(Before I studied animal behavior formally I worked with and for animals in different parts of the world. Part Two 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 27th, 3:30 PM
So where do I begin? Incredible tortillas cooked over a wood stove from corn ground by hand just moments before, wrapped around the most delicious black beans, eggs and onions. Then off to clean birdcages with Astrid, the Danish girl, who turns out to be a doll after all my assuming. Need to watch those first impressions and my interpretations thereof.
There are so many birds here! Mostly confiscated from illegal traffickers. What a huge demand must exist to create this supply. The presence here of endless parrots and endangered scarlet macaws. Do people just not know or just not care?
But this castaway thing is getting to me. How I want a drink, I want a cigarette (and I don't even smoke anymore). I want to make a phone call, to watch television--I want to see a commercial, not even a movie or a sitcom, a commercial.
I want to see Jared. But mostly I want a drink, that and a man would make my world right about now. I keep thinking about him. It's good to have a man who interests me interested in me. But what do I do with it? The guy lives in California and is too much a family friend for me to be comfortable with in the all-to-inevitable end scenario. He's too long distance, still hung-up on his ex and far more interested in a relationship than he is me. Having said all that I still have a "date" with him in NYC three weeks from now.
Long distance dating; no contact for weeks on end and then you get to spend all this compressed time together. I fed the baby spider monkey. Again, like the birds, there are so many monkeys here. People apparently desire the little monkeys for their "cute" appeal but as is the case with most babies, the cuteness that engenders them, that calls for care and desire, dissipates with age. Marco (the baby monkey) does not want to let go when held, she bit me today when I forced her down. Bonding with animals is discouraged, except for the monkeys; they need the physical contact to thrive. I hold the baby monkey a lot.
The male baby jaguar died this afternoon. Annie was trying her best to feed him when he started to fade, we ran for Clara who tried to warm him, he was so cold! She wrapped him in blankets, settled him next to a hot water bottle and asked me to keep watch. I rubbed him, spoke to him and then there was that one moment when he seemed to rally, his last little fight, wobbly head high, a stronger yowl than the air goes out of him and the soul flies out. Clara tried massaging his baby heart, blowing air into his baby lungs. One of the vets was summoned. Right then and there they cut the little cat open and examined his organs. Why didn't watching that unnerve me? The little jaguar was so clearly not with us anymore, so apparent that it was only his little broken body. They save the organs and throw away the rest. Every time I walk rehabilitation center fpast that trash can I'll know what's in it.
The little cat starved to death. The milk they feed the cats here is not formulated for cats, it's for monkeys. It is all they have here, kitten milk replacement is expensive and hard to locate in this area. The monkey milk is too hard for the cats to digest; it strains the kidneys-the whole immune system. This is a rescue and rehabilitation center for wild animals. How do you rescue and rehabilitate an animal without nourishment? Why has no one provided the proper food for these cats? The idea is to cause them less pain not more.
The little male seemed weaker than his sister from the start. He never opened his eyes, he was harder to feed, maybe he was the smarter one. Why should he want to eat that which only hurt his baby insides?
May 28th, 4:00PM
Tired-terrible time sleeping last night. Rats scrabbling two feet over my head, midnight visitors for Clara, the vet intern who bunks below me. I'm not used to dormitory life especially with rodents, never been comfortable living with people (or creatures) I'm not related to or sleeping with.
Full day of cleaning cages...
I want to go home, I want a drink, a hot shower, clean clothes, I want to make love and not get out of bed for at least 48 hours.
I'm still here. This is a good place, the people who run this operation are well-intentioned, they care about the animals and the volunteers work very hard (I testify). The consideration and thought is mostly evident in the design and placement of cages. The bird cages have plentiful roosts and are surrounded by jungle with enclosures spaced to avoid undue stress of both physical and visual crowding. The mammals have flight space and hiding spaces with natural brush.
And with all this kind and careful dedication and design why do we need these places to begin with? Why are there so many animals here? Marco Benitez, the head vet at ARCAS gathered the volunteers one afternoon soon after the little jaguar had died in an attempt to educate us on the cause and effect of wildlife conservation. A conversation with statistics has little value as Guatemala has no data to rely on to determine the number of endangered or extinct species. Instead the conversation was more about the why's of the problem.
Marco used the case of the Scarlet Macaw or "Gucaymaya Roja"; illegal trafficking stems from more than just the desire for money. Hotels keep small menageries to attract visitors, guests and tourists. The birds are valued for their exotic appeal, they confer social status and are a "symbol de Pais." Local witch doctors use the birds to make magic, they are a supplemental food source for the native people here, the bird's brilliant feathers also serve in ornamental headdresses in religious ceremonies.
Maybe, and it's a hard maybe you can fight poverty but how do you fight a cultural need?
* * *
Ruined a whole roll of film. Me with the baby monkey, in the parrot cage, all the animals from my first day...guess those memories will just have to stay in my head.
May 29h, 5AM
It's pouring rain. Andreas (who I clean cages with) and I will covered with more mud than usual. I don't actually mind the feeding and cleaning of the cages for the parrots and the macaws--they are very cool birds. To do a lot of the chores you need to enter their enclosures, to be locked in with them, part of their world as it were, which I like. The birds are very curious, so intent on watching, mindful of just what time it is and when to expect you for their scheduled feeding. They are so gentle in manner. I find a definite kindness in their eyes, especially the parrots, a trait which has not stood them well in this world of poachers and birdcages. And there's the jungle itself to work in, all green and full of sunlight and today full of rain, green and wet and shiny.
At first, I had wanted to work in the animal nursery but another person was needed to clean cages, water and feed and so here I am. I try and still spend time in the nursery, especially to comfort the little monkey; I know he's not getting enough contact. I don't think Annie really believes he needs to be touched, she feeds him hanging off the bars of his cage.
To be continued--(Author's note since my visit ARCAS has relocated and rebuilt their center.)
Engage the author to speak on the conservation status of an ecosystem, a species or humane control (more).
"Again, like the birds, there are so many monkeys here. People apparently desire the little monkeys for their "cute" appeal but as is the case with most babies, the cuteness that engenders them, that calls for care and desire, dissipates with age. Marco (the baby monkey) does not want to let go when held, she bit me today when I forced her down. Bonding with animals is discouraged, except for the monkeys; they need the physical contact to thrive. I hold the baby monkey a lot."
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"And with all this kind and careful dedication and design why do we need these places to begin with? Why are there so many animals here? Marco Benitez, the head vet at ARCAS gathered the volunteers one afternoon soon after the little jaguar had died in an attempt to educate us on the cause and effect of wildlife conservation. A conversation with statistics has little value as Guatemala has no data to rely on to determine the number of endangered or extinct species. Instead the conversation was more about the why's of the problem".
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