Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

Wildtracks blog

Welcome back, Paige!


Waking up in a new place after an exhausting day of travel and the consequent hard night’s sleep can often be an uncomfortable and unsettling experience. At such a unique place as Wildtracks, the first morning’s happenings can be especially overwhelming to a newcomer. Thankfully, in my case, the cool relief of the morning breeze coming off of the lagoon, the lingering scent of fresh bananas and papaya, and the boisterous sounds of young howler monkeys romping about the room above were not unfamiliar wake up calls. Instead of feeling like an outsider walking into a group of strangers upon arriving to Wildtracks this May, I felt like I was being welcomed back to my second home. Familiar faces reminded me of past adventures and shared experiences, while new faces brought with them names to be remembered and stories to be written. My name is Paige, and I am a return volunteer at Wildtracks.

Last August, I found myself at the Belize City airport feeling excited to be soon reunited with my friends and family in New Orleans, but at the same time devastated to be leaving my 3-months home and all of the critters that it housed. The hardest part of leaving Wildtracks for the first time was leaving behind a 4-month old margay kitten, Diego, who was not much bigger than a handful of fluffy kitten fur at the time. Another volunteer and I had raised Diego since his confiscation and arrival to the rehab facility and we acted as his surrogate mothers, nutritionists, fitness trainers, and construction workers, among other things. As soon as I realized that I would have to leave him, I knew that I would be returning to see his rehabilitation progress and hopefully his successful release sometime in the future. Fortunately, the time for my return has come, as planning for the possible releases of Diego and a second margay, Taz, begins; and I am ecstatic to be a part of the Wildtracks volunteer crew once again.

I have only been here for a few days, but I have quickly fallen back into the daily routine of animal care that I remember well. The fruit chopping, bowl washing, and poop scooping remain the same, but the animals have changed in ways that make some of them nearly unrecognizable (in good ways of course!). I feel that in having taken a step back from the Wildtracks program and returning now, I have a chance to see the longer term results of the rehabilitation program rather than seeing the small steps of progress each day. Some of the changes that I notice are truly uplifting and inspiring. In just a few months time, many of these individuals have made huge strides in their paths toward rehabilitation and release back into the wild. The tireless work of Paul, Zoe, Keiley, Si, and the entire Wildtracks team is apparent in each of the animals whose livelihood they are charged with. I’d like to share with you all some of the transformations I have observed in being reintroduced to the rehab animals that have been in the Wildtracks program since I left last summer.

Teresa, the female spider monkey that I remember as being dangerously obese and constantly craving attention from her carers, is now a happy, healthy individual fully integrated into a troop of her own. Instead of having to pull herself to her feet with both arms and tail, she is now able to swing through the branches of her large enclosure easily. Her face, once swollen and constantly dejected, is now expressive and cheerful as she elicits playful squeaks and contented grunts. Though she still has a ways to go until her troop will be ready for release, Teresa’s future is bright.

The two pre-release troops are another success story that I have witnessed over the past few days. When my volunteer placement ended last August, Livvy, Nicky, and Sultan (fondly referred to as “The Three”) had just been moved into the original pre-release enclosure and they required a constant watch whenever they were let out of their cage to roam the trees. These three monkeys, who still had their fluffy juvenile coats, were reticent to venture very far into the canopy and stayed close to their carers, often dropping down out of the trees for quick playtimes and reassuring hugs. To see them now, deftly scaling the largest trees, napping in the shady palms, and generally looking like proper grown-ups gives me great optimism for their release later next month. It’s heartwarming to see Paz, the sulky little howler that just couldn’t seem to make any friends, now happily grouped with Fern and Ritchie, as well as Charlie, who is new to my list of furry friends. His social skills have improved immensely in their presence, and the promising troop dynamic suggests that a successful release is in their near future as well.

The promise of release back into the wild is less certain for the main focus of my return trip, Diego the margay. Diego is now around a year old, nearing the time when a release would be feasible, but he shows signs that he is not physically or mentally ready to survive on his own. He has not quite mastered the predatory skills that he will need to catch and kill prey on his own, though he has made significant improvements. More seriously, Diego has been diagnosed with some sort of congenital defect, affecting his hind end and his ability to move quickly on the ground. His back legs are not strong or steady enough to allow him to escape larger predators in the forest or to hunt successfully. His condition is being monitored closely and the possibility of corrective surgery is being discussed with Dr. Maas, the incredible orthopedic surgeon who saved Izzie the baby spider monkey’s arm. Fortunately, a second margay, Taz, is on the road to imminent release. Taz is just a bit younger than Diego, in great physical health, and exhibits a wilder nature than either of the other two cats. He is less habituated to his human caretakers and hisses and growls ferociously when dinner is on the way. These are all positive signs that Taz will be ready to return to the wild and survive on his own in the coming months.

With the cooperation of small cat experts around the region and all of the Wildtracks cat crew, we hope to get plans for the release of these two animals further underway. As certain expenses will inevitably be incurred for new caging materials, tracking collars, and possibly surgery for Diego, we will ultimately depend on you, our dedicated base of supporters and donors to provide for these animals. With limited resources, we can only do so much for these critters that we care so deeply about, and the generosity of the Wildtracks community is felt and appreciated by all. With a donation of any size, you can ensure that the futures of these deserving animals remain bright!


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2013-05-22 12:06:02   [Link to this article]

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