A Refuge in the Mayan Heartland
By Jonathan Pearson on Monday, September 9th, 2013
“Por Favor Ayudenos a Terminar esta Crueldad.” On a small, 43 hectare patch of jungle, twenty minutes by motorboat from the northern Guatemalan tourist community of Flores, the large sign appealing for an end to cruelty can be found at the hoe of ARCAS – Asociacion de Rescate y Conservaction de vida Sivestre.
For nearly twenty-five years, this non-governmental organization – founded by four Guatemalans – has been devoted to protecting and preserving the nation’s wildlife from mistreatment, exploitation and extinction.
In the heart of the great Mayan civilizations of the past, members of the National Peace Corps Association’s Next Step Travel – Guatemala group (NST-G) toured the ARCAS facility to learn more about its mission and challenges, losses and victories, opportunities and needs.
600 birds and mammals are undergoing rehabilitation currently at ARCAS, where a staff of eleven – supported by scores of volunteers from around the world – work to rehabilitate creatures that have been injured in the wild or mistreated by man. Each one has a sad story that accompanies its arrival, according to Anna Bryant, ARCAS’ volunteer coordinator who hails from New Zealand. While she originally planned to volunteer with ARCAS in Guatemala for six weeks, she stayed and has been with the organization for two years.
Bryant says eighty percent of the birds and animals undergoing treatment stem from confiscations or rescues to prevent ongoing human cruelty. Those circumstances can range from the capture and sale of wild animals for use in the circus, to profit making in the global food market, to the confiscation of animals or birds once owned by drug cartels.
In many other instances, there’s the sad and far too common practice of wild creatures being purchased as pets when they are young, small and cute. As the creature grows, changes and has increased needs, owners often abandon them. Having never lived in the wild, ARCAS’ work involves not only trying to bring creatures back to health, but to also attempt to reintroduce them to a natural habitat.
Depending on the creature, the process of moving a seriously traumatized animal from rescue to rehabilitation to recovery to release can take years to accomplish, if at all.
Unfortunately, a number of creatures are too wounded to survive. Others will be able to survive their injuries but won’t recover enough for release.
But there are many success stories. Bryant says several thousand animals and birds have been released into the wild since ARCAS opened its doors in 1989. Recently, the organization celebrated the successful release of 69 Amazonian parrots and 17 spider monkeys back into the wild.
And, one of the next big projects for ARCAS is the planned release within the next year or two of four rare (in Guatemala) scarlet macaws. Bryant notes that one key to this release will be the ability to raise up to $30,000 to support the tracking, monitoring and community education necessary to give the birds a fighting chance to survive.
Follow this link to learn more about the work of ARCAS and how you can help.
Our latest Next Step Travel program has just come to a close. Now it’s time for you to learn how you can join future Next Step Travel trips in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala: Visit travel.peacecorpsconnect.org. NPCA’s Next Step Travel program provides hyper-local small group travel: an RPCV-facilitated itinerary featuring unparalleled local access, cultural immersion, non-extreme adventure and volunteer opportunities. Most trips offer both a 14-day and a 10-day option, unless otherwise specified. All trips are accompanied by an NPCA Host.
Join our Next Step Travel (NST) country group, a place to ask questions, get program details, & meet other Next Step Travel travel-with-a-purpose travelers. This group is a place where alumni, future NST participants, and those who are interested in NST can have an open forum to share photos, videos, discuss programs details, and make new friends! Guatemala: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NextStepTravel.guatemala/