Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

Wildtracks blog

Being a volunteer at Wildtracks (Rachel)


Photos: Top - JW; Bottom - Teddy and Tilly

I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Wildtracks. I knew that I was ready to help out in any way possible and I was hoping that I would get an opportunity to meet a monkey or two. My journey at Wildtracks exceeded my expectations and provided me with friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. Throughout my stay I was able to not only meet a monkey or two, I was granted the privilege of working with monkeys that were at different stages in their rehabilitation process.

First up I was introduced to Nikki, the resident capuchin, who I quickly fell in love with. As Nikki is not native to Belize, she will not be able to be released into the wild, but will be used as an educational tool. She is a smart little monkey that will make you laugh with her playful spirit and curious mind.

Next, I started working on a routine feed that would introduce me to the forest monkeys. My husband and I were given the responsibility of looking after Kofi, Paz, Little Pea and Jazz, four of the twenty or so endangered Yucatan black howler monkeys at Wildtracks. It was a joy to observe these four and start to understand their different personalities. I have just received word that they are now in the pre-release enclosure, climbing trees for the first time, and one step closer to freedom.

Shortly after we started working with the howlers we were given the chance to be the surrogate caretakers of the 'teenagers' while their caretaker was away. These little guys were pure joy. Just like the older howlers, these guys had such personality, as they dive bombed my head and laughed in my face. They tested the waters and were well on their way to becoming adults, but they were in no way in a hurry. Their carefree spirits could turn a “down day” around in no time. These will form one of the 2015 release troops

Livvy was another howler that I had an opportunity to help out with. She had suffered an injury to her arm and required intensive physical therapy. For a week, I would walk with Livvy settled on my shoulders while I gently massaged her arm and tried to gingerly move her elbow so that she could regain movement in her joints. She began recovering, and it wasn’t long before she was moved out of physical therapy into the pre-release forest where she is currently climbing trees like a champ.

In my final three weeks at Wildtracks, I was given an opportunity that for me was a dream. A wonderful woman by the name of Paige had been taking care of six lovely babies in the nursery for the last six months. Paige was scheduled to leave a few weeks prior to the arrival of another long term nursery volunteer, and Wildtracks needed someone to watch over the babies as an interim mom. When I was asked, I jumped at the opportunity and was blessed with three weeks of smiles.

The babies were all very unique in personality and a joy to watch. First up was JW, the only male in baby group. He was surrendered by an American living in Punta Gorda. We like to refer to him as the “little man”. He is the smallest of the babies and a little goofball who acts tough for his size and often instigates “wrestling hour” followed by a nice nap on a perch. Next, there was Jessie who was brought in with her mother after she was attacked by dogs. Once Jessie’s mother had healed, they were re-released back into the wild. Unfortunately, Jessie kept being left and eventually was chased away by their new found troop. Wildtracks stepped in and Jessie was brought back to the nursery. Jess is patient and tolerant and often strikes me as an old soul. She likes to play on her terms, but was often content to munch on browse and take naps on my lap.

Suri is next up in the little troop and she is a little spark plug with a huge heart. She loves to swing on the rope and dive-bomb my head. She and JW are a good match in the wrestling ring. If one of the babies is crying, Suri often comes up and gently takes their hand or ear into her hands and holds their chin, while she purrs at them and looks into their eyes to inquire about the issue. Suri also loves to settle in and take a ride on the back of my neck. One thing about Suri that would crack me up was her sense of injustice. If a baby wrongs her she tells them all about it for a good minute. She is a sensitive soul.

Last but not least is the little baby spider monkey Chippa! Chippa was rescued by a couple traveling through the Cayo District. She was being carried by two boys in a plastic bag. Chippa is as innocent as they come. Her playful spirit often emulates a drunken monkey. Her limbs are slightly disproportionate and her tail moves as if it has a mind of its own. She loves to play. She swings and swings on the ropes and observes the world with astute curiosity. She is very independent for her age and although she naps several times a day, she attacks playtime with a renewed vigor on an hourly basis.

Also in the nursery were two very special monkeys named Teddy and Tilly. They were a bit older than the babies and just entering the teenager stage. Teddy and Tilly were rescued by one of the Wildtracks workers who saw them huddled together in a small cage outside a house. Their cage was being shaken and hit to make them move - he told the owner it was illegal, and they are now safe at Wildtracks. They are an inseparable team and, not surprisingly, both very timid. Tilly relies on Teddy for security. It took Teddy several days before he would even approach me for food. They are getting close to joining up with other monkeys in the forest, just one step closer to integrating with a troop. Their gentle spirits and loyalty to each other melts my heart.

After being away from Wildtracks for a little over a week, I’m already planning my return. It was such a rewarding, eye-opening experience. I learned a lot about my own ability to adapt and live every day in the moment. I also came to recognize the importance of education within the communities of Belize, as well as the communities outside of Belize. Paul and Zoe’s dedication and unwavering commitment to this cause is a true inspiration and I can’t wait to return and continue to help them in the fight to end the pet trade in these amazing primates


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2013-12-15 09:30:54   [Link to this article]

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