Petén - ARCAS Wildlife Rescue Center
The Mayan Biosphere Reserve (MBR) is located in the northern Petén region of Guatemala and together with the Calakmul reserve in Mexico comprises the largest tropical forest area in the Americas (3.9 million acres) after the Amazon. In addition to an abundance of biological diversity, the MBR also contains a wealth of discovered and undiscovered Mayan archeological sites, the best known being the stunning temple complexes of Tikal. However, both these natural and archeological resources are under threat by a variety of factors including human immigration from other parts of Guatemala, illegal logging, oil exploration and the spread of the agricultural frontier.
One of the natural resources under the greatest threat in Petén is its wildlife, a victim of habitat loss, unsustainable hunting and capture for the illegal pet trade. The decline in local populations of wild animals is obvious and dramatic. The large noisy flocks of scarlet macaws (Ara macao) reported by early explorers have been reduced to just 300 birds in the Laguna del Tigre Park. While fairly plentiful even 15 years ago, Baird’s tapirs and jaguars are becoming more and more difficult to see. The giant anteater and the Harpy eagle have not been sighted in recent years and are presumed extinct in the region.
ARCAS was founded in 1989 in order to help combat the illegal wildlife trade in the Petén region. Its first act was to establish the Wild Animal Rescue Center, a direct response to the fact that although the Guatemalan government was beginning to comply with the CITES treaty (www.cites.org) by confiscating trafficked wildlife, there was no adequate facility to treat and rehabilitate these animals.
Under a cooperative agreement with the Guatemalan government, ARCAS is recognized as the official destination for all confiscated wildlife taken from smugglers in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. Since 1990, ARCAS has rescued between 300 to 600 endangered species per year of more than 40 different species. See the inventory of animals brought to the Rescue Center in 2009 (Link to Home/What We Do/Who We Protect) or check our Annual Reports on our publications page.
The ARCAS Wild Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is situated on a 45 hectare tract of land on Lake Petén Itza next to the Peténcito Zoo, just a 10 minute boat ride from the tourist center of Flores. It is comprised of a quarantine area, a veterinary hospital, a large flight cage, a kitchen, dining room and workshop area, volunteer house, employee housing and a large floating dock. Large rehabilitation enclosures and flight cages are scattered throughout the jungle in order to reduce stress to the animals.
Animals received at the Rescue Center must first go through a quarantine period of at least 60 days in order to make sure that they do not have any diseases that can spread to the main rehabilitation population. Most animals received at the Center are very young and require immediate and constant care: chicks must be fed by hand; monkeys must be cuddled; and injured animals receive medical treatment at the clinic. Unfortunately, because of the abuses of the illegal pet trade, many of these young animals never survive the quarantine period.
Once animals graduate from quarantine, depending on the species, they are either formed into flocks or troupes and are released into the rehabilitation enclosures where they build up their flight muscles, improve their ability to move about in the forest and feed themselves. At this stage, they are analyzed in terms of their ability to survive in the wild.
"The ARCAS Wildlife Rescue Center is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries as having met the highest standard in humane animal care". Visit their site here
The science of rehabilitation and re-introduction of wildlife is a new one, and is more complex than it first appears. It is not simply a question of opening the door of the cage and letting the animal out. Several factors come into play:
- First, animals must have the skills to be able to survive in the wild. Baby jaguars, for example, spend the first 18 months of their life with their mothers learning to hunt and avoid dangers.
- Second, animals – especially birds - must not become imprinted on humans because once they are released they will simply fly back to the nearest human and either be caught or killed.
- Third, and perhaps most important, released animals must be healthy and not introduce infectious diseases into wild populations.
Several times per year, ARCAS together with its government counterpart the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) conducts wild animal re-inforcements in remote areas of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. (Re-introductions are releases into areas where that species no longer exists but once did. At ARCAS, we usually conduct re-inforcements where members of that species still exist, though in limited numbers).
Animal releases are complex and usually consist of:
- Identification of a suitable site with adequate food and water sources, a healthy forest cover and protection from human predators.
- Transport of animals and materials to the release site.
- Construction of release cages (usually in the crown of the forest) and observation platforms.
- Release of animals in stages: first left in their cages with food and water; then cage doors opened but continue to receive food and water; finally, removal of cages, food and water.
- Animals are monitored for up to two months to assess their success in adapting to the wild.
Of course, the ideal destination for all the animals we receive at the ARCAS Rescue Center is release into the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. However, due to the fact that animals may become imprinted on their human caretakers or never learn the skills needed to survive, many may never be released back into the wild. This is especially true of jaguars and macaws, both of which are among the most endangered animals in the area. As difficult as it is sometimes, we must always bear in mind what is best not only for rescued animals, but also for wild populations.
Undoubtedly, the most rewarding work at the Petén site is the actual releasing of rehabilitated wildlife back into the jungles of Petén. Several times per year, ARCAS and CONAP coordinate animal releases in different parts of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. These releases are complicated activities requiring the coordination of ARCAS and CONAP employees, researchers and media members (if they are coming along), and are carried out in the most inaccessible corners of the Reserve.Volunteers are welcomed to take part in these releases, but their timing is hard to predict, they usually require at least two weeks of participation, there sometimes is no room on 4WD trucks and conditions in the release sites are very basis.
These releases are complicated activities requiring the coordination of ARCAS and CONAP employees, researchers and media members (if they are coming along), and are carried out in the most inaccessible corners of the Reserve.
Volunteers are welcomed to take part in these releases, but their timing is hard to predict, they usually require at least two weeks of participation, there sometimes is no room on 4WD trucks and conditions in the release sites are very basis.
NEW!!! For more information on the Parrot Rehabilitation Program
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