Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

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Volunteering at Wildtracks from an alternative perspective - the mother left behind


The first time I ever heard of Wildtracks was when my son called from UW Madison with this amazing volunteer opportunity he felt he just couldn't pass up. As he described to me what he knew at that point about Wildtracks, I was left with mixed emotions. Part of me couldn't help but get excited about what I was hearing. An opportunity to work hands on with manatees would be a dream come true for Mitch. He had become interested in manatees at a very early age, and this interest had grown into somewhat of an obsession with him over the years. The more he read and researched about Wildtracks the more interested he also became in the opportunity to work with the howler monkeys. As a pre-vet student and someone with a real love of wildlife, this seemed like a perfect fit for Mitch. The other side of me was, of course, nervous. Mitch would be only 18, traveling alone for the first time to an unfamiliar country in Central America. I had many concerns - his safety utmost on my mind. But also things like - What would his living conditions be like? Does he need special vaccines? What if he gets sick? What type of medical care would be available to him? As Mitch researched the answers to many of these questions and I learned more about Wildtracks through their website and blogs, I became more comfortable with Mitch's decision to spend his summer volunteering there. I had to agree that this seemed like an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.

Mitch's experience that summer was absolutely amazing - more than he could have imagined or hoped for. He worked with a variety of wildlife, developed some close friendships with other volunteers, worked long and sometimes stressful shifts, and developed a real respect and admiration for the work that Paul and Zoe do at Wildtracks. Mitch worked closely that summer in particular with two infant howler monkeys named Innie and Vicki, as well as a young manatee calf who became named Mitch. The bond that developed between Mitch and these animals was strong. Leaving them at the end of his assignment became so difficult that Mitch extended his time another couple weeks. After returning home, it wasn't long before Mitch began talking about going back to Wildtracks again the next spring. Having seen all his amazing photos and hearing so many stories about the work going on at Wildtracks I knew right away that if he returned, I was going to make every effort to plan a vacation of my own and visit Belize and Wildtracks. We both felt this was an opportunity and experience not to be missed. Mitch would reunite with the animals he had developed such a bond with and be able to continue to participate in their rehab back to the wild, and I would be able to experience a day at this place that my son has such a passion and respect for the work being done there.

As spring approached we both finalized our plans. Mitch left mid May and I fol-lowed a couple weeks later. A friend and I left our husbands and families behind and set out on an amazing adventure. We spent most of our week on the beautiful island of Caye Caulker, but the highlight of our trip was our visit to Wildtracks. We travelled by water taxi first to San Pedro and then a second water taxi to the small fishing village of Sarteneja. We arrived late afternoon at the pier in Sarteneja and walked just a couple blocks to our hotel, Fernando’s Guest House. We met Mitch and a small group of other volunteers in town that evening for dinner. We had such a fun time meeting his friends and experiencing a different culture in this small village. The next morning Mitch had arranged for Dionicio (a local man who drives the volunteers to and from town whenever needed) to pick us up at our hotel and drive us to Wildtracks. We climbed into the back of his pickup and traveled down the bumpy dirt road through the jungle until we arrived at Wildtracks.

My visit to Wildtracks was amazing. Having heard so much from Mitch about this place, to actually be there in person and see the animals and property for myself was so rewarding. Mitch gave us a tour of the house and surrounding area including the manatee pools, manatee house, lagoon area, bunk house, and cabanas. We were fortunate then to have an opportunity to meet Zoe and spend some time with her. She toured us around the rest of the grounds including the pre release area, the spider monkey enclosures, and the nursery troop with the youngest group of howlers that Mitch was working with, including Innie and Vicki. We completed our tour at the lagoon where we sat and watched Khaleesi, Mitch and Lucky, three of the manatees rehabbing at Wildtracks.

When lunch time approached, we were invited to join the volunteers at the house for a meal prepared by Carmella and Myra. I was surprised at the amount and variety of food served! Everything was delicious, and it was really nice to see everyone sit down and enjoy their meal together as a group. It was during this time that Zoe received a call that an injured manatee had been found and was on his way to Wildtracks. There was work to be done in preparation for his arrival as well as all the usual daily tasks . My friend and I were happy to help out in any way we could. We helped unload a truckload of fruit, cut fruit, prepared bowls for the monkeys, and did dishes. It was fun to feel like we were a part of the team, even if only for an hour or two. The arrival of the injured manatee, now known as Ben, was both exciting and emotional. What an experience for us to actually see this process, but so sad also to see this gentle animal scared and in pain as he was transferred from the truck to the pool and his injuries assessed. The compassion and concern of everyone involved in his capture, transport, and then care at Wildtracks was very moving.

Volunteering at Wildtracks - from a mother's point of view
I have such fond memories of my time at Wildtracks. I am so proud of my son and all of the volunteers for their dedication and care they provide to the many animals re-habbing there. As a mom, to see your child find something they are truly passionate about and find so much joy while giving their time and working toward such a worthy cause is very rewarding. Volunteering at Wildtracks takes a special person. The work can be hard, the hours long, the heat, humidity, and bugs at times may be more than some are able to endure. However, after having spent just one day there, I can understand why volunteers are so passionate and willing to endure these conditions in order to be a part of returning these amazing animals to the wild where they belong.

I want to give a special thank you to Zoe who took the time to answer all of our many questions. It was such a pleasure to meet both Paul and Zoe. I have a real respect for the work being done at Wildtracks and a much better understanding of the commitment, time, and dedication that goes into caring for these animals, as well as the ongoing research and education it takes to ensure that their return to the wild is successful. Thank you Wildtracks for such an amazing experience and for all that you do!


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2015-08-11 17:18:37   [Link to this article]

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