Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Animal rescue in the Ecuadorian Amazon at Merazonia Animal Rescue Center

I had the privilege of spending much of last year working with wildlife at Merazonia Animal Rescue Center in Mera, Ecuador. Here's what I did...

Held a baby spider monkey who got electrocuted and is now missing one arm and a tail. The vets at Merazonia treated him and saved his life and now he is recovering there. In the meantime he needs lots of exercise, attention, and love.

Baby spider monkey comes for a cuddle
Taking Spidee out for a jungle jaunt

The center was full of birds that had been confiscated as pets in bad conditions. Macaws, parrots and parakeets were a pleasure to work with and would allow me to chat with them all day long. Some even answered back!

Head master at the center

Barbosa, the pirate bird. He would spend the day nuzzled into your shirt while you cleaned his cage. I liked to think he was a sneaky old-man-bird who used his disability to get into girls' clothing. He he.

Another orange-cheeked parakeet

These parakeets were so cute, and flocked around you during feeding time

This one liked to ride on my head while I was cleaning

Playful blue-headed parrot

Feeding abandoned blue-headed parrot babies

Chestnut-fronted macaw

This bird talked A LOT, and said some amazing things. He would greet me with Buenos Dias and continue talking about housekeeping chores while chuckling to himself throughout the day.

One of my favorite parrots - very sweet and would make cute chirping sounds when you entered his cage

A cute but unwelcome visitor to the bird cages, this wild tamarin monkey is not much bigger than the size of your hand and likes to steal bananas out of the aviaries

One of my favorite residents of the center was Miss Grautin, a rainforest rodent who was tamed as a baby and ran up for pets n cuddles upon entering her cage. Her favorite food was large fruit seeds with some pulp left on.

Petting Miss Grautin while greeting the Blue and Gold Macaw

Beautiful Blue-Headed Parrot

Miss Grautin says HI!

It's a privilege to work with these endangered tropical wildlife species

A Red Howler Monkey that was being rehabilitated for reintroduction was a great animal to see up close and personally. A beautiful yet fickle animal, she has been known to bite and pull hair in the past. I was very careful while meandering her cage to place food in difficult-to-reach places. I suddenly felt something large land on my back and realized she had jumped there. I was acutely aware of my very-vulnerable jugular as I made slow movements toward her feeding area. I stayed quiet and didn't panic, therefore keeping her calm as I grabbed a piece of food and lured her off my back and onto a large tree limb in her cage. She fell for the bribe and jumped off my back to take the food. I quickly finished and got out of there, happy to be attack-free.

Little Red Howler Monkey just waiting to get back out into the wild

She could have killed me by tearing out my jugular, but she didn't. :) 

One night we reintroduced a new kinkajou in with the rest of the kinkajous, and I was put on watch duty to see how they would react to each other. I sat out with my candle and headlamp and watched the kinkajous' antics. They are very nocturnal and sleep all day but hop and climb around all night. I knew the kinkajous were very curious and, though they get a bad rep at the center because of how ferocious they are during the day (when woken up - who wouldn't be?!), they are really sweet after a full day's rest.

Making a connection with a curious kinkajou

I love my job

And then there are the capuchins. The center is home to many types. Some are docile, some are vicious, and they are all very smart. When fed onion pieces, they take the onion and rub it all over their bodies before consuming it. They do this to fend off pesky mosquitoes. In the wild they do this with anything that stinks, because apparently that keeps the bugs away. I heard about a time when a large blue morpho butterfly flew past the capuchin cage and was captured by one of the monkeys. He proceeded to tear the wings off and rub the blue glittery dust all over his body. In the words of my fellow volunteer, "he looked like he was going to the disco!"

Fights between capuchin groups can be deadly. Even certain volunteers aggravate the capuchins for no apparent reason, and those volunteers aren't allowed to work in the cages (we do not work with the monkeys - rather they are caged off in separate cages while other cages are being cleaned). The monkeys sometimes grab a wad of volunteers' hair and pull it out. One grabbed my t-shirt and tore a piece off of it. If you ignore the monkeys and don't do anything to aggravate them, they are fine to work around.

There was a baby capuchin in quarantine that was so cute. He would watch me and jump around the cage, playing with and taunting me - but when I approached the cage he would immediately run to his mother and hide under her.

Momma and baby brown capuchins

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Merazonia Animal Rescue Center, and will be back again. This was my second volunteer visit to the center, and I plan on spending a lot of time at my own eventual rescue center in the Ecuadorian Amazon some day.

"In all regards, you must love what you do."

Monday, November 11, 2013

One Small Step for Business, One Giant Leap for green coffee company's promise to the planet

Photo by Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
In a world that's more than ready for businesses to start reducing their carbon footprints and making the move toward being green, one office coffee company is doing just that. UK-based Office Coffee Company offers a wide variety of organic, fair-trade, Rainforest Alliance certified coffees, teas and hot chocolates, as well as eco-friendly cups, sustainably harvested wooden coffee stirrers, and environmentally friendly office coffee machines. The Office Coffee Company has won the Eden Project and Planet First's Planet Mark for Business certification, which means they are making a real and quantifiable effort to help the environment. They are committed to reducing their carbon emissions every year. Should you wish to become a client, they will even sit down with you and provide a unique carbon assessment that will explain the amount of rainforest trees you will save and carbon dioxide retained by drinking their Cool Earth coffee products. 

Photo courtesy of Cool Earth
Cool Earth is an environmental charity dedicated to the protection of the Amazon rainforest. The Office Coffee Company works in conjuction with Cool Earth to help protect the Earth's resources. Cool Earth's projects are all community-led and sustainable, and offer local people alternative ways of living, without logging. Cool Earth works with local partners in Peru, Brazil and Ecuador to protect biodiversity, carbon and communities by halting the destruction of the world's most endangered habitats. Cool Earth coffee is an eco-coffee launched in 2010 by designer and environmental campaigner Vivienne Westwood, in order to appeal to the nation's coffee drinkers, and harness their love of coffee to save endangered tropical forests. 

Photo: The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Tropical rainforests make up the most biodiverse habitat on the planet. That means most of the world's plant, animal and insect species are found there. Destruction of the Earth's rainforests continues at an alarming rate. Loggers, land-grabbers, soy farmers, and cattle ranchers make up the majority of those destroying the forest today. We have lost thousands of species due to this destruction - some we never even had a chance to identify. There are so many plant, animal, bacterial and other species in the tropics that are unidentified, and it is important to keep the Earth's forests intact so that these species can be discovered and studied for their properties (that could be life-saving in the case of plant-based medicines and cures for diseases) and the roles they play for the planet. Every species works together to create self-sustaining ecosystems. Disrupting just one species in an ecosystem could cause the whole thing to collapse. Cutting forests affects the forest's ability to absorb carbon. Rainforests act as carbon sinks for the planet, offsetting the atmospheric buildup of carbon from fossil fuels. This carbon absorption is highly dependent on tree diversity. With disappearance of the forest and carbon absorption hindered, our health and our lives are affected.  

The Office Coffee Company and other businesses who support rainforest conservation efforts are doing their
part to protect this valuable resources. Not only does Office Coffee Company support the efforts of Cool Earth, they also highlight their fair-trade and Rainforest Alliance certified products. Choosing fair-trade coffee ensures that your daily cup originated in decent working conditions, fair prices, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for coffee farmers. The Rainforest Alliance certification means that the fair-trade coffee is grown more sustainably than other coffee and helps protect the natural diversity of tropical habitat. And organic product ensures that the use of harmful and destructive chemicals that seep into the ground and river systems and poison habitats was not used on the coffee farms.

The Office Coffee Company is hoping to turn the nation's office coffee drinkers into rainforest rescuers, one delicious cup at a time. If you would like to be a part of these efforts, check out Office Coffee Company's website by clicking here

We are proud to be working with the Office Coffee Company which enables everyone during their daily routine at work to do something good and have a positive impact on the work we do protecting the rainforest and keeping carbon where it belongs.
You can support the efforts of rainforest conservation organizations and learn more by visiting the following websites:

The Rainforest Alliance
Cool Earth
Rainforest Action Network
The Nature Conservancy's Rainforest Campaign
Greenpeace's Save the Amazon Campaign


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Antelope Island State Park - best place for sunsets in all of Utah

If you've never been to Antelope Island State Park in Syracuse, Utah, then you are missing out on a wonderful wildlife and nature viewing experience. Antelope Island is a preserve made up of a desert shrub and grassland island surrounded by the scenic Great Salt Lake. Standing on the shore of the Great Salt Lake is like standing on the coast of an ocean. Tiny islands dot the view and the lake goes on as far as the eye can see.

Lone Pronghorn
On the island you can see all kinds of wildlife, including pronghorn, bighorn sheep, American bison, porcupines, badgers, coyotes, bobcats, owls, and millions of waterfowl. The Great Salt Lake is an important rest and nesting stop for birds migrating through the Western United States.

Looking to the North from the rocky cliffs at my favorite sunset spot
This all adds up to a beautiful and scenic day at the "beach". Although camping is allowed at a campground on the island so you can extend your stay. The entrance fee to visit the island is $10 per vehicle, and just past the entrance you will drive out on a long causeway where you will see shorebirds galore. I've often seen owls on this causeway in the evenings. My favorite spot to watch the beautiful Utah sunsets is just past the marina to the right, where you will walk a small path onto rocky cliffs facing egg island (full of noisy birds that you can just hear if you listen closely and face the sound) and the setting sun.

Sunset beginning
Sunset with flocks of birds
Lovers' sunset
Natural sunset with no need for photo editing!
The orb spider, an unfortunate occurrence
When the orb spider infestation hits Antelope Island (I've only experienced it twice in all my visits out to the Island) it is unfortunately nearly impossible to walk around and get to the sunset spots, unless millions of silver dollar-sized spiders all running around their webs at the same time in every direction doesn't bother you. I attempted to rebel against the spiders and walk onto the cliffs anyway, but not very soon into my walk along the path did I turn around with a shudder and escape back to the car as quickly as possible. It may be advisable to bring along a head net on your visit, as during certain times of year the sand flies are too obnoxious to let you out of your car. I have left the island once with a circle of red welts around my face and on my scalp, courtesy of the sand flies. This is also a rare occurrence, only happening once in all my time there.

Pronghorn pals
My favorite animals to see on the island are the Pronghorn. These antelope-type creatures are plentiful, walk around in sometimes very large herds, and can be seen close-up with a good pair of binoculars. They are normally a bit skittish and wary of people. On my last trip to the island, I walked up on a giant porcupine attempting to get comfortable in a small bushy tree. The porcupine didn't even notice me as it focused on walking around the tree without falling out of it. I also caught a coyote sneaking around the shoreline, and some partridges (my first time seeing them in the wild) hiding behind a group of stones. If you visit the island at the right time, you will be able to see burrowing owls nesting. These funny owls are entertaining with their head bobbing and dancing maneuvers, but as of yet I have not been able to find and photograph them. I did happen to see a large barn owl one evening while driving up to the shore. It took off from one of the covered picnic table setups near the campground. As I followed it to try and photograph it, another flew out in front of me. As I tried photographing that one, yet another flew from the same place. I was not able to get a good picture because it was getting dark and they were too fast, but there ended up being 7 owls living above the picnic tables. If only I had gone in knowing that.
Best example of camouflage, ever
Horned Lark, common on the island
Bison snoozing
Majestic bison
Porcupine playin in a tree
And if you have extra time, just past Antelope Island is the Bear River Migratory Bird Reserve. This is a free preserve containing a large body of fresh water where pelicans, avocets, ibis, herons and other shore birds congregate to fish. This is a driving tour, but if you get out of your car at certain spots it feels as though you could be somewhere in Africa.

Pelicans and Ibis and plovers, oh my!
American Avocet
Hungry ibis
More ibis