After a long stint without contact with the outside world, our Bolivia gap team are out of the forest and have plenty to say! Thanks to Ollie for the update below:
Following 2 challenging but well rewarding weeks of construction, building a management cage for a stunning jaguar called Amira, we found out what animals we would be working with for the rest of our time at Ambue Ari.
I had heard stories about how cute and fun it was to work with the baby howler monkeys and so I laid down some strategic whispers about how much I’d love the opportunity to work with them. To my joy, these whispers had worked their way to the volunteer coordinator and camp administrator, Rhe, and she informed me that I would be taking care of them for their morning routine as well as the 9 till 12 shift.
My first time arriving at the “monkey mansion” was an overload of cuteness. I was greeted my all three of the monitos; Sabrina, the oldest and the only female, Lucho, the largest with a hilariously comical and goofy overbite and finally Luisito, the youngest and by far the most affectionate and baby-like.
Sabrina was far more independent than the other babies and so required less attention. However she was still inquisitive enough to gingerly step across my arm and onto my shoulder. The others were far less shy.
Lucho acts like he has ADHD in the morning and swung down by his tail before grabbing hold of my hair and dangling from it. He also has a tendency to try his hardest to crawl down your shirt.
Luisito was incredibly affectionate and playful. He still makes little groaning sounds which I was able to learn were either groans of frustration, slight fear or, in most cases, playfulness. He would climb onto my shoulders, grip onto my hair and wrap his tail round my neck to keep him secure.
Every morning I would chop up their food, prepare Luisito’s milk bottle, prepare some hot water bottles and hide any vitamins and fish oil in their food. For someone whose not overly moved by babies, I found feeding Luisito his bottle of warm milk, contained in a babies bottle shaped like a teddy bear, unashamedly heartwarming. He would be so excited in the mornings he would try and open my backpack to get the milk. I’d then sit on a bench inside their cage and he’d grab the bottle and start suckling immediately.
The 9 till 12 morning shift with the monkeys was play time. I’d arrive at the mansion and just open the doors. Sabrina and Lucho would head straight for the trees whilst Louisito, still a tentative baby, would clamber aboard making his adorable groaning sounds the whole time. I’d then walk to the monkey park with Louisito on my head and shoulders and the others following, jumping through the jungle.
As the babies are being brought up to be released, I had to encourage them to spend as much time in the trees as possible. That was easy for Lucho and Sabrina as they preferred to spend the majority of their time out eating leaves in the canopy. Luisito spent a lot of time close to the ground which meant I would have to encourage him to join the others. But after he spent some time in the trees I could play with him and give him some love. He would cling on to my arm as I would swing him about or, if he was a bit calmer, he would sit in my lap and open his arms and legs to have his little belly scratched. He would even make sure to grab my hand and move it to where he preferred to be tickled.
Climbing the monkey tree was a totally different experience because all of the monkeys were far more affectionate as soon as you joined them in the trees. I could spend as much time as I wanted with all three of them on me, often with Lucho down my shirt, Luisito on my lap and Sabrina tentatively perched on my shoulder.
Taking them home was as simple as getting them there. Luisito would head straight for the shoulders and the others would follow through the jungle. If they’d had a long time in the trees and were a bit tired, all three would join me on my shoulders and arms to be carried home.
Probably the best part of working with the monkeys was seeing them all, especially Luisito, mature and get more independent. Over the short 2 week period Luisito would spend more time in the trees, even attempting to make his own way to the monkey park. There were times when all three would disappear for an hour heading further away from the monkey park, gaining more confidence. Even so, they would all come swinging and jumping back when you called them home.
My time with the babies made me feel like a proud father seeing them all mature. It was a totally and unexpectedly rewarding experience being given so much trust in caring for the monkeys, making sure they were well-fed, giving them their morning vitamins and milk and also playing a part in guiding them towards being strong enough to cope in the wild. So rewarding and enjoyable was the experience that I am aiming to return to Ambue Ari for another month and a half only 2 months after leaving it. Whether you’re caring for monkeys, Geoffrey’s cats, Pumas, Jaguars or any of the other beautiful animals, you’re part of something incredibly special and you’re playing an integral part in an organisation which works unbelievably hard and is always in need of volunteers to care for these amazing animals. However, talking for the monkey’s point of view, they are wonderful animals that blew me away. Every volunteer is jealous of anyone who gets to spend so much time with these hilarious and character-filled babies. My experience with them and CIWY has definitely changed me and given my an organisation I want to dedicate time and energy to. I hope with all my heart that anyone who reads this with the slightest hint of inquisition will make the right decision in heading to the jungle and doing something incredibly unique. Good luck and enjoy your travels!