update: project complete
Volunteering in Ecuador
The benefits of travelling and volunteering are that you have the opportunity to meet some amazing people. I was lucky enough to have met a very generous animal lover. A man with a desire to do something good and the land to do it with.
In August 2007, 9 lions were discovered in a small transportable cage near a nightclub in the small town of Tulcan, Ecuador. The people had alerted authorities, who then took them to the animal protection Center. Requiring a substantial amount of food, they had contacted a large poultry company, Avicola San Isidro.
The owner of the company realized the eventual probable fate of the lions and decided to take the lions and provide shelter and food for them. In December, 3 male and 6 female lions were given a second chance. They were moved over to what is now the San Isidro Rescue Centre (CRSI in Spanish). Since that time, the Environment Ministry has come to rely on CRSI for the care of abandoned and abused animals. It is now home to Lions, Ocelots, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Tortoises and much more.
I kept in contact with this man and helped anyway I could no matter where I was. I finally asked if I could volunteer at the sanctuary. He was grateful. I was ecstatic! They never had a volunteer and solely relied on the work of 2 inexperienced keepers. The land and food for the animals is provided by his poultry company. It is not open to the public, so only some funding is provided by a local corporate sponsor.
Being a previous volunteer at a sanctuary in a 3rd and a 1st world country, I had no idea of what to expect in Ecuador. I had seen a few photos on Facebook - CRSI Ecuador, https://www.facebook.com/pages/crsi-Ecuador/237311506316384 but not much to go on. I had a bit of background of the animals and the species. What my role was, where I’d live, how long I’d stay, I was walking into this project blindly.
I may have been blind going into it, but my eyes are wide open now. Standards, work ethics, health, sanitation, rules, everything is so different! My first week I struggled immensely. So many questions, so much confusion, joy, sadness, it was a rollercoaster, but what made it even harder was the language barrier. As the owner gave me my tour the first day and basically told me €˜here you go-you’re the boss’. I was left with the 2 Spanish workers. Not a word of English. This was an amazing opportunity with a massive challenge.
My first few days I tried to step back and observe. But I could not help but intervene. Why were they not cleaning the cages daily? Why were the animals so stressed? Why were they taking the time preparing the food on the ground in front of the animals? Why weren't they talking to the animals? Where was the medicine for the injured and sick? Why were some locked up in a small cage away from everyone? Half of the animals had been there for years and never even had a name. So many questions, so many concerns, but no answers. It was like the animals were begging me to help them. Don’t get me wrong, the workers and owners were doing the best they could with little funding and lack of experience. It may not have been up to standards, but at least they were given a second chance, were fed, housed and not abused.
So for my first month I had accomplished so much. A daily cleaning schedule. Treatment for the sick and injured. Animals were relocated with others or at least moved into larger enclosures. Rotation schedules began until more enclosures are built. All animals had enrichment and love daily. Food preparation was far and sanitary. I may have worked myself and the staff hard during my first month, but it was well worth it to see such a dramatic difference. The lions no longer fought or paced, they were approachable and touchable. The monkeys no longer threw stuff at you or howled in anger, you could pick them up and give them cuddles. The Ocelots could play in the grass and make friends. You could go into the cages and clean it with the €˜vicious tiny creatures’ watching and thanking you. The animals come to you when you call them by name. The grounds are clean so you can sit and talk to them, the improvements are endless, the happiness is obvious.
It must keep going. There is no way I can leave here. I fear going back to Canada for a few months and having it go back to the way it was. The work is never ending. More enclosures are required. Shelter is needed for the rainy season. The training and enrichment must continue. I’m in need of volunteers. I’m in need of donations. I’m in need of a vet. I’m in need of another me to take over when I visit home. If you can assist in any way, please contact me, the animals would be ever so grateful!
When most people were planning their families, starting their career and thinking about a mortgage...my plan was to help others, even if it meant giving up all those things. Volunteering became my passion and I would always find a way to make it work. Since 2010 I've travelled the globe and have had some amazing volunteer experiences ... and a life I'm proud of.