So, Midorna is waiting.

pet trade
Not just anyone would risk a kiss from Midorna. As a Scarlet Macaw, she has powerful mandibles that could rip flesh with ease. Photo Andras Dorgai.
Midorna can help to create the conditions for a future with Scarlet Macaws once again flying overhead in Laguna de Apoyo and similar areas. She is an ambassador for her species, for the tragedy of the pet trade. Nicaraguans and foreigners alike get to hear her story and contemplate the issues that are behind her condition. More is needed to change the tide, however.

Scarlet Macaw
The role of the Scarlet Macaw in wilderness policy in Nicaragua is the story that Midorna has to tell others. Photo Andras Dorgai.

Research, conservation policy advocacy, and education on the pet trade in wild animals are still needed in Nicaragua in a big way. You can help. First of all, don't buy wild animals as pets. Make your opinion heard among your friends. Second, get involved. Volunteer your time to care of wild animals, donate your spare change to help feed and care for them, or join us for a study of the issues behind the pet trade. Contact us at GAIA if you are interested!

Ara macao
Beards are a special attraction to Midorna. Our goal is that she is the happiest Scarlet Macaw in the country, because liberty is no longer an option. Photo Andras Dorgai.

pet trade
Midorna loves attention, particularly from boys. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Ara macao
Midorna having an intense conversation. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Scarlet Macaw
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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reforestation III: Saving the planet, one tree at a time

Any well-grounded person would agree that saving the planet is a goal beyond our reach. No one reading this blog controls enough resources to dream of something so big. But it is not beyond our reach to plant a tree in a place that once was a forest and could again return to the wild.
Gapforce volunteers planted dozens of trees in a reforestation plot. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
For most folks in most circumstances, several factors inhibit their capacity to make a lasting contribution, however small, to the forests as they rapidly vanish before us. We all recognize that the issues facing our forests are far greater and more complex than simply taking a sapling and sticking it into the ground. Resolving the fundamental issues behind the disappearance of trees from a site is almost always difficult or impossible. Planting trees in a rapidly deforesting world may be of no more benefit than that of Sisyphus rolling a rock up the hill.

reforestation in Nicaragua
Volunteers work among trees planted earlier, already reaching some six meters height. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
Our reforestation activities aim for a high survival of trees to reach maturity, by taking a series of steps to get stakeholders interested, involved, and committed. GAIA reforests lands inside the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, through commitments from the individual landowners, or when land is not privately held, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and the municipal authorities. Our contribution to the forest cover within the protected area is relatively small, with a total of some 8,000 trees planted to date. Many of these trees have survived and some have already reached at least eight meters height, and howler monkeys have been observed climbing in them, demonstrating a very important level of success.

environmental volunteer
Gapforce volunteers taking care of saplings in the garden. We grow trees from seeds harvested from the forests of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Psblo Somarriba. 
There is another good reason for conducting our reforestation project. Others see what we do, and little by little, people begin to appreciate the value of their own energy and effort in a collective force to save the wild areas in Nicaragua. Teachers and their students from schools come to participate, adding their efforts, of a a few hours or a few days, to bring more wild nature habitat to this area. Individuals and even families come and spend a day, a week, or even a few months as reforestation volunteers.
Seeds are gathered in the forest, and then processed by hand, as part of the reforestation activity. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Spending a couple of hours once in a while to make the world a better place is not just an idea among the foreigners here. Our own neighbors have become environmentalists. When we organize a tree-planting activity, some neighbors want to be involved. Nicaraguans are increasingly finding ways to make their environment greener and cleaner.

Tree seedlings are planted in reforestation plots during the rainy season. Photo Michael Lowery
Seeing the reactions of so many people toward reforestation convinces us that growing, planting, and caring for trees is one of the best ways we can work in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. We feel validated by the people who join us and we think they do, as well.

Reforestation volunteers process seeds and share good times together. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
It is easy for one who visits Nicaragua to think that people are pessimistic or indifferent to environmental matters. We have found quite a different reaction from the Nicaraguans who live in and around Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Many people want to be involved, to have their desire for a green nation to be taken into account. The following photos show how locals came to help plant trees with us. 

A new reforestation area is getting its first trees, with collaborations including GAIA, Cooperativa Ebert Silva, MARENA, and members of the local community. Photo Pablo Somarriba. 
On a recent day in the 2017 rainy season, we carted trees into a new reforestation plot, and the local population joined in to lend their effort. The first trees were placed in the ground in an area that has resisted the return of forests for years.
Members of the local community in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve prepare holes for planting seedlings. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
There was a time when people seemed more pessimistic and skeptical of any request for help from the government or any group for effort in environmental protection. Today, however, more people think they can make a difference.
Park guards and the community prepare the site for planting trees. Photo Pablo Somarriba.
The idea that physical work such as planting trees is not for women, is pretty much a thing of the past, as well. Women participate in all kinds of activities in the local community. To see women digging and carting trees is not at all unexpected.
Trees are on their way! Photo Pablo Somarriba.
You can help to save the planet, one tree at a time, too. Just like the people in these photos, you can help to plant trees and make monkeys and other wildlife have bigger and better habitats, while protecting the water of Laguna de Apoyo. If you would like to be an Eco-Warrior Volunteer, please contact us.

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