The sight of discarded snake skins, scurrying scorpions or spine-tingling tarantulas took some getting used to, but Rebecca Randell’s focus on the animals she was in Belize to assist helped her to overcome those creepy crawlies.
The 20-year-old from Corner Brook recently returned from spending three months in the central American country, living in a thatched-roof cabana that also took a little time to acclimate to.
Randell decided to go to Belize to fulfill the international internship requirement of her degree in the leadership studies bachelor program at the University of New Brunswick’s Renaissance College. She chose Belize after listening to a presentation from two graduating students of the program who went there last year.
Like those other students, Randell volunteered with WildTracks, an organization that specializes in rehabilitating primates and manatees native to Belize.
“There were other opportunities, like teaching English in Africa and so on, but this was something I didn’t know much about and I just thought it would be a great way to expand my knowledge,” Randell said of her decision to head south.
She spent 10 weeks with WildTracks, working most of the time with Geoffroy’s spider monkeys. The facility also rehabilitates Yucatan black howler monkeys and had two adult and one baby manatee on-site while Randell was there.
“Most of the animals there are injured and found or are monkeys confiscated from the illegal pet trade,” said Randell. “The purpose of WildTracks is to rehabilitate them and release them back to the wild.”
Volunteers were all assigned to care for their own monkeys. Randell’s schedule consisted of a 6 a.m. rise daily and a 6:30 a.m. feeding of fresh fruit and water for the monkeys.
The baby manatee, named Khaleesi, also had an early morning feeding of milk made from baby formula. The biggest manatee, two-year-old Ramses had to be fed his diet of seagrass and water hyacinth six times a day. Three-year-old Duke, a manatee with stomach problems and weighing in at just 240 pounds, required to be tube-fed by a trained expert as he continued his journey towards being healthy enough for release back into the wild.
While she got well acquainted with some of the spider monkeys at the site, Randell could not get too close to most of them.
“The monkeys are always kept in enclosures and you couldn’t go in with all of them because they can be dangerous and unpredictable,” she said.
There were some friendlier animals, like Frisky and Frolic — a pair of monkeys that had been kept as pets for many years before arriving at WildTracks.
While she was not involved in any release operations, there were some groups of animals that were rehabilitated to the point where they could be let go into a nature reserve while Randell was there.
She also got to watch a baby monkey with a broken arm get his cast off.
“It was exciting to see him learning to use his arm and watching the fur grow back on his arm where he had his cast on,” she said.
As she was getting ready to leave, WildTracks was in the process of building some new, larger enclosures for monkeys to help better prepare them for release. The facility is also seeking more funding to provide better resources for the additional baby manatees that arrived shortly before Randell’s departure.
“One of the baby manatees they have there now is being kept in a little kiddies pool,” she said. “Obviously, that’s not a permanent solution for that.”
As for herself, Randell will graduate from the leadership program at the University of New Brunswick next spring. She is considering doing a one-year educational degree program before likely heading out to teach abroad and expanding her horizons.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure what my plans are, but I would definitely like to continue travelling and see more of the world,” she said.