Running in 90 degree heat and 90% humidity in the rainforest is really not all that different than running in Virginia during the summer. Or so I was thinking to myself as I was zigzagging all over the road to avoid potholes and jumping over the occasional creek. Though only moments after that thought crossed my mind, I rounded a bend in the road and watched a long black tail disappear into the bushes. As I was trying to comprehend what I had just seen, this long, thin, black mammal darts into the middle of the road and stares at me as I run towards it. This mysterious animal looked like a cross between a ferret and a house cat and before I could get a better look, it followed its friend into the brush. Upon returning to the station I looked through the camera trap pictures of all mammal sightings in the area and discovered he animal I had seen was a Tayra. I had never heard of this animal before and immediately read this Wikipedia article on it. The most important point I took out of the reading was “Tayras are playful and easily tamed”. I now had a new project for this summer.
The amazing diversity of life in this region continues to astound me. While I have yet to see a jaguar in the field, the station has used camera traps mounted on game trails in the forest to document four of these large cats that routinely visit the property; along with ocelots, pumas, tapirs, peccarys, giant armadillos and a host of other large mammals.
My next mammal encounter was our soon to be July 4th dinner. The Volunteer Coordinator at the station had decided that the best way to celebrate our nation’s independence while living in the Peruvian jungle was to have a pig roast. Starting with a live pig. At about 1pm he rolled into the station with our dinner walking around the back of a pickup truck. From there I helped with every (well, almost every) step until it reached the dinner table. I will spare the public some of the more graphic pictures of the preparation process, but I was taking mental notes incase this is something I ever need to do in the future. For example, did you know a hammer and machete are key tools in the process of preparing a pig? After three hours of roasting over a low fire, the pig was finally ready to be served. The moment it was moved from the fire to the sitting area, the entire population of Villa Carmen descended onto the roast like a flock of vultures; picking off pieces with bare hands and collectively receiving quite a few burnt fingers.
While possibly not the most traditional 4th of July, with the lack of fireworks and all, this is one Independence Day I will surely never forget!