Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

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Returning to the Nursery at Wildtracks


When I first came to Wildtracks, in September 2015, I had no idea what I was in for: how amazing, challenging, and educational it would be. I had just graduated from law school, and thought that I would be a tangential character, feeding and cleaning and generally rehabbing with little interaction with the animals. I didn't have a zoology or veterinary background, and I wasn't sure I would be able to learn how to care for the animals in a meaningful way.

I was sorely mistaken.

Little Cas the spider monkey made it clear that he needed me - if only for milk, warmth, and rest. During every walk, play session, and snoozefest he barged his way into my routine, with his big eyes and even bigger personality. His nips and hugs, stronger with every day, brought us closer. But it was the string of night shifts that really cemented our bond. He met my initial anxiety and concern with playful squeaks, wriggly hugs, and peaceful sleepy-eyed milk munching. Walking around a sleepy baby spider monkey is inexplicable, and even more so when you catch a pink sunrise over a mirror-calm lagoon--even at 4:50 in the morning. At the end of my month, I'm not sure who needed who more. Holding him was second nature, and it was strange to walk around without him resting on my chest. I didn't realize that when I left, I would have an intimate knowledge of the animals with whom I worked

When I returned in June 2016, I was only able to steal away two weeks, this time helping care for Roxy, the howler baby still in quarantine. I was pleased to be back in the nursery, and hoped that she would play and scamper with me the way she did with her other carers. I thought I had mastered the whole baby monkey thing with Cas - give them solid snuggly contact, anticipate their tantrums, and stay calm above all. Much to my surprise, howler and spider monkeys are completely different in terms of behavior. But babies are babies, right?

Wrong. Anyone who has worked with howlers and spiders knows that there is a world of difference between these species. Where Cas was wide-eyed and hesitant, Roxy was playful and energetic; leaping from her cage, climbing up anything vertical, and grabbing any object to put in her mouth. Where Cas was dependent on intense close contact at all times (creating a permaspot on my chest), Roxy only climbed on my shoulder when she wanted a walkabout or got tired. Where Cas needed me twenty-four hours a day, Roxy slept alone and preferred playing solo while I sat beside her.

That's not to say there weren't overlaps: the cries and squeaks when they were distressed or hungry; my compulsion to shield them from sun, wind, or surprises; the sting of baby teeth; the absolute magic of soothing them to sleep for more than an hour. With every session together, Roxy and I fell into a comfy pattern by the end - her purrs and smiles confirmed it. And so I add Roxy to the list of creatures that have my heart.

As many return volunteers know, everything when you get back to Wildtracks is different, yet everything is still the same. You know everything about the animals you've worked with and a little about the ones you don't. If you can be patient, enthusiastic, and diligent, you will learn about and connect with these incredible animals. What does not change? The feeling of gratitude that these incredible animals trusted me enough to not only tolerate me, but also to engage with me. I cannot wait for their releases and continued good health in the breathtaking ecosystems of Belize.


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2016-07-27 00:26:47   [Link to this article]

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