This post is literally pulled from my journal from my time volunteering at the La Senda Verde Animal Rescue Centre in Bolivia.
Walking down a pathway overgrown with trees, vines and bushes is an eerie feeling. You are on full alert constantly scanning the trees and surrounds for any sign of noise or life.
Trees do not move on their own and a rustle from the tree tops makes your turn around and crane your neck to see who it was. Welcome to the Capuchin monkey territory at La Sende Verde animal rescue in Bolivia.
Here at the sanctuary rescued monkeys are cared for and the Capuchins occupy a large area of forest at the back of the park. This is their territory and upon entering it you are instantly aware that you are an intruder and must constantly be wary.
Walking through the pathway into the territory with a fellow volunteer I see a tree next to me shake and suddenly I feel a thud as a small juvenile monkey lands on my back to hitch a ride.
Whilst very territorial the capuchin monkeys are also really sweet and the juveniles will often want to sit on your shoulders as you walk along. Wrapping their tails or arms around your neck some will stay still as you walk whilst others will be constantly moving and trying to do an assortment of things from ‘grooming’ you hair to trying to stick their heads down your shirt.
Anything that you have in your pockets will be gone if you leave it there as the naturally inquisitive monkeys love to go through your pockets in the hope that you have forgotten to remove something that they can take.
Some of the capuchins jump onto you gingerly and gently others drop on top of you like a sack of potatoes with no thought given for your comfort at all. Some delight in pulling your hair and more than once I have been both peed and pooped on by various monkeys.
The spider monkeys will come walking towards you on their back legs with their front arms up in the air to grab your hand, whilst the brilliantly orange howler monkeys will gently jump into your lap.
The male alpha howler has a deep and loud call and can be heard many times a day calling over the tree tops to assert his territory, some people say it sounds like an aeroplane, others a truck but it is a loud rumbling that can be heard from the other side of the river at the volunteers house.
There are also squirrel monkeys that live on an island in the middle of the river, except one, Elvis, who thinks he is a spider monkey and runs with them instead of joining his own species.
During meal times they all flock to the feeding tables and chaos can erupt if some of the black spider monkeys come down in to the capuchin territory to steal food. With their long limbs and tails the spiders are easily able to dominate the capuchins, although more than once I have seen a capuchin attempt revenge by pulling on a spider monkeys tail.
Between feeding times is play time for the monkeys and I love to just sit and observe them interacting with each other and rolling and tumbling together. Some of the younger monkeys will come up and want to play with you or simply have a snooze on your lap whilst you groom them. It has become so natural to me now that I miss the monkeys on days when I am not working in their area. I have also dreamed about monkeys and their smell follows you everywhere on your volunteer shirt as a constant reminder that they are there.
Having a capuchin suddenly launch itself onto me from behind no longer makes me jump in fright, except when one lands roughly onto my head. Also a hand suddenly clinging onto my leg is comforting not scary as I look down at one of the babies pulling themselves up my pants, often puling my pants down as well at the same time.
The older monkeys will often carry the babies on their backs, even though they are not their own, like they would in the wild and it is so sweet to see them caring for each other.
I have now completed my first week at La Sende Verde as a volunteer and have three more to go. It really feels like I have been here months and so much happens every single day here with so many different animals that there is never a dull moment.
From monkeys stealing food and breaking into the prep room where the food for the animals is arranged to being shocked by an electric fence in the Tyras enclosure it is always exciting. I have learnt so much about animals already and more specific things such as Macaws are beautiful but can be quite aggressive when not given a lot of enrichment items and monkeys hand are so incredibly soft.
All of the monkeys here were rescued from the black market or were kept as pets and all come with a sad story and psychological issues from neglect and many saw their mothers killed in front of them by poachers. Many distrust and dislike women and others have abandonment issues, but all have a new chance at a good life at La Sende Verde.
Have you volunteered before overseas? Had a similar experience? Let me know!