Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

Wildtracks blog

Not everything goes as planned...Marcia's Blog


I volunteered at Wildtracks during April 2015, but my preparations started long before this. I am from the UK and have volunteered at several in-situ projects during the last few years. Whenever I apply for any volunteer work I spend a lot of time researching the organisations to ensure they are reputable, have a clear vision and the skills needed for success. Wildtracks certainly ticked all the boxes and I couldn't wait to start work there. I wanted to be an asset from day one and hit the ground running, to make as much of a difference as I could during my 1 month stay. I had a plan to achieve this:-

1. Save money
2. Quit Job
3. Grab trusty friend to come with me (thanks Leanne)
4. 6 week fitness regime (including joining a gym and healthy diet)
5. Self-teaching Spanish basics course
6. 2 weeks travel in the Yucutan to acclimatise to the heat beforehand

All this went to plan perfectly. I arrived at Wildtracks, raring to go. The team already there were so welcoming and the tour with Paul and Zoe just proved to me I had made a great choice in Wildtracks. The knowledge, passion and success rate were amazing, I wanted to be a part of this, if only for a short time. My allocated sections were Spider Monkeys (one of my favourite primates) and Peccaries. Together with regular manatee swims, I was very happy with this but then had the added honour and pleasure of assisting Laura with feeding Rameses. What better way to end each day than to give Rameses his evening formula bottle. I was in heaven. The times spent with the manatees became my most precious memories as I had never worked with them before, had very little knowledge of them but had been fascinated by these gentle creatures for several years. You cannot describe the feeling of swimming with a manatee, just the two of you, in their world. Beautiful and a real privilege.

If this could have been my month's schedule it would have been perfect but sadly, rather than hit the ground running (see original plan), I just “hit the ground” basically. After a week and a half, I was kitting out one the Spider Monkey enclosures when I slipped sideways from the step ladder and damaged a tendon in my knee. The result was I could barely walk, let alone run. I was suitably embarrassed and totally gutted that I was now confined to sitting on a chair with my leg raised :-(. I couldn't believe it. All that preparation, the very reason for the extended trip, out the window in a split second. The support I got from everyone was amazing and way beyond anything I had experienced before. Fanny suggested I needed some sort of stick to help me get about. Brilliant idea. I found a yellow broom handle in the enrichment area and this helped immensely, I was able to get about much more easily and heal far more quickly, even if I had a look of Gandalf about me. As I could no longer work with the animals I was given the chance to do what I could in the way of enrichment, something I had experience of as an ex-animal keeper. I was very limited as it is surprising how much you need a knee for general tasks (eg. sawing bamboo, going to the shed for tools, bending down to drill at the power point behind the kitchen etc) but Zoe came to my rescue and suggested I learn to weave palm leaves. I took on the challenge although I never did quite master the art. I just about got to grips with making a couple of baskets but basket bottoms alluded me, I just ended up turning them all into a type of hat! Leanne and I were actually presented with one each on our last night - thanks Emma ;-).

The 2 animals who affected me most deeply were Rameses (Manatee) and Mikaela (Spider Monkey). To see Mikaela scratching at long gone chains around her neck and poking her eyes with her fingernails made my heart bleed but there was no happier monkey than when she had a forage bag to rummage through – her personality shone through and her mind was taken away from her past. She is a beautiful soul and here's hoping her introduction to Frolics group goes well and she can learn to interact and integrate into a releasable group.

Rameses surprised everyone one day.The best possible thing happened and he decided (with the help of his raging hormones) that it was time to leave and go in search of other manatees. Before we left Wildtracks Zoe and Paul had been out to check on him and found he had indeed found what appeared to be a manatee friend. You can almost see the heart shape surrounding them as they swim off into the sunset. Good luck Rameses, you're awesome. In fact, I was so affected by my short time with him that I have had a tattoo of a manatee, with his name underneath, put on my left ankle. He held my left leg whilst I fed him his bottle each evening and I was fortunate enough to walk/swim out with him into the lagoon before he returned to the wild. The blue on the tattoo is the same colour as the lagoon. This is a great way to talk about Wildtracks and their amazing work for many years to come :-)

My knee is now fully recovered so maybe I can return one day and redeem myself – if you'll have me. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful experience.


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2015-05-24 08:32:31   [Link to this article]

Check out the latest articles in the blog!