Conserving the Needle in The Haystack: Developing a Field Conservation Program for the Black-headed

Spear, Stephen F.

The Wilds

Cumberland Ohio, USA

Carvajal, Marcelo

Independent researcher Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

Saborio-R., Guido


Golfito, Costa Rica

Andrews, Kimberly M.

Odum School of Ecology

University of Georgia

Brunswick, Georgia, USA

Orozco, Carlos

Hablemos de Perros

San Jose, Costa Rica

The Black-headed Bushmaster (Lachesis melanocephala) is restricted to southwestern Costa Rica and has the smallest range of the four bushmaster species. Like other bushmasters, the species is thought to rely on primary, closed-canopy forest, although its exact natural history is poorly known. Despite the presence of a globally important protected area within its range, black-headed bushmasters have lost a high percentage of historic habitat and verified sightings are extremely rare. Our collaborative team has been working to understand the conservation status of this species since 2012, and in particular, we have worked toward developing a survey methodology to help assess the species status. We used a video scope to search burrows on multiple surveys from 2012-2015 in areas with recent bushmaster observations. These surveys did not yield any bushmaster observations but did provide opportunities to discuss bushmasters with local landowners; these connections yielded two bushmaster observations in May-June 2015. We radio-tracked one of these individuals from May-August 2015, a 2-meter female. The area moved by this individual was very small, with a 95% MCP of 1.3 hectares, and a 50% core MCP of just 0.2 hectares. We observed frequent short movements and an association with pocket gopher mounds. Currently, we are focused on three main strategies to identify important bushmaster habitat: conservation detector dogs, soil environmental DNA, and community outreach to document local observations. Our detector dog protocol has already showed promise, with a fresh shed found on a test survey in January 2017. Our ultimate goal is to identify the most important forest patches for black-headed bushmaster populations to target for protection and community outreach efforts.

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