May 10th, 2005
Yesterday we left for Santa Rosa, the mysteriosus area. It was a long and heavy drive of about 12 hours. We left late at night, as the roads at night are not that busy. Rainer had asked us to take an international driving licence with us, so we could alternate oneother, but he drove all the way, without slackening for a moment. We did not mind, driving at night at bad roads, with all those hairpin bends and mountain passes, is quite strenuous. Compliments for his driving! Rainer lives of course already for over 25 years at Peru and has driven to Santa Rosa many times, but nevertheless! At sunrise we approached Cordillera del Condor. The rainforest had changed into a kind of savannah, a little like Baja California, many huge cactus and prickly grey bushes. Probably this savannah is the reason that the mysteriosus area still not suffers from chitrid, like the frogs at many other places in Peru. Every time Rainer is going to this area, his car gets washed and cleaned thoroughly before going on the road. At the horizon we saw already the green mountains of Cordillera del Condor. Now it got a little exited, how high would be the water level of the Chamayariver? If the water level is too high you can not pass the river by car, than the trip is for nothing and you have to return to Tarapoto. This had happened already a few times to Rainer. But fortunately the water level of the Chamaya was not too high, although its currents were at many places quite rough. With a small pontoon-ferry, attached to a cable of steel, we could cross the river. Meanwhile we saw everywhere rocky slopes full with beautiful bromeliads and tillandsia's. The more we approached the mysteriosus area, the larger the bromeliads and tillandsias became. You also saw many agaves, with flower stalks over 6 meters. Just after crossing the river, we saw our first Peruvian chameleon. Bright green with yellow, it looks like a normal lizard but moves as a chameleon. A really gorgeous lizard! Here we got 2 armed companions with bullet-proof waistcoats, who sat at the back of the car all the way to Santa Rosa. Rainer told us this was necessary as sometimes cars going to Santa Rosa got assaulted, but since those guards watched over the road from Santa Rosa to the river, the road had become less dangerous. For 60 cents they drove all the way with us. At the end of the morning we arrived at Santa Rosa. We stayed with one of the local farmers who also worked for the INIBICO project. Rainer always stays here when he comes here for his monthly inspection. Through IUCN NL (with help of the Postal code lottery) the 3 threatened areas where the D. mysteriosus still appears, were bought to preserve their natural habitat. It looked like the mysteriosus got extincted, until at 1989 close to Santa Rosa at some isolated spots the mysteriosus was observed again. Ten years later the mysteriosus and its habitat was almost extinct again due to deforestation and uncontrolled use of fire in behalf of cattle-breeding. At 3 not that assessable slopes were still 3 stripes of their natural habitat that fortunately could be bought. 2 Stripes have each about 100 frogs, the 3rd one still 1000-2000 frogs. Beside the protection of the mysteriosus and its habitat, INIBICO also helps some local farmers to generate some extra income with breeding poison dart frogs for the international market. But this part of the project is still under construction. In the afternoon we went to the first area of the mysteriosus. We had heard and seen pictures that the mysteriosus mainly lived in huge bromeliads in trees, so we thought we had to climb a lot. But the most of those beautiful trees, completely covered with big bromeliads were cut down and at the few trees left you heard no mysteriosus. A little further at a rock-face we heard the first sound of a mysteriosus. You saw huge bromeliads. But the rock-face was quite steep, but some bromeliads we could reach with a little climbing. And at the 3rd bromeliad our first mysteriosus! He was far from shy and it looked like he was posing for his photo shoot. A 2nd mysteriosus looked first a little more shy as he dove into an armpit of the bromeliad, but within a minute he appeared again and was climbing from one leaf to another. At this area we found just a few mysteriosus. The 2nd area really great, an enormous rock-face of some hundred meters, with hundreds and hundreds huge bromeliads, many even had great large flowers. The bromeliads mostly had a diameter of 1 meter or more and its red flower came at least 1½ meter out of the bromeliad. Here we saw one mysteriosus after another. It was really very hot in the burning sun, about 35-36º C, hardly any shadow, but there was a nice breeze. A very low humidity of 35 to 40%. Although you saw regularly a mysteriosus sitting in the full sun, or climbing in the full sun, they often dove for a moment into an armpit, probably to cool down a little. Normally these are no circumstances for poison dart frogs to survive, but for some reason the mysteriosus does it quite well under these circumstances. Soon we were completely crazy about this frog, they aren’t shy at all, very active, sometimes they jumped at our hand or at our camera. A few times they jumped away when our lenses came too close, but within a few seconds they appeared again. The most mysteriosus we found in the bromeliads without flowers. Maybe these are smart frogs, as blossoming bromeliads do not live that long anymore. At a few spots we could climb with some efforts up the rock-face, here you saw many mysteriosus. At the bromeliads you could look into from the top of the rock-face you just found a few ones.
May 11th, 2005
Just before we wanted to leave this morning, 2 policemen came by. They wanted to know where those 2 tourists stayed and what they were doing here. Apparently seldom tourists come to Santa Rosa. They were not familiar with INIBICO and the mysteriosus project. So we showed them the breeding terrariums and the gauzy wire-netting outdoor cage and told them about the mysteriosus, the project etc. The chief of the police was quite interested in this frog and conservancy of nature, the locals hardly knew anything about the conservancy of nature. We should inform the locals as well, so they should see the importance of this. And maybe in the future more tourists would come to Santa Rosa. He would love to go with s to see the mysteriosus. So a little later we picked him and his colleague up, he also had drummed up a guy from the ministry of agriculture, for him it would be interesting as well. This man had brought a camera with him. So we showed him the area, the mysteriosus, we told them a lot about this frog, about this hobby back home, about conservancy of nature etc. Especially the police chief was pestering us with questions. He was quite fanatic about this, the locals had to know more about this, especially the kids. If not a few teachers could pass by at night, to see the frogs and if we would tell all about the frogs, the project etc. Then the teachers could tell their pupils more about the conservancy of nature, the importance of protecting those frogs etc. So at night 2 teachers came and we told the same story, it is nice if people are that interested, they also pestered us with questions. They all hoped that this frog would bring tourists to Santa Rosa, also Rainer was hoping this. They got so exited about this idea. They realized that first some people had to learn English. The English teacher even could not speak English, she just knew some standard sentences. In the morning I had talked quite some time with Efraim, our host, coffee-raiser and breeder of mysteriosus. A couple of months ago he had started breeding mysteriosus. The 2nd room of his house was the breeding room. Here stood 8 terrariums with mysteriosus and a tadpole breedingsystem full with tadpoles. 2 Terrariums had each about 30 young frogs. In the corner of the room, at the floor stood several open plastic bags, with some bananas and other fruit in it, which attracted many flies. If he had to feed the frogs, he closed one of the bags and opened it in the terrariums. Efraim was very curious about our experiences with breeding frogs. Soon it turned out he still had to learn a lot to breed well with those frogs, but he was eager to learn. He did not know the frogs were poisonous, he knew he had to wash his hands, so the frogs would not get sick. From the egg-clutches of 20-25 eggs, he mostly just could raise 2 till little frogs. We say that the clutches were completely lying in the water, so they would not dry out, he said. Every day he cleaned all the terrariums, the bottom was covered with pebbles and all had one bromeliad, a smaller size as the ones we saw at the rock-face. He rinsed the terrariums with quite some litres water, the water left the terrariums at their discharge. They only got flies as nourishment. So he wanted to know how we breed our frogs at home and if we had suggestions how he could improve his breeding, so he could get better results. We gave him several suggestions. We told him it was better to put some leafs at the bottom, so the frogs would get some more diversity in nourishment, he only had to check if there were no big centipedes between the leafs. You have here many centipedes. When we arrived at the end of the day, all terrariums had leafs, all very clean. It turned out he had cleaned all leafs with some disinfection material as he had learned to disinfect everything he puts in the terrarium, otherwise the frogs would get sick. He had not thought for a moment that the insects which you find between leafs would get killed. Although he still has to learn a lot, he’s doing well. Behind his house he just had finished a gauzy wire-netting greenhouse. Here he had put some big bromeliads and some other plants. It looked like the mysteriosus was doing quite well here, at several leafs we saw clutches of eggs, tadpoles in armpits and some young frogs. Sun, more diversity of nourishment and more space would for sure improve the breeding results. Meanwhile we heard from Rainer, that these results are much better and that they will build some more outdoor cage.
May 12th, 2005
Today we would go to an area in the mountains where you still can find some unknown lizards. As we are also lizards lovers we really loved to go to this area. It would be a quite heavy hike, we had to cross some high mountain passes and in the valleys we had to cross some rivers with a lot of current. Fortunately we had the luck they could arrange some horses for us, Efraim, Napo and another guide joint us as guides. In this region, close to the border with Ecuador, there has not been much scientific research, because this area is quite inaccessible and in frontier area there are still many landmines of the latest border disputes. Here they still discover almost every month new animal- or plant species. It is a Walhalla for Rainer, who is always in search for ‘new species’. A new specie of walking stick, which Rainer discovered last year, is meanwhile named after Rainer, the Monticomorpha schultei. The first part of the journey was very great, beautiful views with meandering rivers in the valleys, clouded mountain passes and many insects and butterflies in all kind of shapes and colours, we had not seen before. Sometimes our horses rode at such small rocky and slippery paths, you really had to trust your horse, that he was strong enough not to slip and fall in a ravine. When the path became too steep or too dangerous for ride a horse, we climbed. At the end of the morning, we had a small break at a mountain pass. We saw a man who wanted to pass us, but when he saw us, he turned around and walked hurried back to the small village in the following valley. We saw that one of our guides turned pale, he told us he recognized that man, it was a guerilla member that made this area unsafe and he feared as the man walked hurried, he went back to the village to drum up some others to ambush us. He made a sign of a pistol against his head and said ‘pang’. The other 2 guides got scared as well, so we decided to turn around and return to Santa Rosa, in the hope we could stay in front of the guerrillas. With an unpleasant feeling we hurried as fast as possible the way back, would they come behind us? Back in the valley we crossed again the river and when we were almost at the top of the following mountain, we saw at the other side of the river at the top where we had held our break, 7-8 armed man. Probably they had been waiting in their valley for us and when we did not come, they checked where we had gone. Fortunately we were too far away to hit us, we were also too far away, as we had horses, to overtake us. At night, back at Santa Rosa, we talked again to 2 teachers. They came from a city and were not that glad to be stationed at Santa Rosa. If you finish your study as a teacher, you cannot chose where you want to apply, you will be sent out. To get some experience, the most young teachers are sent inland. If you have enough points or experience, you hope that there will be a vacancy in the area you come from. Santa Rosa was a dangerous area, one teacher had been assaulted twice in the half year she was stationed at Santa Rosa, once in the village and once when she came back from her family on the road to Santa Rosa. She said, she had been lucky, she had heard stories about assaults with deadly results. At first Rainer would take us tomorrow to some beautiful caves not that far from here, there we could find also some still unknown animal life. But as the locals told us these caves were often used by the guerrillas as hiding places, we decided not to go tomorrow to those caves, but again to the beautiful bromeliad rock-face to watch the mysteriosus again.
May 13th, 2005
Today we started at foot of the end of the bromeliad rock-face and climbed all the way up. A heavy hike as there was no path from this side. After a covered sloping wall, the rock-face started. Here we found several bromeliads that had fallen down. In 2 of them we still found some mysteriosus, apparently sometimes a complete family is falling down. One was laying there already for quite some time, but it was still habited. Also here you had some trees with beautiful large bromeliads, some other bromeliads as at the rock-face, but you did not hear a mysteriosus whistling in the trees, only at the 2 bromeliads that had fallen down. The colour variants of the mysteriosus which we have seen were from brown till black. We had asked the locals if they had seen some other colour variants, but no. They had searched for several years intensively but they had not seen other colours as brown and black. It looks like the mysteriosus lives in a kind of family tie. In the many bromeliads we had seen 3 adult mysteriosus, several young frogs and at many armpits tadpoles. The egg clutches we mostly found at the lower bromeliad leafs, often already a little withered, clutches of 15 to 25 eggs. In one bromeliad we even found 5 adults (3 days at a row). It is hard to say how the family structure is, as we were here just for 4 days, but at several bromeliads we heard 2 males whistling, so we assumed the third one had to be a female. You hardly could see it from their shape. The most were quite well fed, some were even a little fat.
May 14th, 2005
Around noon we left Santa Rosa. Again we had an armed companion, a real Rambo with a shotgun and a bullet-proof waistcoat, up to the river. Rainer and the local people really hoped Santa Rosa would attract tourists, but this area is too dangerous for tourists. But even if this area would not be dangerous, it is not a typical destination for tourist, just for some frog lovers. The surroundings of Santa Rosa are very beautiful, but not special, there is hardly any wildlife. You also see a lot of deforestation, and many landslides. Peru has so much to offer, so a normal tourist will not choose easily for Santa Rosa. Besides that, a normal tourist wants some luxury. Santa Rosa has no hotel, just a very plain and little decayed pension and there is only at night 2 ½ hours electricity, the toilet is outside, a whole in the ground, the shower is a tube with a very small spout of water. Rainer and Efrain want to build a toilet and a shower, in case there will come some tourists. Beside all this, is Santa Rosa several months a year inaccessible, at least by car. But it looks like everybody believes that tourists will come. At the way back we could enjoy a little more the scenic views and mountain passes, which we had passed in the dark on the way there. Just before midnight we arrived at Tarapoto.