Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

Wildtracks blog

Living the Dream...by Mitch


My time so far at Wildtracks has exceeded my wildest expectations. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bottle feed manatees on a daily basis, play with a naughty little capuchin monkey, care for the sweetest old howler monkey, be a surrogate father to the two youngest monkeys here, and play a role in the arrival of the newest manatee calf, who just so happens to share my name! I wish I could talk about all the animals here, but this blog would be a novel, so I’m just going to share a little bit about the three newest arrivals at Wildtracks: Innie, Vicki, and little Mitch.

I remember very clearly the day I was asked to work with baby Innie, then the youngest howler monkey at Wildtracks. I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to meet the little guy who was and still is the teddy bear of Wildtracks, loved by everyone. I joined another volunteer, Carissa, as his surrogate parents. Innie, short for Innocent, arrived here after poachers presumably shot his mother. He has since recovered from a broken arm and is now a rambunctious and dynamic little monkey. He is both very confident, but also a bit of a baby. He takes time to warm up to new objects and experiences, but his affectionate and outgoing nature means he desperately wants to be everyone’s friend. Innie loves exploring and climbing, but he always checks to make sure he isn’t straying too far. I spend a lot of time simply walking around with him lying on my shoulder. He enjoys just watching the world go by. We sit and watch the chickens, follow the iguanas, and watch the manatees being fed. Innie is so similar to a human child. He hates taking naps and cries as soon as he sees the incubator door opened. Recently he has become quite a little terror when it’s bedtime, screaming and scratching my arm to avoid being stuck in the incubator. He has his favorite fruits and fruits he won’t eat. He gets fussy when he is hungry, tired, or sometimes for no reason at all. New objects must immediately be placed in his mouth, including the corner of my laptop screen as I type this blog. He also has a fascination with faces. He likes to lie on my face, lick my eyelids, and try to bite my nose while purring loudly. I swear that monkey is purring 90% of the day. I love spending time with him, even when he leaves his play crate just to have diarrhea on my shoulder so he can return to playing. Knowing that he will one day be leading his own troop through the forest is amazing! I don’t how I will be able to leave Innie, but I’m immensely glad I had the opportunity to work with him.

Vicki arrived around two weeks ago, tiny and ill with severe diarrhea. She barely had the energy to keep her eyes open. She wanted little to drink and simply lay in our arms with a far away look. However, with some medication and one-on-one care, she has transformed into a bright-eyed, confident little monkey with a huge personality. Now that she is out of quarantine, she has become Carissa and I’s second child! She is still slow moving and seemingly frail, but she has an iron grip and huge determination. Vicki seems to know exactly what she wants and where she wants to be at all times. She loves to climb and scamper around in the grass, confidently exploring whatever is in her path. Her recent introduction to Innie has brought out each of their personalities. Little Vicki, half the size of Innie, chases him down, grabs on to him, and purrs and bites him playfully. Innie initially tried his best to avoid her, whining and whimpering over this new little creature trying to touch him. Eventually he decided to at least tolerate her advances and now often sits completely still like a good big brother while Vicki climbs all over him. Innie often initiates contact now and will wrap all his limbs and tail around Vicki who purrs contentedly. Watching their relationship evolve has been exciting and rewarding. It’s comforting to know they will have each other for support in the future. Hopefully one day they will be released together in the forest to take on the world together.

I originally came to Wildtracks because of my crazy obsession with manatees. I’ve had the opportunity here to work closely with Khaleesi, Duke, and Rameses. However, I had the experience of a lifetime when I was invited to ride along with Paul and Zoe to pick up the newest manatee calf. He was found swimming in circles alone near Belize City close to where an adult manatee, presumably his mother, was found dead. We picked him up at a gas station in Orange Walk, and I was shocked by how small he was. The ride back to Wildtracks was both exciting and nerve wracking; he really struggled to breathe, thrashing and arching his back with every breath. I could tell how much pain he was in. I sat in the back with him and kept him wet with a bottle of water while timing his breaths. When we arrived back I was the first in the pool, helping to support him and keep his nostrils above water. He was initially in what seemed like a trance, staying completely still except when he gasped for breath, unable to support himself at all. Paul and Zoe thought his chances of survival were slim, and I was terrified he would die. However, over the next few days of 24-hour manatee watches, he slowly improved and gained a true fighting spirit. He began to do more swimming on his own, and now he is able to breathe unassisted. He still appreciates a little help to get a nice deep breath and refuses to feed from a bottle. Paul now feeds him by taping a catheter tube to his finger and sticking it in his mouth while pumping milk through it with a syringe. Now he suckles on anyone in the pool with him, nibbling on knees and armpits. Recently he finally earned a name -Mitch, or Lil’ Mitchy as some people call him. Having this beautiful little creature named after me is absolutely magical and is probably the highlight of my life. I know now that I will have to return to Wildtracks one day to check on his progress. Being a part of his rescue and initial rehabilitation has been surreal. Thanks to all of the hard work of Paul and Zoe and those who volunteer here at Wildtracks, Mitch has a promising future to one day be released, and I’m glad I got to be a part of the process.

My time at Wildtracks has been better than I could have ever imagined. I’m truly living the dream. I’ve formed such amazing bonds with the animals and the people here. I’ll miss all the animals once I’m gone; however, it’s a great feeling knowing I’ve played a small role in their care and rehabilitation. Perhaps one day while Mitch is munching on some sea grass out in the sea or Innie and Vicki are leading their troop through the forest, they’ll think back and remember that funny kid from Wisconsin who helped care for them. Even if they forget about me the day after I leave, it’s still magical to know I played a part in helping get them back into the wild where they belong.


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2014-07-06 11:44:43   [Link to this article]

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