I was first introduced to Wildtracks one year ago, while visiting Sarteneja. I have been involved with animal rescue and rehabilitation for most of my life but never had a hands-on opportunity to work with manatees or monkeys. When I met with Paul, the director of Wildtracks, he offered me the opportunity to volunteer there and I knew I had to make it happen.
One year later, I am entrenched in the everyday world of monkey and manatee care. I initially was given a general orientation and introduced to all the animals in residence at Wildtracks. Volunteers are matched with the animals they care for by interest, personality, and length of stay.
I was matched with the “Front Spider Monkeys”: Rafiki, Charlie and the pair Frisky and Frolic. They are all adult spider monkeys, three males and one female. Everyone except Rafiki will be released into the wild when they are ready. Rafiki has a severe spinal scoliosis and cannot fend for himself so he will remain at Wildtracks.
My special chore aside from cleaning and feeding these four monkeys is to socialize both Charlie and Rafiki. It is perfect for me because it is hard for me to not touch and talk to monkeys. I love them all, but Charlie is special.
Charlie has intense eyes and white markings on his face that make him look like he is always smiling. He had a terrible life prior to Wildtracks - he was kept chained to a peccary pen and sustained two severe bites that got severely infected. Despite what must have been extremely painful, he allowed Paul to treat his wounds daily. Charlie loves being around people.
Every day I spend time sitting with him and telling him stories about the jungle, freedom and beautiful lady monkeys. The enclosure mesh separates Charlie and me because adult spider monkeys can be unpredictable, but this doesn’t stop us from feeling intensely connected. He holds onto my hands or my shoulders and tries to get as close to me as possible by pushing out his chest.
Charlie vocalizes with me when he becomes excited. At times I feel Charlie can look into my soul. He touches my heart. I have been rewarded by having Charlie become less anxious when I am around. He looks more comfortable and doesn’t startle as easily.
After one month with Charlie it will be very hard to leave him. I think the separation will be difficult for both of us. I know he will be given another volunteer to care for him in my place. I know they, too, will fall in love with Charlie and help him continue with his rehabilitation.
Charlie makes me believe that he will not forget me, but that may just be what I want to believe. I know I will never forget Charlie. Caring for him and understanding the struggles he has already overcome, and the struggles he has ahead of him, will keep Charlie in my heart and my mind forever.
I hope to return to find Charlie released and happy in a troop he can share his love with.
To read more of Caryn’s Belize adventures visit her blog: Belizeanatheart.com
For more about Wildtracks Rehabilitation center visit: www.wildtracksbelize.org