Travel Wildlife

My Ecuador animal rescue centre diaries Vol 2

Animal Madness Vol 2

Let’s continue our wander through the animals of the rescue centre, starting with the creatures that I found the most menacing and that was the parrots.

I genuinely found the parrots to be more fucked up than the capuchins at times, they had all been abused so they had good reason to despise people (which I really felt like they did). I know this sounds strange but I was attacked on several occasions and while I don’t know if anyone else has had similar experiences, I am sure they are cleverer than they appear. 

For example, I was cleaning out one of the cages with Steph and the parrots went quiet and huddled together watching me apart from one which sat separately to the rest. As soon as I turned my back to scoop up some of their faeces this lone bird swooped down on me, stuck its beak into my arm and twisted. They have an iron grip and it was difficult to get it to let go so I whacked it with my trowel and it released its beakful of skin. From then on we had to have one person on guard to watch them and it always worried me when they were silent. I also had a scarlet macaw pounce on me in another cage but luckily it couldn’t get a purchase on my waterproof coat and slid right off me. 

All of the invasive parakeets that we have the UK and in some European countries actually come from quite a small area in South America. Indeed the monk parakeet is one of the most invasive bird species in the world as so many of them are kept as pets only to escape or be released. Personally, I love parakeets as seeing them in my local park brightens up my day but I realise that isn’t that helpful to science or resident bird populations. 

We also had a free-range blue and yellow macaw which was unable to fly due to clipped wings and was supposed to live in a designated tree. However, it would adeptly climb down so that it could daily havoc everywhere it went. His inability to get off the ground was of no hindrance as his favourite thing to do was try to bite people’s toes. He was more than capable of removing them from your foot with his powerful beak. This created the ludicrous situation where he would follow you in the sleeping quarters and take out chunks out of the bottom of the door while you figured out your escape or you then had to wait for him to give up and leave. 

We had an interesting situation when we had a male volunteer called Rob who was very good looking and all the rest of the volunteers were girls. Instead of the women going after him it was, in fact, the macaw who would chase him all around the centre. The macaw would even follow him to the remotest cages where he would never normally bother to go. It was made even more farcical by the possessiveness of this feathered stalker who would launch an attack on anyone who went near him. I have no explanation of this other than the parrot fancied Rob and wanted a piece of him. 

The macaw could even have been female as I know bugger all about sexing scary macaws and wasn’t about to find out and lose a finger in the process (I was told he was a male by the Ecuadorians who probably made it up because he was blue). He could even have seen himself as a human as he was raised with them which could potentially explain this human-like behaviour. Whatever the reason it was actually pretty funny and we were more than happy to eschew our friendship with Rob so that we could avoid the blue and yellow nightmare.

The parrots weren’t the only birds with sass, as the toucan could also give and good as it got. I’m not sure if it was particularly aggressive or just sick of living with a jungle turkey – or both. I have no idea why the toucan and the guan lived together but I never saw them fight, it was probably just to save cage space. The toucan had a slightly damaged beak but that did not stop him from trying to damage you.

The centre’s toucan was blue around the eye with a yellow and blue beak so different from the most commonly seen toco toucan that is black and white with orange around the eyes and a bright orange beak. Ours was a yellow-ridged toucan which is a subspecies of the channel-billed toucan. Toucans mainly eat fruit which is what we fed him but they also eat eggs and small critters. Both parents raise their young which leave the nest after 40-50 days.

Their bills are made of keratin which is the same material as human hair and rhino horn. Toucan numbers are threatened by habitat loss and they are hunted for their feathers and the pet trade. They are unfortunately easy to catch as they are not the best fliers. As they live in social groups it is probably for the best that he has a guan as his friend instead of being totally alone. 

Guans are quite sociable birds and they like to live in trees, there are quite a few species but I have no idea what this one was, the poor bugger was always outshone by its colourful companion. A few of them are listed as near-threatened due to habitat loss and small ranges of habitat.

Other animals that we had with ongoing health problems were a tortoise with a fungal infection on its shell, a blind parrot (the only one that wasn’t after a fight or couldn’t find you if it was) and a kinkajou with brain damage.

The kinkajou had once been a social animal until it was bitten on the head by one of its cage mates and suffered from permanent brain damage as a result. What was once a relatively harmless furry tree dweller had turned into a creature that was bizarrely terrifying for its diminutive size. It used to make eerie hissing noises whilst creeping around its cage willing to attack anything and anyone. It would have made an interesting study on the effects of brain trauma in animals, but then again I think the majority of the animals would have made interesting case studies.

The kinkajou is also known as a ‘honey bear’ as it likes to lick honey with its long tongue. It is related to the racoon so it is not a primate even though I think it looks a bit like a lemur. Kinkajous are nocturnal as well as sociable animals that form family groups in the trees and the females only give birth to a single infant every year. They are listed as of ‘least concern’ by the IUCN so there are currently no concerns about there survival.

However,  they are hunted for their meat and their fur is used to make saddles and wallets amongst other things. They are kept as pets which is how this one ended up here. They are pretty docile and sleep in the day as well as being occasionally aggressive so I would question how they would make anyone a good pet. But then I would say that about all the animals at the rescue centre to be honest. 

This brings us on to the two coatimundis, another elusive Amazonian mammal that people keep as pets for no discernible reason. Just get a fucking dog. They lived separately, one at the top end and one at the bottom end of the centre.

The top end coati was unfortunate enough to live near the brain-damaged kinkajou but he was lovely and friendly. He was so overly friendly that we had to put him in a trap cage in order to clean his pen. I was trying to lock him in after throwing some papaya in there when I ran into a tree stump and knocked my kneecap out. I quickly popped it back into place before I lost my nerve but because I’d screamed on impact everyone turned up to see what the commotion was all about. I think even the coati was a bit taken aback.

The bottom end coati was an entirely different story. This one had a larger cage but poor health meant that it was difficult to get her to eat. I resorted to only giving her papaya as that’s the only thing she would eat that was soft enough for her to digest. Not long after I left her internal organs failed completely and she died.

Although coatis are commonly kept as pets although their temperament does not lend itself to being great. They are very scratchy and snuffley as well as being quite high energy and I personally would not want one digging up my carpet and trying to climb up everything. It basically has the worst qualities of both dogs and cats combined.

They are affected by the destruction of their habitat but they are versatile in that they inhabit different environments. The females build nests on rocky ridges or in trees and have 3-7 very cute babies that run around with their tails in the air whilst avoiding getting eaten by capuchin monkeys.

An interesting behaviour is that they cover their fur with tree resin but it is not known whether this works as an insect repellent, fungicide or some form of scent-marking. Coatis form gregarious social groups except for older males that are solitary. I did hope that our coatis weren’t lonely by themselves.

But that’s just the animals, now onto the people, who were the real nightmare.

A frustrating element of the job was working with the local family who couldn’t give a shit about the animals, they were in many ways the Ecuadorian equivalent of a British family only interested in money, exploiting the animals and not doing any hard work whatsoever.

It was because of them that the previous centre manager had ended up having to leave. When she had left they had ransacked the centre and taken the computer, printer, TV, DVD player and all the kitchen appliances which meant that we had to replace them.

One of the sons of the family lived at the top of the hill next to the sanctuary so that he could be on hand to help out and the rest of the family lived at the bottom. They earned their money from renting out the land to the owner of the centre who had another rescue centre close to Quito.

The purpose of having the centre in the rainforest was that it was the natural habitat of many of the rescued animals whereas the North was higher altitude and would make them withdrawn as it was too cold for them. The family were all scared of the animals and had reportedly sold some of the cuter rescue animals as pets for collectors which somehow completely defeated the point of the whole operation.

The son was called Carlos and he would only turn up to work when he felt like it which was very rarely. The family ran a small bar on their porch so he was often drunk and had drunken friends in his house which was an obvious safety issue for the mainly female volunteers. But they weren’t the only danger lurking in the forest.

One night when it was pitch black outside a Swiss man turned up out of nowhere saying that he knew the previous manager and was asking about the animals. He was behaving very strangely and after he left the premises his car was at the bottom of the hill for a long time. 

As we were only a small group of three girls at the time it scared the crap out of us as Carlos was completely useless at providing security whatsoever. In the end, the owner of the centre called the police so we reported it, the Swiss man never came back which was a great relief to us.

The family dogs used to bark incessantly so you had no idea if it was friend or foe or simply nocturnal forest animals that were the reason behind this frequent cacophony of noise.  

I did love the dogs despite their annoying barking. I felt sorry for them as they were not cared for well by the family, which isn’t a great advertisement for the centre. There were a few dogs but the main ones that sheltered up at the rescue centre were Negro, Capalina and Oso. 

Catalina was pregnant when we started at the rescue centre but she sadly miscarried, possibly due to stress and poor diet. This was probably for the best as she’d already had several puppies before and it wasn’t fair to her. Helen treated Negro for fleas and ringworm and he became quite a handsome fellow once his hair grew back. 

Unfortunately, some of the dogs would fight with Oso as he was only a puppy and the newest member of the pack. Oso means bear in Spanish and he was the least bearlike creature ever, he was usually whining and hungry. Helen often had to tend to his fight wounds, in the end, he stopped coming up to avoid Negro but we would feed him whenever we could.

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