The Summer of Monkey Love

Hi everyone,

Thanks to all who read my last blog post.  I hope it was beneficial in some way, especially if you are getting ready to start the veterinary school application process.  I wanted to take a moment to shine some light on an amazing opportunity to volunteer in wildlife conservation.

In the summer of 2016, I spent two months volunteering at Wildtracks Rehabilitation Center in Belize (http://www.wildtracksusa.org/). Wildtracks is the only facility in Belize to provide rehabilitation care for manatees and primates with the ultimate goal of releasing these animals back into the wild.  Many of them are victims of natural disasters or the exotic pet industry.  Some enter as orphans or are injured by humans or another animal in some way.  I initially arrived at the center wishing to work with the manatees.  I had no primate experience and knew little about what their rehabilitation entailed.  However, as per usual, life has a way of taking you in the direction you need to go, rather than the direction you planned to go.

I arrived in Belize at the beginning of May.  I flew from Atlanta to Belize City, then took another small plane to San Pedro Ambergris Caye.  From there, I took a boat to the fishing village of Sarteneja where I was picked up in a truck and brought to Wildtracks.  The center is at the end of a long, bumpy road. I met one of my cabana mates in the truck on the way over, a girl from Canada who was staying at Wildtracks for a month.  We arrived at the house and settled down before dinner that evening. The first thing I noticed was how all of the volunteers seemed like best friends.  They formed a tight knit community of like-minded individuals from all over the world.

When we finally sat down to have dinner that evening, Paul and Zoe (the directors of Wildtracks) walked into the kitchen carrying a rescued baby howler monkey.  I don’t think I have ever seen something so small.  The room went silent as they carried her upstairs.  Little did I know that they would soon ask me to be her primary caregiver.

The first time I held baby Roxy.

Roxy was 3 months ago when I began working with her.  My job responsibilities included feeding her, giving her medicine (she was having severe diarrhea in the beginning due to stress), comforting her and habituating her to her new life.  The ultimate goal of all baby monkeys is that they can be put into new troops with other rescued babies and released back into the wild.  I think the most shocking thing for me was how similar she was to a human – it was like combining a puppy and a baby (which is TEN times better obviously).  She would smile at me and purr. I taught her how to climb a tree and interact with other monkeys.  She took naps with me and pooped on me and showed me what a horrible idea it is to have a pet monkey.

I worked with Roxy every day for 2 months, from 6 am to 6 pm with maybe 2-3 hours of a break.  It was surprisingly hard work keeping a baby monkey happy and entertained, but it was the most rewarding work I have ever done.  She has grown so much now.  Here is the most recent picture I have of her with my friend, Molly.

Soon, Roxy will be released with her own troop into a protected forest area in Belize.  Slowly, Wildtracks is working to eliminate the exotic pet trade with each monkey they rehabilitate and release.  I was so fortunate to be a part of this experience and I highly recommend it to all who are interested.  You don’t have to be involved in veterinary medicine; many of the people I met there just had a love for wildlife and wanted to give back some how (and these people will forever be some of the best friends I have EVER met).

Feel free to e-mail me at travelingdogtor@gmail.com if you have any questions about the program or other opportunities in wildlife conservation.

Until next time!

SB

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