Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Howlers and Ridleys

The Guanacaste area is notable for its cowboy culture.  You want to see cowboys and cows and displays of machismo, you have come to the right place.  Unfortunately, that means quite a lot of the land has been clear cut to accommodate livestock.  Still, preservation efforts and the terrain means there are still quite a lot of tropical dry forest.   When the days got too hot, I spent quite a bit of time hiking around in the forest, which offered a little shade.

For whatever reason, we had quite a lot of luck spotting wildlife here.  Beautiful birds, lizards, iguanas, enormous insects, and bands of roving howler monkeys.

You can generally here them and their guttural bellows for quite some time before spying them, but if a band of them is close by, you can hear them quietly and comfortingly chatter to each other as they move through the treetops, dropping seeds and branches from above.

They are quite difficult to photograph as they move quickly.  They will tolerate you getting quite close to their chosen tree as they seem to have figured out that we are hopelessly awkward when it comes to climbing.

They roam over huge territories, sweeping the food off one tree before moving with much grace and confidence to the next.  I could watch them endlessly.

Costa Rica is known for its mass seaturtle nesting sites- a sight to behold if you can catch a good night.  Most of the beaches where the turtles nest en mass are protected- wandering the beach at night without a ranger to accompany you is a big no-no.  

We met a man from South America who had spent the past 10 years saving turtles on local beaches.  The area has special ordinances so that light sources close to the water point away from the beach, as hatchling turtles grow confused and wander into roads otherwise.

Turtle eggs are a local specialty- not only are they a good source of free protein, they are thought to be an aphrodisiac and the local men sit around and do shots of them before going home to their wives.  While taking a few here and there probably doesn't damage the population, poachers who dig up entire nesting sites to sell commercially most likely do.  Night time patrols to find nesting turtles before poachers do, and this becomes a bit of a cat and mouse sport.  The eggs that are dug up by preservationist are placed in a protected area with shade, as they will get too hot otherwise.

When a nest is due to hatch, the wee babies are dug up and brought to a secluded area.  The hatchlings can survive under the sand for about a week after hatching and are completely sleepy and oxygen-deprived when they are dug up.  These are Ridley turtles.  

It does not take long before the entire bucket is writhing and flopping around.  They are surprisingly powerful for such tiny creatures.  One turtle moving across the nest activates the entire clutch of them, as emerging in large numbers gives them better chances of surviving.

With the help of a slightly wonky-legged puppy named Esperenza, we brought the buckets of the turtles down to a remote beach.  A line is drawn in the sand, and the turtles have to find their way down to the ocean, where they will be swept out by currents to eat plankton until they are big enough to swim around with purpose.  

The chances are very slim that any of these have made it thus far.  Releasing them in early evening means that there will be few bird attacks and give them a full 12 hours to make it out to sea under cover of darkness.

It was amazing to watch.  They all headed to where the last vestiges of the setting sun reflected off the water- the brightest light in the sky.  They clambered over each other, bumped into things, moved in fits and starts.  

A few were super motivated and motored on down directly.  We sat and watched as the first few hit the waves, and it totally invigorated them and they paddled their way faster, despite getting pushed back onto the beach in the surf.

They do take volunteers to come in long-term and help with the process, or you can just stop by and see what needs to be done that day.  

How amazing is that?

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