Last week was a particularly busy week at La Ceiba.
It all started with the visit of the vet on Sunday. He was bringing back a small parrot that had to go to the clinic and he took the chance to visit all the animals that we had at the pre-release station.
When I found him, he had a smile in his face. “The animals look good!”- he said. “I think that some of them are ready to be released- he said. You are taking so good care of the animals at La Ceiba that I am going to bring you new more” – he added.
I do not know if he was planning to bring new animals to the pre-release station anyways, but it felt super good that he acknowledged that we were doing a good job!
So, on Monday we started the week releasing some animals. The Jaguar Rescue Center uses a soft release approach (link to the blog), which basically means that the animals are guaranteed food and shelter for some days, should they stay around. It was fascinating to see how they react. We released, for example, two squirrels. One of them, started climbing up a super high tree until he arrived to the very, very top. We could hear his exciting chirps from below. The other one, just run in the opposite direction, mostly on lower bushes and trees, and staying relatively close by to the cages. We stayed observing them for a while. The first one just went up and down the trees several times, making very exciting chirps, exploring this new world that he just got to see from behind the fences. The second one, continued running through lower branches, but getting farther and farther away from the cages….until it was finally gone. For good.
After the releases, we had to prepare the cages for the newcomers: an olingo, a chachalaca, and five opossums. The cages needed to be disinfected, new shelters installed (each species has different requirements in terms of sleeping quarters) and new leaves ad enrichments added. So Monday went preparing for the new arrivals the next day.
And so they came. Or better said, I had to pick them up at the Center and bring them to La Ceiba. That was also another interesting part. All animals that leave the center for the pre-release station are being weighted and chipped and a transfer note prepared. The transfer note contains the data of the animal for the files at the release station: the species, gender, age, cause of rescue, weight on the day it was rescued and on the day that is transferred to the pre-released station, feeding instructions and any other detail that is important to know (for example, scars or wounds that need to be monitored). And that day, I helped the vet in preparing those notes, weighting the animals and holding them while he put the chip.
And then, off we went. A car full of cages. Towards their new home.
Setting the new animals in the new home is also a busy time. The animals need to be monitored, make sure that they eat and generally adapt to the new environment. With the ones that are alone in their cage is relatively simple. Below you can see the cute olingo exploring the new home.
The complicated bit is when a new animal is introduced in a cage where there is already an animal or several. Hierarchies need to be re-established and the new animals need to be “marked” by the dominant ones. This means basically a dirty fight….or two. Both the vet and the manager at the station were expecting this to happen with one of the animals that I was bringing to the pre-release station. A juvenile chachalaca, which we were supposed to introduce in the same cage as another adult chachalaca that had been for some time at the pre-release station. Apparently chachalacas are very dominant and territorial. They are also very social, they always go in groups so the idea of the vet was to try to see if these two would bond, so they could be released together as a mini-group.
So, my task that first day and the remaining week has been to observe them. The first day it went horribly wrong. As expected, the adult chachalaca went after the newcomer with all the artillery. It tossed the baby chachalaca to the floor, cornered her, jumped on her and stating hitting her with the beak. I had to intervene and separate them. For almost half a day the baby chachalaca didn’t move from the corner on the floor. She was far too scared. So we had to help her again to a higher branch, and start the whole process again, this time not allowing the large one to get close to her. That seemed to work. There have been no more fights and, after a week, they are able to eat on the same plate and roost at the same height in the cage (the dominant tends to stay higher to be able to attack). So, it seems that they are indeed bonding and we will have a group to release!
The cherry on the cake this week was a release of a sloth, also in La Ceiba. This time a hard release, since the animal had hardly been in the center. What it was so special about this release is that we (Frank and I) did it on our own, just the two of us.