Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Playing Dr Doolittle.



8 to ? Mar, 2009 - Cañas (Las Pumas), Costa Rica

This is our first partial post. Since we are going to be here for another week or two, we better not have anyone fretting.

We have spent well over a week now, at Rescue Centre Las Pumas (Centro de Rescate Las Pumas), near Cañas. We are volunteers, here, working with all sorts of animals. Las Pumas is a rescue centre that works with animals that are injured, or have been (illegally) kept as pets. The intention is for as many animals as possible to be released in to the wild, again. These animals are kept in quarantine, so they do not become too accustomed to human contact. However, some animals have injuries they cannot recover from, or they cannot learn survival skills, or they are too used too being around people. These animals cannot be released and become permanent residents. These are the animals that we work and interact with.

We do all sorts of things, some less exciting than others. We have done jobs like sweeping paths and clearing watering canals, removing dead branches, and cataloguing books - favourites from the library include “Solar Water Heaters in Nepal” and “Soil Conservation in Ethiopia”. But we do lots of fun things too. Environment enrichment in particular - making things to mentally stimulate the animals. And we both love showing off the place by giving tours, in English or Spanish. For a French group, today, though, we had to rely on their tour guide to act as an interpreter.


Tour Guide Jo
Tour Guide Jo
Leading tours is one of the enjoyable tasks we get to perform at Las Pumas Rescue Centre.


Cataloguing Books
Cataloguing Books
At first, quite an overwhelming job.



As I said, though, the environment enrichment is a fun area to get involved in. The handful of staff here have plenty of necessary work to complete, and making games can be time consuming, so they rely on volunteers a fair bit to help in this sort of area. We made an ice block out of fish and dry dog food for Frankie the otter, who just loved rolling around with it in the water as it melted and he could get to bits and pieces. We made some toys out of coconuts and chicken feathers and grass, for the smaller cats (ocelots and margays). A few drops of cheap essence, and they come down, nose twitching, to discover what has been introduced to the enclosure. Soon, they rub all over the coconut, and roll around with blissful expressions on their faces. More sophisticated puzzles are required for the monkeys. We have some ice blocks with feathers sticking out, for the pumas to play with in their swimming hole, and we'll hopefully give those toys to them tomorrow. We have prepared a coconut ball with holes, and dry dog food inside, for the foxes. On hot days, we shower the parrots with a hose, which they absolutely love. All of this is categorised as environment enrichment.


Frankie Enjoys A Treat
Frankie Enjoys A Treat
On hot days, we give many of the animals treats made with ice. Frankie, a river otter, crunches through some fish which has been frozen in to a block of ice with some dry dog food.


Environment Enrichment
Environment Enrichment
Well, at first we were going to make a fake bird, but decided it wasn't going to fool anybody. In the end, the varying textures of grass, feathers, and palm branches, all stuck in a coconut, and scented with some essence, is what we ended up creating for the ocelot and margays.


Environment Enrichment In Action
Environment Enrichment In Action
One of the margays seems to love the scented coconut thingy with feathers that we gave her to play with.


Romo Plays
Romo Plays
Romo the margay plays with another of the toy we made.


Puma Toys
Puma Toys
Ice, with some blood and feathers. These are for Samson and Delilah, two pumas, to play with in their pool.


A Bloody Feathered Ice-Treat For Sansón
A Bloody Feathered Ice-Treat For Sansón
Both Sansón and Dalila, pumas, really seemed to enjoy the toys we made for them – water with a trace of blood, and feathers. Sansón was content to play with it whole, biting at the feathers, while Dalila made a real effort to pull all the feathers out.


A Fox Explores a New Toy
A Fox Explores a New Toy
A simple toy – a coconut, with holes, with some dry food inside. Play with the ball, collect the food.


Monkeys Need More Complex Toys
Monkeys Need More Complex Toys
A cardboard tube with sticks holding the fruit inside, provides quite a bit of stimulation for the monkeys.



The best thing about staying in the centre is the opportunities to walk around at varying times. Dusk or dawn is great as the nocturnal animals are up and about, and even the diurnal animals are more active, avoiding the heat of the day (we get to the high 30's most days). We have even walked around in the middle of the night. While this can be fascinating in total darkness, using our torches to look for the animals in their favourite spots, it is even better when the moon is out. Without torches, and observing the animals by the limited lunar light. The margays with eyes wide open, almost half the size of their faces, are very curious at night, as is Rosita the ocelot. Rosita explores things outside of the wire, reaching out as far as she can, never aggressively, but that doesn't mean the claws don't hurt if they accidentally catch your skin, does it Jo. The jaguars are not so active at night, but the pumas are usually up for a bit of stimulation. It is a rare night walk when we are not scratching at least one of the pumas behind the ears or even on the nose. They seem to know us quite well even in the little time we have been here, and usually respond to our calls. Night walks always find the foxes quite alert and active, climbing the fences of their enclosure as we approach, and nuzzling against our hands when we arrive, tongues darting through gaps in the wire to strengthen the bond with us.


Give Me Some Attention
Give Me Some Attention
A cute nose of a grey fox poking through the fence.


Headbutt
Headbutt
Rosita the ocelot headbutts my hand.


Frankie Sits Still For A Change
Frankie Sits Still For A Change
But only because he is eating!


A Fox Tasting My Hand
A Fox Tasting My Hand
One of the two grey foxes. They both like to lick hands through the fence of their enclosure.


Jo and Sansón
Jo and Sansón
Another special moment with one of the pumas.



We have to treat all the animals with respect, of course, remembering that they are still wild. Not all of the animals enjoy that level of contact, and while the jaguars don't mind a bit of verbal interaction, touching them is a definite no-no. Still, it is pretty cool when they come and sit opposite you, like they really appreciate you being there, and they are just happy to hang out with you.

Carmen, the biologist, actually views the night walks as an extension of environment enrichment, and not only doesn't mind, but actively encourages it. It is great for the animals to be stimulated in non-threatening ways at any time, as it provides variety and encourages them to use all their senses at different times and in different conditions.

A standard visit here would take you past the toucans, parrots, and macaws, before meeting the first cats. Margays are the most common cat here, mainly from people who have attempted to keep them as pets, and failed. Margays are nocturnal tree-dwellers. Bébé, Romo, Canela, Suzi, Ciega, and Roñia are kept in 5 enclosures (Ciega and Roñia share). At least one or two of these six might be up during the day, meaning that visitors will get to see a margay, even if the rest of them are asleep in boxes mounted high in the trees. On the way around, we cannot miss Samson and Delilah, 3-year old pumas. Samson usually comes when called, day or night, so is quite a hit with visitors. Julieta, a much older puma, is housed separately, and while aloof during the day, she is very social at night. Rosita the ocelot doesn't mind some interaction, even a bit of contact, but her curiosity ensures you stay on your guard for the occasional paw reaching out. Frankie the otter lives in a pool that is partly in the public area, and partly adjacent to the volunteers house. He is always up for a chatter and a play, and loves being the centre of attention, instantly elevating himself to most photographed animal. Foxy and Sebastian, the grey foxes, have an interesting habit that is not normal for foxes – they like to climb trees, and usually sleep high in the trees or in the boxes near the roof of their enclosure. They learnt to do this when quite young and they had to share an enclosure with some monkeys. Two white faced capuchins here are not the friendliest pair, but nobody can blame them, when you hear of the shocking state of health they were in when they arrived and the obvious abuse they had been subject to. The collars around their necks had to be surgically removed as they had not been adjusted for 4 years while they were kept as pets, and the skin had grown over the collars. It is sad that people can treat animals in this way. Many visitors come specifically to see the jaguars, and Tiggy and Rafa rarely fail to impress. Both adult males, they are kept separate. As stated earlier, they are not shy, and don't shun attention, nor do they seek it. They are definitely not to be trifled with, and their aura of authority always demands respect. The last cat species here is the jaguarondi. Tres Patas is his name, or Three Paws in English. One leg had to be amputated. He is our shyest resident, rarely coming out of his box. Finally, there are four white tailed deer, survivors of a bushfire.


Watching Through Slits
Watching Through Slits
Canela, a margay, squints at us.


Oh, It's Just Perfect!  Thanks, Guys!
Oh, It's Just Perfect! Thanks, Guys!
Rafa, a jaguar, appears to love the lunch he has been given. But who wouldn't enjoy a cow's head on a rope?


Keel-Billed Toucan
Keel-Billed Toucan
Las Pumas Rescue Centre.


Ooh, C'mon, Someone Scratch My Belly
Ooh, C'mon, Someone Scratch My Belly
Tiggy, an adult male jaguar here, strikes a pose that we are more used to seeing on our pussy cats at home.


Richard And Samson Share A Joke
Richard And Samson Share A Joke
Samson, or Sansón in Spanish, is one of the three pumas currently at Las Pumas Rescue Centre. He is very social, and rarely fails to respond when called.


Like Most Cats
Like Most Cats
Like most cats, Samson enjoys some attention to his ears.


Frankie
Frankie
River otter.


Frankie Strikes A Pose
Frankie Strikes A Pose
Obviously feeling like not enough photos are being taken of him, Frankie strikes a new pose.


Rafa
Rafa
Not sure what size feet Rafa has, but let's just say very large, for now.


Rafa Exudes Importance
Rafa Exudes Importance
A majestic pose from a majestic jaguar.


Foxy Or Sebastian
Foxy Or Sebastian
One of the foxes.


Delilah
Delilah
Delilah, or Dalila in Spanish. A puma who loves attention.


A Margay
A Margay

Tres Patas
Tres Patas
A three legged jaguarondi.


Canela Lounges
Canela Lounges
Another margay puts on another classic pose.



Learning to live with the animals goes beyond those officially residing at the centre. We have been provided a room on-site, with a large shared common area. We are now quite accustomed to toads on the verandah, croaking quite loudly the whole evening and occasionally through the whole night. We expect to listen to the giant iguanas running around in the ceiling and see them climbing around the building, but were still quite amused when we discovered one wandering through the kitchen. Tiny frogs are a regular encounter around the sink, or in the pots, but one even managed to find his way in to the fridge, and leapt out on to my shirt when I opened it to get a beer. Stick insects and praying mantis are examples of some of the more interesting insects we encounter to compliment the millions of ants that you just accept as part of the furniture.


A Tiny Visitor
A Tiny Visitor
A friendly frog in the kitchen.


A Pair Of Toads Having “Special Cuddles”
A Pair Of Toads Having “Special Cuddles”
Two of the noise makers from our verandah have an encounter and have “Special Cuddles”.



Stay tuned. Surely we will have another story or two by the time we finish here.

2 comments:

Courtney said...

Ok...now I am truly envious... what an amazing experience you guys are living. That photo of Tiggy(?) lying on his back (apparently) wanting a tummy rub...? I dont think my mouth closed for the rest of the entry...

Ombi and Alex said...

Hola chicos

Como estan? Memories, memories and more memories! Continue living in the now..that's all life is worth living for!

Mil besos

Ombi