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Chiquibul Challenge 2017


We are very excited to announce that we organizing the Chiquibul Marathon as a fundraiser for Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), and the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic’s (BWRC) Scarlet Macaw efforts. The Chiquibul Challenge Marathon is scheduled for March 11th and 12th. The route is between Las Cuevas Research Station and the Guacamayo Bridge. Take a look at the Facebook event page where you’ll find the basic information, registration forms, etc.

We need business and individual sponsors for this exciting event and ask you to consider becoming a sponsor. We also need businesses to set up water stations along the 13 mile route. We need help with transportation, personnel on site, transportation, etc.

If you’re able and willing to help in some way, call us at (501) 610-1460.

Please save the flyer and share with your colleagues to help us promote this event. Join the race for conservation!


Inspiration in Action for Wildlife Conservation

“Inspiration in Action” for wildlife conservation – a personal account

OMG Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic is in the final for the contest! I rub my eyes and can not believe it. „Inspiration in Action“ is truly an awesome title for this and, believe it or not, the first grant proposal for a project that has been in my head for over 15 years. But how did I get there?

In brief and leaving out a few years and countries in between it started in 1994 when my dear friends from Profelis in Costa Rica opened my eyes to what would become the passion I would dedicate my career to: wildlife conservation and medicine, as well as rescue and rehabilitation.

I had decided to become a veterinarian out of a love for animals and the desire to work in and with nature with biology as second choice. After the first three years in vet school I felt discouraged about what I learned about the profession of a domestic veterinarian. While I loved dogs and cats, I more and more disliked the fact that we humans would breed animals to our liking of what we felt was „pretty“ while the animals suffered with the „breed dispositions“. Of course, „never argue „fashion““ but to me welfare was more important. I loved farm animals but I disliked the fact that their main purpose seemed to be to grow and produce as fast as possible, often under to me questionable conditions. I loved horses too and it was because of them that I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian at age 11; after I witnessed my first birth – who would not be inspired watching the first steps of a newborn foal? But at 22 I had come to realize that my motivation for becoming a veterinarian – the desire to heal and „help“ animals and to work in and for nature – had been somewhat naive.

It seemed to me our daily veterinary life would all too often make us have to be psychologists and make economic choices to sacrifice animals or their welfare to human needs. I decided to take a break for a semester. At this point I have to thank a special person: my mother! Instead of possibly turning into a „jewelry selling beach traveler“ (my back-up plan at the time) she convinced me to volunteer in a conservation project with wild cats in Costa Rica.

Little did we know that it would change my life, to meet two inspirational German biologists, founders and directors of Profelis. They had come to study wild cats, and discovered a clear need for a facility that would rescue confiscated animals for the government. They took on the challenge to try to provide a solution by receiving and when possible rehabilitating to release this endangered species. I saw their challenges: no money, several years of negotiations, cooperation issues, grant applications, bureaucracy and many adversities. And I witnessed their whole-hearted dedication: living in a humble little house and rebuild the center 3 times, even from total devastation through a hurricane, with their own hands and WITHOUT a salary, for as long as 7 years! That truly inspired me. It was them who pointed me to a contact in Guatemala, the veterinarian and director of ARCAS, a general wildlife rescue center. The most amazing 2 years of my life would follow, while travelling Costa Rica and Guatemala to work as a veterinary volunteer in wildlife conservation projects. ARCAS was truly inspiring in that for the first time I saw local people, not foreigners, and from poor backgrounds (so not philanthropists) work hard to save their natural heritage. I experienced the first baby season and I saw a wildlife rescue center overwhelmed with hundreds of animals coming from the pet trade in a period of 6 weeks.

I returned to vet school with new found goals and passions. I had learned about the need for professional veterinary assistance in wildlife conservation in the field. I had seen the hardship, mainly meaning little to no income, hard work and many set backs, but I had also been inspired by simple people, who had so much less than I was even born with, dedicate their lives towards animals and nature. And I felt that, coming from a rich „country of abundance“, Germany, I wanted to dedicate my career to benefit development and nature conservation and take that challenge as well.

My childhood experiences in and the resulting love for Latin America, and having seen animals in the pet trade on the „other end“ – after illegal smuggling to developed world, and usually point of no return – I wanted to apply my skills, where there truly still is a chance of returning an animal to its natural habitat. And, where we can still work towards preserving natural habitats, and ultimately a harmonious cohabitation of humans in nature. I know that is the naive part of me again, but I believe in the benefit of having positive dreams and goals.

Over the next 15 years the proposal suited for my desire to find a similar niche, where I could use my medical professions’ training to apply it to heal and help animals and work to conserve nature and „give back“, would be refined over and over. One day I would like to dedicate an entire book to the many inspiring people I met while volunteering and visiting projects in 7 countries and learning many lessons over many years. And I guess that could be a nice book because all so often we tend to think that the world is filled with BAD people and tend to not remember those great inspiring people.

Ending our „nomadic“ years and visiting and settling in Belize was a like a revelation to the still hazy vision. And of course the beginning of another long process of learning, which is certainly continuing as we speak. After 8 years of living here, evaluating the situation, finding the gap and my niche, networking, consulting stakeholders, gathering (philosophical) support, and working with the government, I have finally given up on the idea that „someone“ will come along and „absorb my idea“ and write a large grant for me. With the idea to assist solving many of the countries wildlife problems in one go, for now and forever (meaning beyond my own involvement). I know that was setting my goals way too high, but I did that for years anyways. And I didn’t even know how to begin. Here I just must thank my dear husband for supporting me throughout and pointing out „you are trying to jump from A to Z instead of going via BCDE…just do it yourself, and start it small.“ and I finally heard him too.

It was Spartacus the 600 g Howler monkey baby who „pushed me over the edge“ to decide that even if it was small, the need for a medical facility for wildlife and some basic medical diagnostic and treatment tools was overwhelming. And that I would just start this clinic myself, without a million $ grant. It was Spartacus who inspired me, to activate this blog, apply for a minute loan and finally start looking for financial support for the wildlife rescue facility that I somehow started dreaming about in 1994. And just to make it clear: since then I have held numerous paid jobs simultaneously to support my „expensive hobby and passion“ as a „professional volunteer“ mostly without outside financial support or a salary.

And a few days after the decision to finally start seeking outside financial support for the work I am most passionate about, I accidentally saw this „Inspiration in Action“ contest… which in addition to the opportunity to help wildlife, offered the opportunity to assist the countries veterinarians and fulfill my personal mandate in the veterinary association to assist the advancement of our profession. So I felt inspired and just started writing. And I got a lot of help in the writing. And now we are in the final and with YOUR HELP could win $25,000 to purchase medical and diagnostic equipment to serve an entire country.

Regardless of outcome, it is VERY inspiring to have our proposal selected over so many other great projects and it sure will give me more energy and desire to continue facing the challenges of trying to assist sustainable development and wildlife conservation as well as animal welfare. I will be EVER GRATEFULL for the amazing response from everybody out there!

We keep our fingers crossed that despite being an „outsider“ and a small Caribbean country, with your help the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic will win the Heska Inspiration in Action contest! Voting continues until the 18th of December.

We need thousands of votes to compete with the other 4 excellent contestants. So I hope you can also help us by convincing as many of your US-friends and family to please vote for BWRC here:

Or directly on Facebook:

Many exciting new rescues have happened recently, including another baby howler monkey, an Osprey and the most amazing solitary eagle! So stay „tuned“ for more?

Meet Michael Jackson?

The usual unusual adventure… Are you ready to meet, Michael Jackson?

What I love about my work in wildlife rescue and conservation is that there is nothing usual about it. I never know what might happen the next day or moment and there is rarely any routine. Of course, I have to admit that that is very challenging sometimes too. But most times it keeps things interesting and exciting!

This story starts with an email from Nikki from Belize Bird Rescue, with a picture of a bird attached. It’s a juvenile raptor. And to my embarrassment I must admit, upon first very quick glance at this photo, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, „oh another Roadside Hawk“ (a very common small raptor, indeed often seen on roadsides in Belize). A minute later my phone rang. It was Nikki, sounding somewhat anxious, telling me she just received this raptor in a rice bag. The raptor was supposedly stealing a farmer’s chicken. The farmer had shot the raptor and the farmer’s neighbor had brought it to Nikki in the back of a pickup. Once out of the bag, it was big and feisty, and Nikki asked if I couldn’t come NOW to examine, check and hopefully release the raptor again. She was NOT handling this one by herself! So I relooked at the picture and finally computed the size of Nikki’s cage, which I knew, with the size of this bird, nearly filled the cage. Ooops! So we wondered what it would be. Bird identification is like a common „game“ for us. We are not (and maybe never will be) experts at identifying birds. But we know experts and we network. And of course we have books and we try to identify them ourselves. So still on the phone, Nikki suggested „it really looks like a solitary eagle“. And I laughed out, and actually made fun of her over the phone.

A solitary eagle is within the rarest, least known and endangered raptors in the world. At this time there is only one known nest in all its range. I don’t think there has ever been a rescue of one, at least not reported. So we both shared the pictures with our bird experts, and once I got to Bird Rescue, and saw this animal for myself for the first time, I was amazed by its large size. It calmly looked at me, threatened a bit, but was not overly scared or aggressive: BAR (bright alert and responsive…).

So for the next 30 minutes we prepared for examination, shock treatment, and possible other treatments, and I repeatedly returned with the identification guide and read, and reread the description. All the characteristics seemed to fit for the solitary eagle, but I sure wouldn’t believe my ID skills for something like that! And then came the first two amazed messages from our bird expert friends, including the researcher who studied the only known nest, confirming that we indeed had probably the rarest patient of our careers in front of us. GULP. Nikki compared it to Michael Jackson coming to visit, and my answer that our clinic (currently still with out in-house clinic facilities… and basic equipment) is NOT a „rockstar“ place by any means; but we are the only of our kind 🙂 so we had to make it work.

And the worst of it was… we had to find out why on earth someone was able to capture him, hence if he got severely injured by bullets. He must have been very compromised, or debilitated in order for a human to capture and „bag“ him. Or maybe, he was just stunned and then immediately captured in that moment? From the report, my first gut feeling suspected a shot to the thorax and a possible fracture in his shoulder.

Any wildlife examination starts with observation, and for this guy the observation didn’t reveal much, if anything. He was symmetric and I thought I detected a slight weakness in the left wing, which after a few minutes he drooped just a half and inch lower. That gave further weight to the suspicion of shoulder fracture.

So then we had to get our „hands on him“ and give him the first round of treatment; nearly always indicated in rescued wildlife and definitely in cases like this. We knew he was captive at least 24hrs and travelled under extreme stress: rehydration, steroids for the hypovolemic shock and a little bit of energy in the form of dextrose. I usually also add some B-complex vitamins, which never hurts and helps with the appetite which is always an issue in our wildlife patients – if they stop to eat, we lose them, no matter how well we could cure anything else! And of course I always like to give at least one dose of homeopathic rescue remedy.

I am still beyond words to describe the thrill of working with this eagle up close. We approached him with much caution, calmly and gently. Did I mention my gloves were not really apt for this kind of raptor, aside from the fact that I really do not like to use big gloves to handle or restrain anyways. And it was amazing how little he struggled or fought our approach. He was alert and resisted, but we were quite capable of slowly netting and toweling him out of the small cage and then… first disarmed his „weapons“, the talons, by closing the feet, taking care to not hurt him with his own talons, and taping them that way. Raptors have lots of force in their feet – even little screech owls do, as I can attest from personal experience with one falsely believed to be deceased… But the strength is only to clamp down (and fly off with prey in most cases) yet not to open the feet. So once taped in the closed position we were safe to work with him with our limited equipment or trained staff.

I must give huge kudoz to Miss Celisha for her assistance, as well as, of course Miss Nikki, who, sometimes against her will, has had to learn a lot more about raptor care, including intensive care and physical therapy, then she probably would have chosen on her own accord. All because of the needed wildlife clinic facility, but Nikki truly rocks! Celisha was a novice with raptors and jumped right in, alert, quick and ON IT. What an initiation! So with fabulous teamwork we got the eagle transferred to the exam room, examined hands-on once over, treated, checked and measured… a bit (realizing that we do not know how to properly do these measurements, since they are usually done by biologists) and then brought him to an outdoor enclosure that had hastily been cleared of its parrot inhabitants. The neighboring cages of parrots also had to be evacuated. Imagine the disturbance of an eagle in between a bunch of parrots. But I guess if Michael Jackson came to your very humble bed and breakfast, you too would give him the whole place.

So now while we had given the essential shock treatment and gotten a good look, the entire exam did not really reveal many abnormalities! There was a small amount of dried dark blood found on the outside of his beak, one small blood spot on the elbow of the same left side, slightly low body condition (rather normal for this stage of life in this bird). No fractures detected manually, neither in wing, shoulder nor elsewhere. Eyes clean, clear, responsive. Nothing wrong? So there we had a mystery, and if nothing was wrong then the bird must have been seriously ill and debilitated for somebody to be able to capture it, which would likely stack all possible odds against this bird, and our attempts to save it.

We definitely needed an x-ray! But since we are still working on acquiring that as one of the first more expensive basic pieces of equipment for the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, we had to reconvene the next day and make arrangements to see if we could borrow a machine and arrange development without too much stress.

I did not sleep well that night. I worried that we didn’t know what was keeping this bird down and how I really did not want to lose this patient. In general we vets are trained to not get too attached to our patients, since we have to deal with the fact that we lose them sometimes, and especially in wildlife rescue! And I generally care equally for small or large, predator or prey with the priority or emphasis on conservation and sustainable management of endangered species. And this was probably the most endangered wild animal I would ever get to see and I so wanted to have a chance to release it back into the wild and see it fly free.

Intensive networking continued. I called our in country snake expert, asking him to do us the favor to find snakes for our VIP patient, and he of course returned the favor of laughing out when I told him what we had in our hands (in disbelief). By the time I had reached back home the people involved in providing assistance for this eagle’s rescue ranged from Spain, to Panama, Guatemala, Virginia to California and more.

This brings me to end this chapter of the story, with a HUGE amazed expression of gratitude to the power of networking! Thank you so much to everybody out there for helping!

And that brings me to the final plead for networking: please help us win the Heska Inspiration in Action Contest by voting for the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic. This prize would be the first step towards equipping a clinic with much needed equipment, not only for wildlife but also for the small developing country’s domestic animal veterinarians.

Voting ends on the 18th of December and our US competition has some excellent projects as well, so we need every US vote you can raise for Belize.

The Comatose Barn Owl’s Miracle

Difficulties and disappointments in Wildlife rehabilitation and the story of the comatose barn owl miracle, without happy ending.

comatose barn owl miracle

First of all and „flat out“: wildlife rehabilitation done properly is very difficult and challenging and filled with „disappointments“ or hardship of many kinds. This starts with the assessment whether an animal can or should be rehabilitated.

Which is why it is so fabulous to witness and tell stories like Spartacus’ the howler monkey (still keeping fingers crossed as the story continues) who will hopefully ultimately go from certain death to wild and free living animal in natural habitat with his own kind.

But those unfamiliar with the field, and may be having illusions of fuzzy and cuddly babies… well those we do see too, and they are one of the beautiful aspects of the field. I might have to write about those next, after this. But in a general rescue center we often receive very severely injured animals for who we can only relieve of suffering (meaning humane euthanasia), or we receive animals that did not survive the transport hence their injuries.

While those are really „rough“ and sometimes disheartening experiences, in a veterinarians day and professional life, euthanasia is an important responsibility: To decide over and execute as an act of humane kindness to animals, to avoid unnecessary suffering, pain or incurable illness, the humane and pain free killing of the creatures you work for… Lack of quality of life and stress, is particularly challenging in wild animals. For example when we can cure their fracture but they can not survive being in captivity while their bones should heal. And in general it is not only our responsibility to decide and execute but also to console co-workers, staff, owners or rescuers. Never an easy task I can attest.

But at least in clear cut extreme injuries it is easy to see the unnecessary pain and suffering. We often use a three strike rule: three major injuries and we should not „torture“ the animal with our attempts to cure it, when it’s system or just its wild nature is unlikely to be able to cope with too many major injuries at the same time. We should let go and choose to give this animal pain free relief of suffering.

And then we get really difficult, not so clear cut cases sometimes. And they seem to turn, sometimes even miraculously at first, and we opt to NOT euthanize a really borderline severely injured animal, but fight an extended period of time to rehabilitate and give an animal the best chance at a possible survival for release. And sometimes we win and sometimes we loose. When this happens after many weeks it is especially disheartening. As the title indicates, I choose to talk about lost battles.

This brings me to the most recent example of such a “failure” of mine, so to speak. I thought we should try against many odds, and it did look miraculously at first:

In the middle of a 2 week intensive wildlife course for vet students a barn owl is announced and brought to the classroom by a bird rehabber. When the owl (gender unknown but for the sake of the story assumed female) comes in, she is comatose and unresponsive, in full hypovolemic shock with an old, open humerus fracture and very skinny. Upon first inspection I give her prognosis the „in faust“ which is the worst possible, basically meaning survival unlikely. After some quick pondering we decide that we might as well try and see if we can operate, repair the fracture and place a bone pin, which I had with me. Likely she would not survive the surgery and pass away under anesthesia, which would be similar to just euthanizing her right away, since she would feel no pain in the process.

We quickly prep a table inside the lodges Restaurant, minimal instruments and I draw up the highly diluted anesthetics for the small patient, trying to keep a light dose for the much debilitated patient who quickly succumbs to full anesthesia. We immediately start to go to work and my students help inject fluids, steroids and antibiotics while I try and relatively quickly succeed to place a bone pine, in what feels like only 2 large pieces of the humerus. This is good, I feel no further fragments, contraction is not yet terrible, and surgery is quick. And the patient is still alive too. To complete the treatment we place a standard figure 8 wrap on the broken wing, which is now stabilized with one IM pin. The disadvantage of this simple and quick method of fracture repair that we were able to improvise on a restaurant table is, that it provides no rotational immobilization. So we also have to place a light body wrap on the owl in order to achieve the best possible immobilization of the 2 re-united bone pieces.

Amazingly enough our patient remains alive and starts to show first signs of life so we return her to the rehabilitator and rescuer who takes her back to the avian rescue center, elated that after having gotten the message that likely we would have to euthanize or she would not survive surgery, she now had a “repaired” live bird. 5 hours later I receive an image of the comatose owl now PERCHING with wrap on and all in good position and order! That was like a miracle.

And I won’t stretch out the story too long but we worked with her for a total of 2.5 months to the point of upgrading her into a larger cage to practice and possibly regain flight where she then re-fractured her wing and I had to euthanize her. I always ponder cases, and basically any patient I loose and try to „make the best“ out of them, and learn for the future, to not make the same mistake twice. My goals is to avoid letting an animal suffer when my hopes of curing it were unrealistic and to treat everything the best possible. For the owl, with her old open fracture I realized afterwards that we should have kept her antibiotic treatment on board for longer then we did. Of course we had no x-ray to really diagnose her bone density and monitor fracture repair. All exams were done by hand. I had never had a patient re-brake like her. So I think she must have had a persistent infection in the bone which weakened it. Therefore when we upgraded to fly, she broke again, despite having been immobilized for longer then usually needed. Sigh.

I learned something from her or so I think and try to improve.

Sorry, not all stories end good, in fact most of them don’t. That is life. But I guess what we make from our failures is truly what defines us in the long run?

I guess I should make the next blog a happier one again? Let me know…?

Black Howler Monkey – Part 4

Patience in Wildlife Rehab and Baby Howler Spartacus – Part 4


My apologies for the long delay.

In Wildlife rehabilitation we often have to wait for many weeks and months and in some cases even as long as 1.5 – 2 years, before we can release some of our patients. And to then know if we really suceeded in contributing to the conservation of our species, by ensuring that our releasees survived and reproduced and contributed to the genepool takes even more effort and time. So patience can be one of the challenges.

Of course the goal is always to get them out as fast as possible. But sometimes that is really not possible, for example in a severe injury like the nearly severed hand of Spartacus the young howler monkey baby.

Sometimes we fight for weeks, or even months, and then we have to give up and euthanize or just loose a patient, when we already got out hopes up that we could indeed rehabilitate them successfully. Unfortunately I have one of those stories in mind for the next blog.

But fortunately that is not Spartacus story! He came back to see me for a bandage change 3 weeks after the injury. At that time his hand had just started to swell up more again and the bandage was getting too tight. Some drainage was noted on the medial side, which had been left open for drainage.

A day after the bandage change his hands swelling went down more then ever before with only a small increase now over his healthy hand. He is fully adjusted to the monkey rehab routine and no longer stressed, but happy to receive food and medication. The latest news were that he is now starting to show more signs of starting to use his hand!!

So I continue to keep my fingers crossed for Spartacus hoping that he can one day be a free monkey again. The main challenge for now is to keep him, a young and normally active monkey from injuring himself while his hand hopefully completes the healing process. He wants to play with the other babies and he wants to move, understandably.

Next week he will come for another bandage change and for a first time x-ray! We are still concerned about bone infection and sequesters and basically have no idea what the bones really look like. But it „feels“ like it is solidifying…

The Story of Amy, The Keel-Billed Toucan

Wildlife conflicts and the story of Amy the keel-billed toucan fledgling – Part 1

Close proximity often leads to conflict. I will soon write a „proper“ article on the notorious human-wildlife conflict, for belizean newspapers and magazines and I might share it on this blog, as that, once again, is a whole big subject in itself.

As well as the discussion: when do we let nature take it’s course? And when do we intervene? Do we „rescue“ an animal from nature? No! Usually we rescue animals who are damaged due to conflict with humans or our civilisations impact (eg roads…try to think how many dead animals you see on the road, every time you look for them).

Sometimes we might receive an animal, like baby howler monkey Spartacus, who was likely attacked by a predator but got away. He was too severely injured to survive without medical care. And then a human heard him wimpering in their backyard, called the primate program who arranged rescue and transport to me. When an animal is brought to me, I go by my interpretation of the medical oath, and I do what I can to: alleviate suffering, pain and injury allways keeping welfare in mind, as opposed to letting an animal die a slow but certain death. Which brings me to Amy.

On a busy weekend, in a very busy summer teaching students, while about to drive out of reception area for the day: my phone rings! On the display the name of a friend, Laine, who has may be called me once or twice, if ever. I quickly stop, to let her know that I am 5 h away from home and currently unavailable. Laine found a toucan, in a backyard on the ground, appearing to be „ok“ – no injury obvious to the untrained eye from afar- yet is not flying and has „parents“ (bigger flying toucans) in the branches above. First, I try to establish a rough age estimate and when Laine says that the bird had some yet not all feathers fully developped, we know it is a fedgling. Those sometimes jump out a bit too early. Laine had not yet approached the baby bird. But she was concerned that any predator or bird would very easily eat this obviously not flighted baby that had come too close to human civilisation (our yards too often bring dogs and cats who will do damage to wildlife). On the phone I try to coach Laine to see if the bird has no externally visible injury and if not to put her up in the tree. As simple as that! That might work. „And keep on watching. Parents will come and feed there. Sometimes it just takes a few days to learn to fly. And if it does not work, call Bird Rescue“.

And off we go our way to the primates. Surprise, surprise 5 minutes down the road, I still have phone reception and receive another call, Laine again! They could find no nest, or get the baby up into a tree and upon closer inspection she did seem not quite right! I am far away and can not see for myself but I quickly pass on the phone number for the avian rescue center. I know they can pick up, assist and stabilize the bird, or just take care of it, depending on how bad it is.

As I return to phone reception 1.5 days later, I receive a txt from the rescue center: asking me to let them bring the toucan by my house to see her on the way. Not even home after 3 weeks of non-stop working… of course I can not say no! I know Nicki would not „bug“ me Sunday evening if it were not urgent.

When I finally get this fledgling bird on the table I am amazed at the severity of her injuries. Nicky suspected broken bones in the wing, yet I find no brakes. What we do find, is jagged lacerations of the left wing, under which we can see down to muscles, tendons and bones of radius, ulna and parts of the humerus. The wound is smelly already! This could have been a predator trying to grab the bird by the wing, leaving an infected jagged wound. Weirdly enough Nikki saw her claw at herself with her left leg, and she also has sores on her left hock, which indicates that she has been handicapped for longer then just a day and that her leg is not functioning as well as it should either. Her pupillary reflex appears slow, especially on the left side and she has diarrhea. She is off balance and has very little „spirit“ at that time.

First things first: we deal with the most severe injury and shock. Rehydration, a bit of Rescue Remedy (homeopathic remedy) and then we clean and flush her injury and wrap her so that her wing can heal without access from her clawing foot. We add vitamins and antibiotic treatment for the infection, and after a few days of recovery, a dewormer (despite a negative stool sample).

A week later, I inspect her and change the wing wrap. The wounds are slowly healing. Yet with her primary injury healing it becomes more apparent that her body posture still seems „odd“. We add Vit B-complex in an attempt to to alleviate nerve damage. She is given the name Amy mainly for the time of her rescue within days of Amy Winehouses untimely death, her yet unexplained „self-destructive behavior“ and some of her features and a beautifull voice (allthough that could be argued for toucans ;)).

Another week goes by and we remove the body wrap and then the wing wrap. We have to stop limiting her movement in that wing, which we generally do as short as possible and only when necessary for fractures. It is a struggle between protecting the wing and preventing it from becoming stiff and immobile, and we want to speed up the last bits of healing to occur with air contact. Within 30 minutes of the wrap beeing removed Amy claws herself again, and nearly wrips her wing vein! She bleeds profusely, which we stop with a simple compression, and then we re-wrap the wing once again.

At this point Nikki asks me to please take the bird so that I can ensure she does not bleed to death after one of her self mutilation attacks. I agree and take Amy home with me. In the following 2 days I spend a lot of time around Amy, just observing her, weird, behavior. It becomes clear that her entire left side has limited function. While she can bear weight on leg and pull wing back to the body, she seems to have very little control over leg or wing. Once the foot grabs something – including her own neck! – it will not let go. Nikki and myself have to save her from self strangulation more then once.

I tentatively reconstruct that she must have been either born that way or received a head/neurologic trauma at an earlier stage of her life, which lead to the beginning handicap, and some nerve damage in left wing and leg (and then may be a predator on top).

After we have in those past 2 weeks eliminated broken bones, parasites and bacterial infection as causes for her repeated self mutiliation to her wing, I deduct it could be because she just does not have sensation . Or, worse, the tingling sensation of healing or returning innervation after injuries? Nor does she have proper coordination, and her foot just wont let go once she grabs on to anything. In frustrating 2 days I observe this uncoordinated and selfdestructive seeming creature and my doubt will only increase that we can not „save“ this patient, which then means that I should euthanize her to end suffering. But at this point she clearly demonstrates a strong will to survive and little to no fear or stress and has regained strength and cleared the infection. I get an idea of one last ditch effort that we could try… it is not nice but it might work and ultimately save her. You want to know what it was? (of course this took place in the past and I can tell you that while somewhat unconventional or surprising it did indeed work and Amy’s story still continues, as does Spartacus’). to be continued….

Looking forward to Questions and/or Comments?

Daniel Velasquez made a short video of Amy that you can see here:

Black Howler Monkey – Part 3

Baby Howler Rescue Part 3 – Fear and Spirit in Wildlife Rehabilitation


Baby Howler Monkey Rescue (Part 3): Wildlife Rehabilitation is a challenging waiting game in which we try to minimize fear and maximize „spirit“

Thanks for your comments and for following the story of the baby howler, Mr. P, now finally named „Spartacus“. Animals in the Belize primate rehab program are named. While some argue that this is too much anthropomorphism, I think it makes it more personable and definitely more suitable to tell their story, then “Monkey Number 147”, or the likes. But that is just a side note.

As you probably realize I am experimenting with writing (I’m a vet after all, not trained to write). I appreciate any and all feedback. I sure appreciate the question for possibilities to support the cause with donations, as one of the reasons for my writing is awareness and the need for more support! I will see how to link in the Belize Wildlife Conservation Network site and use the blogs functions. Donations are definitely welcome!

I am still new to this blogging and realize that at some point I should maybe also go back and introduce myself further then „wildlife veterinarian dedicated to conservation as well as animal welfare“ and talk about the different efforts, the developing network and NGO hence non-profit organization? You tell me!

But for now I would like to focus on the „cause“ and case, and will just update you on the ongoing for baby Spartacus on the rough road to, hopefully, full recovery. To soothe your anxiety – in case you share this with me: He is in the primate rehabilitation program in northern Belize and he is doing reasonably well! Yet this baby is by far not yet „out of the woods“ of loosing his freedom, hand or life.

Since I, still, do not have a facility available to provide any „in-house“ care, the primate rehabilitation program is the best place in Belize to care for him. Such dedicated and professional persons, yet it is 5 h away! The primate program is perfectly established and set up to deal with uninjured/healthy, orphaned babies, mainly from the pet trade. But Spartacus is a different case! If it comes to it, I will give this baby monkey the final credit for tipping me from „I need to find big donors to build a wildlife hospital for the country of Belize“, to „I just have to start it myself“, and „small and resourceful“, as opposed to „large enough to accommodate all possible needs for the country from now until eternity and all state of the art”. Stay tuned to see if my (small) loan is approved. Those who know me might guess right, that I am not necessarily a good candidate for credit. Not that I am a “credit card abuser” or anything like that! But, having worked in conservation, basically „in the field“, in Latin America, non-stop for the past 10 years and off and on since 1994, I have acquired no (financial) wealth. Yet, countless good experiences 🙂

Which brings me back: I currently receive daily updates on our baby monkey patient, and pictures. Thanks and big time Kudoz to Paul and Zoe for their amazing care with this extreme case. Another huge advantage of the primate program is that Spartacus can see the other monkeys there, and that perks up his spirits. The “spirit” is one of those crucial things in wildlife rescue and rehab. You just can’t put your finger on it, but it is the will to live, and survive, and fight for survival. If an animal looses this „spirit“ most times we loose the patient – those are sometimes very sad cases: when we can medically fix an animal, yet the fact that the wild animal can not bare to be held captive even temporarily while it heals, makes that we loose it.

Unfortunately for us humans trying to heal and or rehabilitate wild animals, keeping the „spirit“, often means that they fear and/or fight their rescuers and care givers. This in a case like Spartacus, with a nearly severed hand that was basically re-attached, makes things even more challenging. He is a baby after all and he needs to drink about every 3 hours. So every 3 hours he needs to be handled and convinced to feed, by a …“monster“, to use a human analogy. Truly what Spartacus sees is a prime predator that wants to eat him. A predator likely got him into this situation to begin with!

Aside from the fact that him trying to bite and fight, which could injure the recently re-attached hand and lead to failure, there is the fear factor. As we learned in the Part 2 of the baby monkey’s story: humans can fall into so called “psychogenic” shock. Meaning: talk of amputation and looks of gruesome wounds, or to some people even just the sight of blood, can ultimately lead to: shock and, if untreated, death!

Fear is a strong trigger for the same psychogenic shock in our wildlife patients (and side note to vet students: dehydration often compounds that shock in rescued and transported animals). Some wild animals will die, just because of extreme fear while being handled. This is one of the main reasons why we restrain wild animals as little as possible and it is one reason why some animals can not adapt to be captive. The simple fact of human presence, artificial environment and captivity causes too much fear. Yet when they require regular treatments, or in this case, feedings, there is no way around handling and restraining (unless we wanted to give up and euthanize the patient, which we are not willing to do in this case). So, those are just some of the odds.

But we see hope at this point! Spartacus spirits are great. He loves to watch his peers (even though is seems to disgruntle him that he has to be in small confinement due to his severe injury) and he is slowly adjusting to being fed by the „human monster“. He might come to accept the fact that the monster does not want to disembowel him (to use Paul’s language) but just feed and give him some TLC (which he is starting to allow a bit now). Orphaned wildlife is a constant struggle between avoiding imprinting on humans and providing the necessary maternal care. Without this care most will not survive. So it is good to know that Spartacus seems to be following the general trend of orphaned babies received in the program: after a few days the babies accept the human as a temporary surrogate and stop to fight. His hand is very swollen yet the tissue is still looking good and it is day 4 post-OP. Until he fully settles in, every day is crucial, but we can see first signs of „mellowing“. Tomorrow is day 5, at which point I will really get my hopes up that we can save this monkeys life, and hopefully hand. And then his freedom, which will take up to several months of patience testing rehabilitation, before the ultimate assessment, whether he would be releasable, can be made.

Here I am asking for comments again! Let me know what you think?

While we wait for the continuation of this babies’ story, I could follow recommendation and start on Amy’s story:

Amy, a keel-billed Toucan, the national bird of Belize, was found on the ground, as a fledgling, with a severe injury (I guess most of my stories as a vet involve injuries…). While her parents were still close by and trying to help and feed her when she was found, she needed serious medical care to survive. She was rescued in the week after the death of Amy Winehouse, after whom she was named. Do you care to know why?

Black Howler Monkey – Part 2

Injured Howler Monkey Rescue in Belize Part 2 – Surgery with surprise


Injured Baby Howler Monkey rescue in Belize – Part 2: „Mr. P’s“ surgery with surprising, human, side effect

Disclaimer for the faint of heart: this monkey had a very severe injury! Yet his story continues and we keep on hoping for the best.

About an hour after the first blog, the rescued monkey from PG, for now named „Mr. P“*, arrives in Central Farm with Paul and a volunteer.

Phew, the first step taken! Just for the ones new to the field: unfortunately in wildlife rescue we do sometimes receive animals, who do not survive transport and make sad „DOA“cases (dead on arrival). So I am happy to see him arrive alive! Yet he sits in fetal position, obviously depressed, which is a bad sign. As we gently lift him out of the tiny cardboard box, labeled with „injured monkey“from his air travel, it becomes clear that his arm is very severely injured and nearly entirely severed in the wrist. After a quick local anesthesia and further look, Paul and I ponder how to proceed.

While I often teach veterinary students, I rarely have had lay persons around in surgery and never for such a severe and gruesome injury. Usually the individuals, who deliver an animal, just wait outside, or come back later.

But, long story short: I had not really paid much attention to the third person, not from the medical field, in the tiny wildlife office, as Paul and I examine the injury and discuss the very high chance of having to amputate. Likely the reattachment of the 90-95% severed hand exceeds the possibilities of the very limited medical care available. As mentioned before, injectable anesthesia has to be used. With this risks are high; duration of anesthesia can not really be controlled well.

And did I mention that this monkey is probably barely 4.5 months old and weighs 610 grams?

Quickly the decision is made to anesthetize the monkey to assess under anesthesia if the hand can be kept and basically reattached or if it can not be saved. And just as the monkey is injected and returned to the box – so he can fall asleep without disturbance from us – and I gather all needed supplies and try to keep a handle on any possible complications fully focussed on the patient… I see, out of the corner of my eye, the volunteer, going down, to the ground, landing with an audible “thump”.

As I turn my attention to this non-medical person, who had spent the last 15 minutes in this minute space, with us discussing over the amputation of the hand of this baby while examining a gruesome injury with protruding bones and the likes… he is sitting on the ground, very dazed, yet fortunately with eyes open. I can see his blood circulation just wanted to collapse and he barely kept it going. Humans can go into shock just from the thought, or sight of things like this. Ooops to my surprise!

Fortunately the overwhelmed volunteer recovers rather quickly and we can focus on the animal patient again. Closely assessing the monkeys hand shows that, amazingly enough, all vital blood vessels on the lower (ventral) side of the arm remained intact. While the radius is fully shattered through the articulation, the ulna is mostly intact, yet the joint completely severed with one lateral tendon of the ulna remaining. The fingers are still well vascularized and the flexor tendons intact. I have seen and done a number of limb amputations. While this is definitely one of the most severe injuries to a wrist I have seen so far, it had been quickly found and brought to medical care. And the most difficult and vital structures on the lower side had remained intact and fingers still viable.

So with as little equipment as is available without a wildlife clinic I reattach his hand in two layers and stabilize the arm with a cushioned splint. As we are finishing with him we realize his temperature has dropped too much and we have to warm him back up. (annoyed/ing side note: I need a heating pad for all of my patients, who even in this tropical heat will suffer from hypothermia under anesthesia especially in major surgeries like this one). Paul lends body heat and the baby quickly comes back to normal temperature and deep post-anesthetic sleep.

We chat while anxiously awaiting for the baby monkey to wake up from anesthesia and it is a wonderful relief when he does. Then, after many tries, he lets me convince him to take some Pedialyte oral rehydration solution, first resisting, then hesitant and finally drinking with thirst, repeated droppers full!

It feels like a major battle won, but unfortunately Mr. P has many more hard weeks more to go, possibly months of recovery, before it could be attempted to reunite him with his family.

The next few days should show if the baby will survive and can keep the hand. We always hope for the best possible outcome, while we brace ourselves for a worst case scenario.

Has this tempted anybody’s curiosity enough to give a comment or ask for the continuation of Mr. P’s story? May be you are curious what this is we are talking about? Wildlife, medicine, rescue, rehabilitation and conservation in Belize? Does it matter?

Why do we do this? That is a different story!

Black Howler Monkey – Part 1

Wildlife rescue, rehab and conservation in Belize – Injured baby monkey – Part 1


I heard it once too much! I should share some words about what it is I do and care about.

“Noone knows what you do. So why should anybody care?” Just follow me one morning and beginning of one animal’s story in rough, quickly composed words, about Be the judge and tell me! Should anyone care? Would you want to know how the story ends?

And, yes, I have been doing this work in wildlife rescue and conservation for years, but that is a different story.

I was woken up by the phone. That rarely ever happens! Usually my kids wake me up before anybody would call.

I look at the phone and it does not tell me who it is, but the number looks vaguely familiar. Three quarters awake I ponder if I silence it or if it might be „important“ (enough to rip me out of the all so rare deep sleep state) and my consience awakes „ you HAVE to answer your phone it is important to whoever is calling“…

Phone on ear, I quickly recognize Pauls voice: it’s about a Howler monkey, an injured one and a baby! Paul had had the „pleasure“ (excuse my questionable humor) of receiving the midnight call about a baby howler monkey found on the ground, screaming, in a rain storm, and obviously hurt on his arm at a resort in Punta Gorda. Paul was able to coach the concerned resort staff via the phone to bring the baby inside, warm it up and keep it safe and sound over night. Unfortunately the images of the injury shared via email show a severe laceration, open and cominuted fracture of the left lower arm with no use of limb. This would, without medical care, be a certain death sentence for this howler monkey, a fate which the rescuers did not want to accept.

Now the baby should be on its way to take the plane from Punto Gorda to Belize City, thanks to Tropic Air! Then it will travel from the international airport with Paul, who is himself coming from Sarteneja, close to the furthest northeastern tip of the country. Hopefully they will all arrive safe and sound in beautifull inland Cayo, on the western border to Guatemala, and see me, the wildlife vet. I do travel a lot to see my patients, to minimize the stress for them, but every now and then an animal has to come to me in my not yet really existing „clinic“, a 3 m x 4 m space, most efficiently used to squeeze in table, desk, shelves, storage and basic meds and tools.

And then we will have to see the actual extent of his injuries and hope to be able to set his broken bone and keep him through the healing process. We are fortunate to have the spezialized howler monkey rescue center at Wildtracks. The heart breaking part is that the baby’s mother was calling for it this morning. But it is not unheard of to try to re-unite this baby with its troup after completed healing.

Allthough it would be a miracle to succeed in so many steps, or?

First step after transport: anesthesia and surgery to assess and hopefully repair bones. Unfortunately this has to be done with the more risky injectable anesthesia, since we still need to aquire the funding to replace the old non-working anesthesia machine. But, call me crazy, I believe that one day we will have a proper set-up clinic with gas anesthesia and diagnostics!

And, may be with your help, we can get the word out there about our needs to better assist conservation of wildlife species in Belize?

We will keep our fingers crossed for the baby and you will see!?

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