Saturday, October 7, 2017

Baja Reflections

Oh Baja... I'm not going to say you were an easy love, but eventually you broke me down (the ocean helped with that). When I first learned about the global field program, every student I talked to raved about how great Belize was and how much they recommend it. I'd already had an amazing time in Belize volunteering at a manatee and monkey rehabilitation center one summer and now looked forward to going back. Then, during a staff event at NC Zoo, I was talking to our Curator of Conservation, who also teaches several EE courses, about Belize and how much I was looking forward to returning. She told me Belize was great, but I should reconsider Baja and mentioned whale sharks. Whale sharks?! I didn't know that was part of the trip! As soon as I heard, my heart was set on Baja. When I found out I was in Baja II, I was ecstatic. The desert was beautiful, but stressful, and my heart was finally happy when I saw the ocean. Then, on the first day, we spotted two whale sharks right in front of the house! I had to get in the water! I swam out there and tried to spot them with a mask, but it was too murky to see anything clearly. I popped my head up and gasped. There was a whale shark fin right behind another student! She screamed and then I screamed, because when we went to rest our legs, we both hit a whale shark! (Sorry, Mr. Whale Shark!). I swam back in, so happy that I actually saw a whale shark! I couldn't wait for the chance to see them again.

The day finally came that I'd been waiting for the entire trip. We boarded the boats and headed out to find the whale sharks! It felt like a lot of time had passed and we hadn't seen any, so I was becoming a bit discouraged, but still held out hope. Then, our driver spotted one! Other students jumped in and we could see them swimming right next to one! They got back in and raved about how big it was and how cool it was to swim next to one. Our driver said it was just a "tiny one", but he sure looked big! We continued to search around and then saw another one. I jumped in, took off and was swimming next to a whale shark! It was absolutely incredible. They were so much faster than I imagined. It was tough to keep up! We spent the rest of the day finding whale sharks and swimming with them. It was one of the best days of my life. I will forever be grateful I was able to have such an amazing experience with such awe inspiring animals.

Being able to interact with them just made me realize how lucky I am. I've been inspired by animals for as long as I can remember. I've been able to have interactions with many different animals in the wild - lions, manatees, and now whale sharks. Every time I get to have these experiences, I am inspired to save these animals and do my best to make the world a better place for them. I also realize how many people don't get to have these experiences and then I am overwhelmed at how difficult it is to inspire people to save something they may know have never even seen. Conservation is such a difficult, multifaceted topic. I really wish there was a way to get every child out into the wilderness to see animals, but I know that’s impossible. Until then, we will have to grapple the difficult task of inspiring future generations. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back Home Again in Indiana

After having a summer full of sleeping in mosquito nets, not having a decent shower, no cell phones, amazing animal encounters and new friendships with incredible people, I can honestly say I've had the best summer of my life. I am so glad I decided to go on both of these adventures this summer and I cannot express how happy I am. I've always loved traveling and I know I will continue my adventures after I graduate. I'm already planning my next adventure! Both Tanzania and Belize were amazing and I urge everyone to visit them. Traveling has changed me for the better by expanding my horizons, forcing me come out of my shell and teaching me how to have a little fun every once and a while. Thank you to all of you for reading my blog and I hoped you enjoyed it!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Goodbye Belize

It’s been a busy last few days. On Friday, I went to see Diego one last time with Si and Laura. He is so adorable! I could definitely take him home with me. He’s so cute and pounces on everything and everyone. It must have been a good day to be in a playing mood because Spartacus and Kofie wanted to play after every feed. I stayed in the enclosure for 45 minutes after most feeds. After my persistent badgering, Si made pancakes on Saturday morning. They were a cross between American pancakes and English pancakes and quite tasty. A manatee researcher and a group of her students came for a tour in the afternoon and some of the school kids came as well to see Twiggy. It was my last time feeding Twiggy and I got to demonstrate for all the visitors. The kids loved seeing a manatee up so close. It’s great to back up the knowledge they learn about the manatees with a personal encounter. The SACD boys invited us to dinner on Saturday. They had caught a bunch of fish and cooked them for us and made a cake for another volunteer’s birthday. All the food was amazing! It was probably my best meal in Belize. We hung out by the ocean drinking for a few hours before we moved onto the bar. When we got back to Wildtracks, we stayed up talking and drinking until almost five in the morning, so I was pretty tired at the 6:30 am monkey feed. After a quick nap, Jazmine and I went to Fireburn with Neto and Rudy. Fireburn is about an hour boat ride away and the water was pretty choppy so we got soaked on the way. On the hike in, we stopped on the small village to pick up some water and talk with the local family. They gave us some plantains to bring back to Wildtracks with us. The hike to the howler monkey release site was still muddy from the hurricane and it was a challenge not to slip and fall. Jazmine and I were sliding all over the place but eventually it was Rudy that ended up falling. He was the only one who stayed dry on the boat ride, so we felt it was a fair trade. Wildtracks built a pretty large tree house with three rooms that we stopped at to have lunch. Then we headed to the release site to feed the monkeys. They provide the monkeys with some occasional fruit to check up on the troop and allow them to begin tracking their movements again. The whole troop showed up and it was great to see the rehabilitated monkeys actually back in the wild behaving like wild monkeys. We headed back to Wildtracks and found Duke in the medium pool. He had lost twelve pounds in one week so we’re keeping him under observation to see if he still has intestinal parasites that the dewormer didn’t kill. It was Paul’s birthday so we had two cakes to celebrate and a delicious dinner. Belize has been amazing. It took awhile to adjust since I came alone, but I eventually fell in love with the country and I hope to come back one day. The people are amazing and I can’t believe the incredible relationships I have built with all of the animals. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Winding Down

It’s getting down to my last few days at Wildtracks! Teresa is becoming increasingly more difficult to distract so you can sneak out of her cage, but she should be moved closer to Mattie and Duma soon, which will provide plenty of distractions. Since I don’t have many days left, I went in with Mattie and Duma at the last feed yesterday. I’m so used to going in with Teresa, that they look so tiny! They’re both still pretty young and so playful. It’s crazy how their personalities are so different from Teresa’s. As you as you come inside, it’s like you’re wearing a spider monkey turban and they make it quite difficult to clean. Duma kept knocking over the bucket and throwing everything out of it. I got stuck, so Si had to come and rescue me but he ended being stuck inside for about twenty minutes. Twiggy could finally go out yesterday, which she thoroughly enjoyed and she didn’t come back last night. She eventually showed up later this morning but refused to go back out into the lagoon. Richie was moved in with Paz since she’s out of quarantine and didn’t test positive for TB. They seem to be getting along fine, but Richie definitely wears the pants in their relationship. She’s always first to the food bowl and Paz makes sure she’s finished before he tries to eat at all. Another tropical storm depression is headed our way and predicted to make landfall around Sarteneja on Thursday, when I was supposed to fly back. I changed my flight to Monday so I won’t get my mini-vacation in San Pedro, but I don’t want to risk getting stuck in Belize City. After a summer full of great animal adventures, I’m ready to get back to Indiana. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Ernesto was still here this morning and the wind got pretty strong. We fed Twiggy but the water level was really high, so it was difficult to walk the wall to get the frame out of the water. It felt like you were going to fall in constantly! After we fed the monkeys in the morning, we moved them back out to their cages since most of the storm had passed and they were feeling really stressed. Twiggy was constantly eating the frames, so we had to continuously change the frames, which was pretty exhausting. It was another soggy day and I was soaked until late afternoon. All the volunteers that evacuated came back in the afternoon and helped us with the Duke feed. The water was pretty cold and really high, so it was difficult and he struggled quite a bit but we got him out eventually. I'm glad Ernesto has passed through and I hoping tomorrow is a nice and sunny day!

Hurricane Day

Ernesto finally arrived! On Monday night, we discussed the option of evacuating to Orange Walk and seven of the volunteers decided that they wanted to evacuate before Ernesto and left on the 6 am bus on Tuesday morning. I decided to stay at Wildtracks with two other volunteers. I got up to feed Twiggy and it was slightly raining, but it wasn't too bad outside. After the monkey feed, it actually got nice and sunny out. We made a list of everything that needed to be done and realized we needed to have enough sea grass for two to three days, so we went out to pick sea grass. It was getting pretty gloomy on our way out and since Twiggy was in, we could take the motor boat to the farther out patches of sea grass. Once we started picking sea grass, it began to pour and it never really let up. The wind also got pretty bad, so it got quite wavy. We got four buckets full and decided to head back in. After feeding monkeys again, we started to clean all the sea grass but then we decided to skip the cleaning and just tie bunches to the frame to save on time. We captured Duke again, so he could get fed before the hurricane. It was decided to keep Duke and Twiggy in the lagoon, so we put Duke back in after his feed and then started on preparing the monkeys for the hurricane. The howlers with the weaker enclosures were all moved inside the manatee building. After everyone was settled for the evening, we changed out of our soaked clothes and started preparing dinner. Then we realized we were out of gas, so we couldn't cook anything for dinner. Paul bought us ice cream in town since we stayed behind to help, which was amazing! We had ice cream and some leftovers of lunch for dinner. Since Ernesto was predicted to come in at about 9 pm, all the volunteers slept in the house. It was a windy night, but overall wasn't too bad.