These last few days, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do hands-on work with the animals. On Sunday, several of my classmates and I worked at a spay-neuter clinic run by local Belizean veterinarian, Dr. Tesecum. We checked people in, performed physical exams, took the animals’ vitals, and assisted in surgery. Having little experience doing any of those tasks, I was a bit intimidated. Fortunately, the clinic was busy enough that I had to jump into the work and focus on each task I was given, rather than spend time second-guessing myself. While assisting the veterinarian with surgery, he allowed me to suture the dogs up, and taught me proper suturing techniques.
The clinic was an extremely humbling experience for me. I loved being able to give back to the members of the community, and to see the love they have for their animals. By the end of the day, we were able to see 45 dogs and two horses.
On Monday, we had our first lesson with our instructor from C.E.L.A., Jane Champion. Jane works with the primate populations of Belize conducting research and educating students like myself about her work. She explained that there are two different species of monkey in Belize—the Howler monkey and the Spider monkey. After her lecture, we departed for the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS). Howler monkeys, or “baboons” in Creole, have large populations in the Bermudian Landing region of Belize where the sanctuary is located. What was interesting about the sanctuary was that unlike Runaway Creek, which was relatively devoid of human influence, villages of people inhabited the land of the CBS. When researchers discovered the Howler populations in the area back in the 1980s, a voluntary agreement was signed by nearly all of the landowners which stated they would manage their land in such a way that would accommodate the Howler monkey populations. While we were there, we hiked along the forested areas in search of Howlers. Much to our surprise, it did not take us long to find a baby Howler monkey. Looking down at us with curious eyes, the monkey perched on a tree just a couple feet away from us. As time passed, we noticed another monkey in her troupe. Jane explained to us there were probably around six Howlers up in the trees, many of which were hidden amongst the trees. It was interesting to know that they were up there, and had it not been for the young Howler, we would not have noticed any of them.
Today, we drove to San Ignacio to visit the Belize Raptor Center (BRC). “Raptors,” also known as birds of prey, feed on small vertebrates and include species such as hawks, owls, falcons, eagles, kites, and vultures. The Belize Raptor Center acted as a rehabilitation center and sanctuary for the birds. The founder of BRC showed us around the facility and told us about the work that they do. All of the birds are rescues, often confiscated from homes. Ideally, after some time at the BRC, the birds would be released back into the wild where they belong. Unfortunately, as a result of imprinting and other behavioral issues, most of the birds cannot be released. Imprinting is when an animal becomes attached to a person or thing, rather than interacting with individuals of their own species. Additionally, birds can become habituated so that they associate humans with positive things like food. Oftentimes this can become problematic, increasing instances of human-animal conflict.
I loved being able to hear from the founder of the BRC because she had such a passion for her work with the raptors. Her dedication to education and outreach was something I truly admired, and I hope to do the same in my career in animal care.