(Before I studied animal behavior formally I worked with and for animals in different parts of the world. Part Three of this trip to a wildlife rehabilitation and rescue center in a jungle in Guatemala was an adventure you want to share:)
ARCAS, Peten, Guatemala
May 29th, 5:40 PM
A pizote (coatimundi) in quarantine was severely wounded this afternoon. It seems the door to his cage wasn't secure--it's that money thing-- they use wire when latches are wanting. They need so much here and do so much with so little; dependent on scarce funding and volunteer labor.
The clinic is solar powered so with all this rain that meant no electricity. Marco operated outdoors, a good thing this happened before night fell. Whatever happened to that pizote was intense--probably one of the wild pizotes from the jungle got into his cage and attacked him, our pizote is just too old and domesticated to defend himself. coming from a family that had kept him as a pet and "could no longer keep him."
Why do people insist on acquiring wild animals as pets? Know what? Forget the why, why are they allowed to? And when did the obligation to care for an animal become a disposable obligation, transferable at will? How long can a society tolerate an entitlement to pillage, sell and subjugate those that share, populate, nourish and enrich the same earth?
* * *
Is it possible that the gate to the pizote's cage wasn't closed properly? Is this our fault? When I work the cages with Nars he tends to rush me through the feeding and cleaning routine preferring to direct me and move on without me to the next cage as if were a race to finish. Standard operating procedure in animal facilities is a set of gates, one inner and one outer, the first gate must be closed before the second one is opened or closed and two people need to work a cage . Having two people is key when the animals are wild, especially in a place like this which is not a zoo where the animals would be more familiar with humans. Some of the volunteers can look at these details as just details instead of safeguards. Please God, I don't want to leave this place thinking we have done more harm than good...
* * *
Marco is amazing, truly dedicated. We walked through the jungle today looking for animal tracks and signs of them. He clearly loves his work. He is so generous with his knowledge. He gives us an informal lecture in the mornings and makes sure it ends with our questions being answered. When he works with the animals he explains what he is doing and why every step of the way. This world, these animals are in a better place because of him.
No solar energy also means no light everywhere, including the kitchen. Dinner by flashlight. Clean up's a bitch though.
* * *
In the end, I know that I do like this place. I really like being close to the animals. I don't like living with rats and showering with swampy lake water or using the bucket method to flush a toilet. And while I'm bitching, I do believe that volunteering here is a good thing because it requires and calls forth independent motivation, dedication, endurance, hard work, flexibility and love of this planet. But some of it is a double edged sword.
The work here can be repetitive, especially if you try and get it over with as fast as you can. Smell the roses--or in this case, be with the animals; look at them, really look at them, listen to what they say in how they move and look, know that you are incredibly fortunate to be so close to them, incredibly lucky to be able to serve them, to give just a little back of what was theirs to begin with.
There are so few people in charge around here most of the time. It can be a little "Lord of the Flies" here. You have to know your priorities are about the work and disregard the group dynamic. On that note, I could use a little less of the dynamic and I really would like to see a bit more of Guatemala before heading home, thinking of leaving ARCAS earlier than planned, I'll talk to Miko tomorrow.
ARCAS, Peten, Guatemala, May 30th
Burned my fingers badly grabbing a hot tortilla warmer off the stove so this has to be brief.
Really good day.
The light so incredibly golden filtered through the trees, off the lake, against the feathers of the birds so green, blue, gold and yellow. Good talks with everyone. They are all so good here, they're just so young. Travel may make you worldly but living makes you wise. Annie is a good person and so am I.
Bad parts-a baby monkey died. The little jaguar is dying now. Miko took her home to care for her. Maybe she'll make it. I'm trying not to ask why the staff didn't intervene sooner.
May 31th, 6:50PM
The little jaguar didn't make it.
This morning while feeding and watering the loros (parrots) Andreas and I found a bird dead on the ground. He was so thin, the other birds had pecked him to death. They do that, cast out of their group or kill a sick bird, nature's way of protecting the flock. The downside to the cage is it limits the possibility of the bird being able to go off and regain its health or die alone.
I've really grown attached to the wounded pizote. He is in so much pain, he whimpers not only from the pain but from the loss of his own human family. When I stroke him he is comforted by the touch. He was brought to the Guatemala City ARCAS ofice by a family who could no longer keep him as a pet. All this animal wants is be back with his people. Animals just don't get abandonment or "adoption" they keep waiting for their owners to return. Visit any shelter and look at the adult cats (the dogs are too excited in the moment to get a read on any other emotion), they all look so bewildered, wondering how exactly it is they got there and waiting for their human to return. All the stitches in the world won't cure the pizote's broken heart.
* * *
As helpful and dedicated as most of the people around me are I would have expected to see so much more in the way of true love for these animals. There is a danger in treating this work as a job. You tend to forget what it's all about. I find myself now rushing through the morning routine to get the chores done. Forgetting to look at the jungle, listen to the birds talking to me and to each other. The cadence of their bird voices rising and falling, melodic lilts, protestations, alarms, amusement. How gently they watch, so childlike. They are all about love in these moments.
I used to love parrot stores, especially the one in Tribeca, to be around the birds to touch them. I would always leave wanting one but never getting one for the obvious reasons; they need too much time and attention, they cost a small fortune, I travel too much, what about the cats? And now, all I can think about parrots is just how very much they belong in the wild and not in some cage in somebody else's home. At ARCAS the cages are the sizes of most New York City apartments and that's still not big enough.
I'm leaving tomorrow and now I don't want to go. The pizote needs me to comfort him, the little monkey needs me to hold him, I need to see Charlie, the toucan who hangs around preferring the center to his release back to the wild, stealing the parrot food at feeding time. I need to play with the jaguarundi with his incredibly wise grey-green eyes or the tigerelo, who has the largest paws and and nose of any feline I've ever seen, not to mention the softest fur. And there's a baby pizote here too, as you walk by his cage he'll stick his head out for caressing. And the nicolene! Huge, huge brown eyes, pink nose, fur softer than cotton candy.
And tomorrow, who will marvel at them tomorrow?
Sixteen new parrots just arrived, rescued from poachers.
Jared called last night. I woke thinking I was back at the center. I tried to relate the past weeks but it came out all jumbled. I'm so moved by the experience. In my mind I still see the jungle, the verdant overhang of trees filtering the golden sunlight though leaves of new green. I see the loros, head cocked to one side discussing my entrance to their cage amongst themselves. I remember cutting their morning oranges and stealing a few for myself (only the animals get fresh fruit at the center), gathering the brilliant plumages of fallen feathers from the ground. I miss the very hum of the place, the feel of all those animals, knowing we were all there for them.
ARCAS will be with me for a very, very long time.
(Authors note: When I returned to the States I shipped a case of KMR, kitten milk replacement to ARCAS (infant lions, tigers and jaguars feed on the same formula as you would feed a domestic kitten). I also sent some other things Marcos, the Center Vet, had told me they needed. ARCAS was in the process of building a new center when I left. The last communication I received from them told me that they had lost crucial private funding and were thinking on letting Marcos go. I sent some funds. Since then, ARCAS has relocated and rebuilt its center, including the volunteer quarters.)
"Why do people insist on acquiring wild animals as pets? Know what? Forget the why, why are they allowed to? And when did the obligation to care for an animal become a disposable obligation, transferable at will? How long can a society tolerate an entitlement to pillage, sell and subjugate those that share, populate, nourish and enrich the same earth?"
"In the end, I know that I do like this place. I really like being close to the animals. I don't like living with rats and showering with swampy lake water or using the bucket method to flush a toilet. And while I'm bitching, I do believe that volunteering here is a good thing because it requires and calls forth independent motivation, dedication, endurance, hard work, flexibility and love of this planet. But some of it is a double edged sword".
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