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.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Evil Ernesto

Things have been getting quite busy around here! This morning we found out that Ernesto is most likely going to head our way, so we needed to start preparing. After the first monkey feed, I collected the chairs used for observations out by the monkey enclosures, so they wouldn’t get blown away or damage anything. A few other volunteers and I then worked on cleaning out two of the manatee pools in case Twiggy and Duke need to be moved. We had to drain them and then scrub them down. They were coated in algae and manatee poop. It was pretty disgusting. After we finished bleaching them and cleaning them, we cleaned lots of sea grass for Twiggy and Duke in case they get stuck in the pool for a few days. After lunch we started boarding up the windows of the manatee building, since that’s where the monkeys will be moved to if necessary. We recently got assigned monkeys and I feed quarantine every feed now. I hadn’t gone in with Teresa at the first two feeds, so I went in with her at the 2:30 feed. I got stuck in with her for forty-five minutes! It took four people and eventually a Coke bottle we made seem very interesting for me to get out. Fern is getting more comfortable with me and she took a few bites of banana out of my hand today, but she’s still pretty nervous about people. After dinner tonight, we’re deciding if we need to be evacuated to Orange Walk or not. It’s been a full day and it’ll be another full day tomorrow if Ernesto is still coming our way.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


I felt like I was back in Africa today. We had a big cat sighting! After breakfast, all the volunteers had a meeting with Paul to discuss what happens in the event of a hurricane, changes to the way the monkeys will be handled and a few other things. While he was in the middle of talking he pointed behind us and a puma was just walking into the backyard! She just strolled into the middle of the yard and then turned around and strolled out! It was incredible! In the afternoon, we fed Duke again and since it was Saturday we weighed him as well. He now weighs 152 lb and he gained 8 lbs in one week, which is great. He still isn't doing great eating sea grass, so we're continuing daily feeds for a few weeks. We're trying to decide on names for the three new monkeys. So far, we almost decided on Gandalf for the male and I'm trying for Molly in honor of my lovely roommate for one of the females, but I don't know if it'll stick. We went out again tonight after dinner to a bar that was in a house. They had three DJs visiting from Orange Walk, the closest big city. It was a little awkward at first but after a little while everyone started dancing. A couple Belizean guys came over and we're trying to teach us how to dance like a Belizean but it mostly involved shuffling your feet back and forth. No one else at the bar was dancing like that and we're pretty sure the guy just had terrible dance moves. Ernesto is predicted to hit on Wednesday and we'd be evacuated to Orange Walk if it comes, but we won't find out for sure until Monday night.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Real Food!!

Another day and more milk battles. I fed the three in the pre-release this morning and Nicky was pretty frustrated with me again, although he's not getting as demanding and grabbing the syringe. At the next feed, I fed the quarantine. The new howler is getting more used to people and will let you touch her now, but she usually gives you the stink eye when you do. I spent some time with Teresa because she was looking lonely, but she blocked me in the enclosure for a half hour. She just sat in the doorway, looking around and pulling my hand so I would groom her. The new three howlers are still really scared of people but they actually came down from their top tree branch while I was leaving the enclosure. We took a fecal sample and they have really bad worms, so hopefully their health will improve after we deworm them. After the 2:30 feed, we corralled Duke again. We had him in the corner and he slipped under the sling! You'd think it would be hard for a 150 lb manatee to get past you, but he's incredibly agile! The mosquitoes were really bad again today. I'll probably look diseased on my flight back! Since it was the weekend, we went into the village again for dinner and drinks. We ate at Pablito's and the food was amazing. It was probably just because it was different than the usual pasta or rice, but it was nice to have real meat for once. Apparently I could never make it as a vegetarian. Tropical storm Ernesto is headed our way and supposed to be here on Wednesday, but hopefully it misses us because we would have to move all the animals inside!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Jungle Fever

I think all the bites/itchy/sweating to death is starting to get to my brain. I was responsible for feeding Twiggy in the morning and I had to show Michelle how to make the shake and feed her. After assembling the blender wrong three times, I finally got the shake made and fed Twiggy. While I was waiting to start the 6:30 monkey feed, I was putting sea grass in the frame and there was no wind so the bugs were horrendous. I think my whole body itched for about an hour after. The Wildtracks vet and several of her student were here to conduct routine check ups on the quarantine monkeys and assess the health of the four new howler monkeys. TB tests are conducted on eyelids for monkeys, so they all had to be knocked out. Teresa was the first to be tested and she looked so sad and small in Paul's arms when he was carrying her. If you didn't know she was just anesthetized, you would think she was dead. After all the testing was finished, I fed the quarantine monkeys. Richie was almost back to her normal self, but she was a lot more laid back than usual and didn't attack me as soon as I walked in the enclosure. Teresa was completely out of it and looked so sad and tired just hanging out in her hammock. We received another confiscated howler and we were supposed to get a spider as well, but the owners heard the forest department was coming and hid the spider. Three howlers came in together, so they are in quarantine together and they're all pretty scared of people still. They are all so skinny, it's terrible and they're too scared to eat. Duke was back down to one frame of sea grass, but hopefully he eats more tomorrow. We're supposed to receive more monkeys tomorrow and another monkey volunteer is coming, so we have more help to deal with all the new monkeys.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Spider Monkey Shenanigans

Last night, Paul requested that I distract Pancho so he could get out of the enclosure after spending some time with him. Pancho is very attached to Paul and it’s pretty difficult for Paul to get out of the enclosure. Jasmine and I tried distracting him, acting interested in fruit on the ground and making kissy sounds, but nothing would distract him for long enough. After about a half hour, Si had to distract him by shaking a tree and making him angry. This morning I had to feed the three in the pre-release cage. They receive milk in the morning as well as the afternoon since Sultan had lost quite a bit of weight. Sultan receives the majority of the milk, but Nicky is the most dominant in the group and is always trying to grab the syringe from your hand, which makes feeding quite a difficult task. At the next feed, I fed Paz and the monkeys in quarantine. I spent some time in Teresa’s enclosure and she had me groom her back some more, but she also groomed my head quite a bit. I was relieved she didn’t find anything in my hair. Paul went to pick up more monkeys today, three howlers and one spider, so most of the day was spent trying to figure out where they were going and constructing cages. I can’t believe it’s already August, this summer has been great but I’m definitely getting ready to go home. I miss all my American luxuries, like a real shower, and food. It’s been over two weeks and I haven’t had any chocolate! I think this has been the longest I’ve ever gone without it!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Healthy Duke!

I fed Spartacus and Kofie again this morning. Spartacus wasn't fully awake, so he wasn't very crazy. I went back out to the pre-release cage at the 10:30 feed. Livvy was on my shoulders right away again. Nicky was actually coming up to me and after a little while he licked my nose! It was adorable! After that, he just wanted to cuddle and was lying on my arm and just hanging out. Sultan was his usual crazy self, swinging every where and wanting me to swing him around. While we were waiting for lunch, Si chopped up a coconut so we could try it. It tastes so different from the shaved coconut. It was really oily. I didn't like it too much. I fed Paz in the afternoon. He actually wasn't completely antisocial and was throwing himself around his cage. He still didn't really want to interact with me though. Duke is feeling a lot better and he ate four frames of sea grass today, so we had a busy day keeping up with peeling sea grass and filling the frames for him. His feed went well and he's continuing to look better. After Duke's feed was finished it was time to feed Twiggy. She's adorable and I miss feeding her a bottle. She just hugs your legs and doesn't want to leave you. The monkeys are coming tomorrow - I'm pretty excited!

Monkey Monday

My days are filled with monkeys now, but that's definitely not a bad thing. I fed the two howlers this morning and Spartacus was pretty playful. He kept running around and hitting me as he passed me. Luckily he doesn't hit very hard. After breakfast, we had to get more sea grass so we took a canoe out into the lagoon. It was a lighter canoe so steering went a lot better this time around. Although it sounds like a boring task, it's actually really nice sitting the lagoon. The water feels pretty good and it's nice to get a break from constantly sweating. I went back out to the three in the pre-release cage at the 10:30 feed. Livvy got right on my shoulders again and Sultan kept holding my hand and running up the side of my body. Nicky was getting frustrated with him so he started to fight with Sultan. Sultan's pretty small so he gets picked on quite a bit but he's also a lot faster than Nicky. We were running out of fruit for the monkeys, so we made some hard boiled quail eggs for the 2:30 feed. Mattie and Duma, the spider monkeys, had mixed reactions to them but Paz, a howler monkey loved them. We also tried giving them coconut and a lot of the monkeys were not a fan of it. Paul ran into town to get some fruit for the 4:30, so we had a good variety. He picked up a pineapple and all the volunteers were jealous that the monkeys were getting it. A lot of them didn't even like it! It was pretty upset watching them throw it on the ground. We had another Duke feed after the monkeys were finished. We got him into the corner, but then he slipped under the sling! It's amazing how agile a 144 lb manatee can be. Luckily we caught him the next time around. We got a call today that five spider monkeys are coming on Wednesday and apparently one is pretty small! I can't wait to meet them!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cuddling with Monkeys

Twiggy came back! She finally showed up at her gate this morning. I fed Spartacus this morning and he wasn't very happy to see me. He pulled my hair quite a bit because I didn't bring him the greatest browse. After the monkey feed, it was my turn to feed the peccaries again, so I made my way into the mosquito swarms. The peccaries weren't so angry today, so they were pretty cute. Paige made banana pancakes for breakfast, which were delicious! We had another monkey feed at 10:30 and I fed the monkeys in quarantine. Richie is a female howler monkey and she's pretty antisocial or aggressive if you don't bring in browse. Teresa is a spider monkey who used to be on a chain outside a hotel. She's really nice and she loves spending time with people. I sat inside her enclosure with her for a little while and she had me groom her back for a little while. We tanned for a little while after finishing feeding this morning. I have several different tan lines, but hopefully I'll be all evened out by the time I get back. Some government officials came for lunch and to tour the facilities. We had another feed at 2:30 and I did the quarantine again. Teresa had me groom her back again but she also groomed my head. At the last feed, I fed the two spider monkeys so I could learn how to do it. They're adorable and love just sitting on your head and shoulders. I pretty much had a monkey on me at all times while I was in there. Paige had to distract them so I could get out of the enclosure. We had another Duke feed but we managed to get him on the first try. Twiggy was in with Duke and they had little manatee kisses while we were trying to get Duke. It was so cute! We're watching The Help tonight and we made popcorn! So exciting to have some normal food!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Manatee Day

I started the day with another monkey feed. The monkey researchers were still here so the one watched me feed the three in the pre-release cage. It took awhile to get out of the enclosure because they kept trying to go between the double doors to catch a butterfly stuck in there. After breakfast, most of the manatee volunteers went into town for Manatee Day. We got all the supplies from the SACD (Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development) office and then headed to the soccer field. A couple of Wildtracks volunteers have organized a soccer tournament and at each of the past four games have organized an education activity about manatees. There were a bunch of different games and activities for the teams to participate in today, such as a matching game and a manatee maze. Our booth included an activity worksheet with word searches and a crossword. We also asked each player what they can do to protect manatees and they wrote their answer on a cut out manatee and pinned it to the board. All the answers were really good and there were a couple cute ones, like “protect them from being eaten by sharks” (manatees have no natural predators). There was also a poster contest for the teams and then of course the actual soccer tournament. I think all the kids enjoyed it and the local community really supports the manatee conservation efforts. After we walked back, we fed and weighed Duke. He gained four pounds! He’s starting to eat more frames of sea grass and hopefully he continues to improve. Twiggy is still missing even though volunteers searched for her all day. Hopefully she comes back soon because it is not easy to find a gray manatee in murky lagoon water!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lost Manatee

This morning I fed the three monkeys in the pre-release cage. They receive milk in the morning and fight over it quite a bit. You have to feed Sultan through a syringe while supplying the larger male, Nikki, with a bowl of milk, which he promptly throws on the ground after he finishes it. It’s a lot of juggling milk, but Livvy sits on your shoulders the whole time, so you get to cuddle with a monkey. After I pried Livvy off of me, I went back to the house for breakfast. Twiggy didn’t come back this morning or last night and a little before lunch, we found Twiggy’s radio transmitter. It must have somehow fallen of off her tail, but we didn’t see Twiggy anywhere. We had two more monkey feeds, which included Spartacus pulling my hair and Paz ignoring me.  A couple of spider monkey researchers came to tell us more about the monkeys’ behavior. After their tour of the facilities, we had to get Duke for a feed and luckily we got him on the first try. Duke actually ate two frames of sea grass today, so he really is starting to feel better. We’ll weigh him tomorrow to see how much he’s improved. We have a new volunteer and the biologists for dinner so we celebrated with banana milkshakes and rum and cokes. 

Sad Twiggy

Twiggy wouldn’t go out this morning so we kept her in for observation. Zoe said she felt a little underweight, so we gave her a sea grass frame and then had to replace it every half hour. We spent a lot of time peeling sea grass! We ran out pretty quickly since she was eating so fast, so we had to take the boat out to collect some sea grass. The boat we use is basically a wooden canoe and apparently a lot of people don’t know how to canoe. We kept zigzagging instead of staying in a straight line and had a lot of trouble turning. I tried to explain how to steer from the back but no one really understood. We eventually found a patch of sea grass and then spent the next hour and a half picking sea grass. We all got a little sunburnt but we got a large supply of sea grass. After lunch, we had another Duke feed. He only snuck out once this time and his condition is continuing to improve. More monkey volunteers are leaving tomorrow, so I start helping with all monkey feeds tomorrow!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monkey Milk Mustaches

We had another Duke feed yesterday morning. We're getting better at catching him. We only had seven people and it only took us one try! He's continuing to improve but he still isn't eating sea grass. Three monkey volunteers left, so I helped with three of the feeds. At 10:30, I fed the single howler monkey who is getting introduced to another after she is out of quarantine later this week. He's pretty laid back and wasn't really interested in me after I brought his fruit. I fed Spartacus and his adoptive mother at 2:30 and 4:30. Spartacus is kind of crazy and wants his browse as soon as you enter the enclosure. They all receive milk at 4:30 and he kept trying to steal all the milk from me. I also had to feed Twiggy in the afternoon. She left a tiny bit in her bottle for the morning feed, but she only ate two thirds of her bottle in the afternoon and she was acting strange. We're going to check on her today to make sure she feels alright. Tanning Club had another session this afternoon and another volunteer said I look really tan so hopefully that's true! I still have a pretty terrible shorts tan line I need to get rid of.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sneaky Manatees

This morning I got to fed Twiggy alone. She is so cute and I could sit with her all day.  She loves to just hang out and hold out to you after your done feeding her.  It started raining pretty hard so we were stuck inside for most of the morning, but it cleared up pretty quickly. I went back out on the boat to take Twiggy out to the island, but first we had to find Twiggy. We searched the shore and several close islands and eventually the far island but she was nowhere in sight. After searching for two and a half hours we decided to come back for lunch and guess who was waiting for us near the boat dock – Twiggy! Paul and Zoe came back after lunch so we had to catch Duke for another feed. He’s getting really sneaky recently. It took us four tries and nine people to catch him! He’s obviously improving if he’s sneaking past us and he’s looking better too. More monkeys are arriving soon so I helped set up some more cages for them. I had another Twiggy feed in the afternoon. It’s three volunteers last day so we’re having mac and cheese for dinner! We’re all pretty excited!