The weeks I stayed there watching the consequences that we as humans can have in an animal’s life made me think a lot about how selfish we can be, and how much more we have to learn and understand about how harmful our behavior can be.
After an unforgettable experience wandering in the Sumatran jungle tracking and observing wild orangutans, I crossed onto another Indonesian island -Java- to join a two-week of volunteering in a small wildlife rescue center...
About Our Guest Author: Carolina Pantano
Caro is from Argentina and a traveller with a restless soul. She is currently finishing a degree in Biology at the University of Buenos Aires specializing in Marine Biology. Animal lover, sports fan, conservationist, she is interested in doing research in order to improve animal life quality and solve environmental issues.
Caro has been volunteering for years in Argentina, but her involvement in programs abroad is recent. She hopes to keep moving, traveling, learning, volunteering and doing everything in her power to help take care of an amazing planet.
"Awareness is something that I try to do every day through example. And my aim is to share the idea that small actions of a lot of people can make a huge difference."
One hour from Jogjakarta you can find the Jogja Wildlife Rescue Center (WRC). It is the home to many animals, injured or rescued from illegal animal traffic, and from owners that domesticated them and mistreated them.
Some of the patients are in pretty bad condition and marked for life. I could see the waist of one of the macaques completely scarred by the chain he was attached with before being rescued. This is a heartbreaking sight. There was also a pink tailed macaque that had his teeth cut, tongue constantly out. They have two sun bears: an adult and a youngster. The young bear exhibits clear signs of stress and anxiety because of what he had to go through when he was even younger. Sadly he can't be released, and one of the next projects of the center is the construction of an enclosure for him.
My job, along with the other volunteers and a surprisingly young staff, was to help in anything possible. Our volunteers routine was scheduled for the whole week. Early mornings we would work along with the zookeepers cleaning the enclosures and feeding the animals. After the lunch break we would make different enrichment activities for any of the animals.
The WRC hosts a lot of species of birds, primates, and reptiles such as turtles, snakes, crocs, and including the bears I mentioned above. And since there is lot of work to do, every day the volunteer chores relate to different groups or species.
Their main attraction and the biggest animals are the orangutans. This is what attracted me the most about this facility in the first place. I have to admit though that it was extremely difficult for me to come back from seeing wild animals in their habitat, free and careless, and then plunge in another universe where they are kept in small enclosures.
The contrast between the two situations gave me a feeling hard to explain. The center is supposed to be a place of “transit” for the animals that are sheltered there. And everybody’s hope is that most of them can be and will be released. Unfortunately this is not the case. Many of them end up being becoming permanent residents because of their level of domestication that is so high that they would never survive on their own in the wild. This situation is far from ideal, but luckily the veterinarians, zookeepers, volunteers and interns working at the center try really hard every day to make the most out of it. They are almost all the time at the facility, looking constantly for new ideas for enrichment and promoting the facility to get funding.
The place hardly ever gets any visitor. The only visitors accepted are students that come for observation sessions and from the funding of a few organizations and individuals.
The weeks that I stayed there watching the consequences that we –humans– can have in an animal’s life made me think a lot about how selfish we can be, and how much more we need to learn and understand about how harmful our behavior can be.
Sharing our experiences is important. It increases a much needed awareness of a captive reality that many ignore. Let's learn together and spread the word to others. Wild animals belong in the wild!
Editorial Note — Taking Pictures of Enclosures & How it Can Help
Often the reality of places that host captive animals is very different than the one that we convey through our pictures to our friends and family. As soon as we are uncomfortable with what we see –maybe feeling that an enclosure is not 'right'– we have the tendency to keep from taking pictures and even to refrain from asking questions. It could be that we act this way out of concern that we would make the hosts or owners uncomfortable. It could be that it is out of a subconscious guilt, or perhaps it is a way to cope with what we see. It is also conceivable that we don't snap that pic out of conformism –as more than often the pictures posted on social media are the pics of what we think the others will respond to or like.
Whatever the reasons are for omitting or avoiding to document accurately what we see, we then miss the chance to engage in an important discussion with the staff of the facility, and to understand what we see.
There are multiple reasons why an enclosure is the way it is. None are good enough but some are understandable including the lack of space and resources or the lack of funding. Some are more problematic such as the lack of knowledge or understanding of what the species needs. Other reasons –such as an obvious lack of care- are simply unacceptable. By not documenting faithfully (and always with providing context), and when only showing the pretty (even if in some cases it is totally fabricated), we also miss the possibility to raise awareness. Developing and spreading an awareness about bad welfare conditions, the plight of the pet trade and exotic animal ownership, the consequence of human foolishness is critical and something we can all do. Sharing the reality of sad and bad enclosures and their inhabitants, allowing others to see and understand the facility hosting conditions –the way they really are– might help this facility and the animals they are in charge of. These animals should not be there for sure. But if they are here in this place to stay –rescued maybe but living a ghost life of what they would be in the Wild– then maybe we can help by recognizing that this should never have happened in the first place. And maybe we can improve their captive conditions by giving some of our time and money (after checking that this center is indeed an ethical place to help), and with sharing widely about what we do, learn and know...
In the case of this rescue center, and as we understand it, the inadequate enclosures are more due to a lack of resources and funding. The center is trying hard but has not been able to control effectively the 'amount' of animals that end up there. These animals are either brought by the government or the general public, and leave the center with no other option than taking those unfortunates. Naturally this results in diminishing further the amount of available space and infrastructure for the rescued population. Note that it's not a zoo either –they do not exhibit the animals. And they seem to genuinely care for the animals.
If you ever go there, help them build bigger and richer enclosures. Participate actively in improving the welfare conditions. Help them also in limiting close interactions with the animals. Avoiding close interactions with primates and a good numbers of animals is critical for the physical and psychological welfare of the animals themselves and for your own safety (here are for instance few good reasons in the case of orangutans).
You're not sure that you can identify problem and harmful animal welfare conditions? Easy: Take a little time to check our Zoo Evaluation Guide, which applies to any facility hosting captive animals. Practice seeing so that we can all help improving the welfare conditions of captive animals.
Remember that sharing knowledge is caring...
Guest Author: Carolina Pantano
Editorial Note by Claire O'Neill. Photos Attribution (of the animals in enclosures): Destya Uciuci. All other photos are the property of the author.