This past week was filled with cleaning, feeding, and lots of hard work, but also lots of interesting work and fun. I was introduced to a couple of projects that the clinic does that I hadn't done on my first week, since I was just getting settled in. One of these projects is training the three white-faced capuchins in the sanctuary. When the vet staff needs to conduct their physical exams, they have to tranquilize the monkeys with a dart gun (believe me, it's not safe for the monkey or for the humans working with them if they're not tranquilized). The monkeys can only be tranquilized in the shift cage, a small cage inside of the large one that can be closed off from the large cage with a small door. However, capuchin monkeys are naturally very smart, so they've realized that if they want to avoid being darted, they just need to avoid the shift cage. One monkey in particular named Hector usually can't be found anywhere near the shift cage if humans are around, which could potentially cause problems when he needs medical attention. Therefore, the vet staff has started training the monkeys in the hopes that they can train Hector and all the monkeys to be more comfortable around the shift cage. Twice a day, we go out to their cage carrying treats (dried mealworms, sunflower seeds, and marshmallows) and sticks with a colorful orb on the end. They are trained to touch the colorful orb when they hear the word "touch", and they are then rewarded with a small treat. When training, we have to be very sensitive of the monkey power dynamics and ensure that no one gets upset. Hugo is the dominant monkey, and she often steals food from Moncho, the baby monkey, and Hector, the nervous monkey who avoids the shift cage. When Hector touches the target and has his reward stolen, he gets upset and screams while loudly shaking the cage. This upsets the other monkeys, and the training session is a lot less productive. Therefore, when training, we always have two trainers: one to occupy Hugo, and one to train Hector and Moncho. So far, training has been going well and all of the monkeys easily touch the orb on command. However, only Hugo and Moncho will go into the shift cage, so we're going to have to keep working with Hector. When training, we sometimes go into the shift cage ourselves to get the capuchins used to different scenarios when training. All the trainers are completely safe inside the shift cage, but the monkeys can stick their hands in through the bars, which they can't do when the trainers are standing outside the large cage. The capuchins, curious as they are, love to reach through the bars and grab trainers' hair! Sometimes they are just trying to smell it, but other times they pull and pull on it. It's hard to remain constantly vigilant while training, and if you get even a little too close to the edge of the cage, you soon will feel a little monkey paw reaching in to wreak havoc.
The other project that I was introduced to is performing necropsies on the dead animals. If any animal dies in rehabilitation or is brought to KSTR dead, the vet staff performs a necropsy to determine the cause of death. This is useful when an animal dies in rehabilitation because it allows us to see if it was disease, trauma, or another cause, and we work our hardest to ensure that similar deaths don't occur in the future. When an animal is brought in dead, the vets still do a necropsy for several reasons. It allows the vets to practice, and gives the vet staff an idea of what is causing deaths of local wildlife, whether they were caught by a predator or if there is a disease going around that we need to be aware of. Last week, we received a jungle chicken that had died, most likely after it was caught by a dog. It was very interesting to watch the vet examine all external and internal organs, and we eventually discovered several tooth puncture wounds in the liver that had caused its demise. This next week, we will also be doing a necropsy on a fledgling smooth-billed ani that died. It was the first intake I'd seen here, and the little bird had been caught by a cat and wounded on its wing. We dressed its wounds and gave it all necessary fluids and medications, but it passed away within a few hours. Necropsies are very interesting, but they are also a reminder that wildlife rehabilitation isn't always about being around cute, cuddly animals. Many of the animals simply don't make it, but accepting this fact lets us move forward and become more effective in the future.
In last week's creature feature, I talked about the releasing of Patty and Speedy, the two-toed sloths. We have been tracking Patty for a week to ensure that she is performing normal sloth behaviors, and for several days she was acting normally: sleeping during the day, climbing up in trees to forage, avoiding humans. However, yesterday she had to be recaptured and brought back to rehabilitation. When she was being observed in the morning, she climbed out onto a branch that was too thin and unstable to support her weight. She fell to the forest floor, then frantically crawled back up a nearby tree. Sloths in the wild are usually able to tell which branches won't support their weight, and they rarely, if ever, fall to the ground. For obvious reasons, we were concerned not only that she had fallen, but also that she might have been injured from her tumble. However, after she climbed up the tree again, she crossed a narrow branch and stranded herself in a tree that was covered in thorns. She was still too high for us to reach, and was now in quite a predicament and extremely stressed. Several staff members of KSTR were watching her, hoping to coax her down so we could recapture her. Dani, the head of the nursery who raised Patty and had been the one to release her, remained in the forest through lunch, trying everything she could to get her down. Eventually, others helped her bend a small tree close enough for Patty to grab, which was then bent closer to the ground so that Patty could be captured. The vet staff conducted a brief physical exam to check for bruises or broken bones, and when we found neither, Patty was placed back into a rehabilitation cage. A more thorough physical will be given on Monday, and we will evaluate why she wasn’t able to avoid unsound branches. The KSTR staff was sorry to see her back in rehabilitation, but we were all glad that she was being tracked so that we could intervene when she was in danger.
As I mentioned, this past week was a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun! Thursday, the rehabilitation interns took a day off to go out on the Catamaran, a medium sized boat that takes groups of people through the waters off of Manuel Antonio National Park for whale watching, snorkeling, and cocktails. The company, Sunset Sails, is owned by a local family who is close friends with the Operational Director of KSTR. We started out from the marina in Quepos, and as the boat pulled away from shore, you could see the tall mountains shrouded in clouds in the distance, the Pacific Ocean stretching off into the horizon, and the tall, green islands of Manuel Antonio National Park surrounding us.
After about 20 minutes, we were able to see a spout of water in the distance, and the long, thin pectoral fin of a humpback whale broke through the surface, looking like it was waving to us. The Catamaran motored over to where the whales had been sighted, and after several minutes of expectant waiting, we saw a big female humpback breach out of the water and crash down into the ocean! Seeing the size and beauty of wild whales for the first time was an experience I'll never forget. Additionally, the people running Sunset Sails were very respectful of the animals, and kept their distance from the breaching whale. They explained to the tour guests that if boats follow the whales too closely, the whales will leave after a couple of days, instead of staying for several weeks and giving birth to their calves in the waters of the national park as they have been doing for hundreds of years. The guides also explained that during the rainy season, the whale watching is fantastic, but the water is a little bit murkier for snorkeling. They stressed that this was all part of the balance of the local ecosystem, that the rainy and dry seasons are both necessary to keep the area as beautiful as it is. It was fantastic to see wildlife tourism done right, not harassing or chasing the animals, and I have a lot of respect for the way that the tour guides sought to teach tourists about the local environment, not trying to force the environment to suit human needs.
The Kids Saving the Rainforest staff