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Penguin Project Diary – Entry 2

Sep 14 2012
by NEW Zoo Education Dept

Hello again from Peru! Dawn and I are having a great time here helping out with the research around Punta San Juan and with the guano harvest. What is a “guano harvest,” you ask?  Well, the guano harvest takes place every five to seven years, and it is run by the Peruvian government. They use the guano, or bird waste, which comes mainly from cormorants, Peruvian boobies, and Peruvian pelicans, to give to farmers to help enrich and fertilize their soil. The process is all done by hand, with many men organized to do the extraction. First, a group goes through and picks up all of the feathers and other animal debris. Next, a row of men with pick axes loosen up the packed guano, and then shovel it back onto piles. More men fill up large bags, weighing 80-100 pounds each. They stack the bags together so that the next group can load all the bags onto a large truck. It is then brought to a different site on the premises, away from the penguins and guano birds, where it is sifted and re-bagged into smaller bags for delivery to the farmers. The volunteers — that’s us! — keep a watch over the penguins and guano birds, recording any disturbances we see. After the men are done, we also measure the area of extraction with GPS coordinates.

But we don’t just watch the harvest — we are kept busy!  Some of the other volunteer jobs include doing animal censuses, where we carefully go to the edges of the cliffs, overlooking the beaches, so as to not scare the animals below! We take counts of sea lions, adult and juvenile penguins, and fur seals at all of the north and south beaches. Some of the popular beaches have 500-650 fur seals on them, and all of them must be counted twice a day!! We volunteers also do tag checks at South Beach 3 twice a day. Some of the fur seals were tagged previously, so we sit above and look for flipper tags, then try to determine color and the ID number… which is not always easy since the paint has worn completely off some of the older tags! We will also be doing penguin nest checks this week and next, and beach clean-ups on a couple of the beaches next week. So far, Dawn and I are having a great time working, and feel so grateful that we can be here to help out! I will try to post again when I get a chance to come to the house where there is internet access! Adios for now!

-Jessica

A view from the balcony of the research station house

    

There are THOUSANDS of cormorants here!

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