My Life in the Amazon: The Vroom Vroom Story

The Vroom Vroom Story

From 1 August 2009

My time at Amazoonico is coming to an end.  I don’t know how I will be able to get used to not having monkeys following me everywhere, jumping onto my shoulders as a platform midway between a branch and the feeding table.  I hope I can figure out a way to pack the rainforest smell in a bottle to take with me.  I will definitely not have trouble acclimating to a tarantula-free lifestlye once again.  I amaze myself with how much I can’t stand those things.  You’d think I’d get used to them after two months in the jungle where you see one every other day.  I have not and I don’t anticipate doing so anytime soon.

Feeding time for Johan and Mea means having to keep an eye out for the giant Conga ant colony. The Conga’s bite is venomous and up to three bites can be fatal… Welcome to the Amazon.

Mea, the spider monkey, was acting weirder than normal last week.  During a tour, Ane’s tourists were pointing to a jelly-like glob on the ground of Johan and Mea’s cage.  Ane had her thoughts of what it was, but she got the vet to have a look.  It was a fetus.  Mea had a miscarriage.  We thought she was pregnant because of her change in eating habits, her behavior and what may have led to the initial belief, a slightly larger than normal stomach.  It was unbelievable in the next couple days how sad she looked, sitting on the ground and not doing much.  Just like a human.

All of the volunteers got a tour of Monkey Island where the highly aggressive (like monkey killing, people attacking) monkeys go along with the rejected monkeys not accepted in a group.  Clearly it is too dangerous to go on the island, so we joined the feeding canoe that passes by every morning and throws food on the island, handing some to the monkeys that decide to reach their hands down from the branches.  I saw a white Capuchin mama with a baby on her back!

I think I have neglected to say in my past journaling that I had to abandon the bright pink rainboots my neighbor lent me and trade them in for some boring black ones.  It was those darn toucans.  Every time I fed them, they attacked my boots as if the boots, not me, were the intruders in their territory.  After a month, the toucans were successful at gashing two holes in them.  In the rainforest, you kind of need rainboots without holes in them.  (If you are reading this, Mrs. Seiwert, I will be sure to replace those lovely boots when I get back to the U.S.)

A few miles from AmaZOOnico, Maqui Sapa Alpa is one of the monkey release stations we run.  The pre-release enclosures here are more isolated and the last step before the door is opened to freedom, the most rewarding part of our work.

Huahuasupay is such a thief!  He appears out of nowhere during animal feeding time and evidently if a tourist has food as well.  While leading a group of Ecuadorians through Amazoonico, I was oblivious to the sandwich an elderly woman was munching on.  Whoops, my bad.  We were passing Herman and Martin (woolly monkeys) headed to the peccaries when I heard some commotion.

Huahuasupay, a brown tufted Capuchin, has rightfully earned the nickname “Elvis the Pirate.”

Huahuasupay had dropped unexpectedly and ever so sneakily from a tree and stolen the sandwich, plastic bag and all, right out of the lady’s hand.  When I reached for the plastic bag that he dropped, the Capuchin of course tried to attack me.  I held my ground, told him to go enjoy his sandwich and recovered the empty plastic bag.  I probably should have remembered the “no feeding the animals” part of the introduction that should really be reworded to “no food on tour or you might get ambushed by a monkey.”

Speaking of Martin and Herman, I saw them playing together for the first time. Martin is the neurologically-impaired partially paralyzed juvenile that lives with the grandfather-like but relatively boring alpha male Herman.  They were making a popcorn-stuck-in-the-throat-sound and rolling around on their food table.  I’ve never seen a monkey put food aside like that.

Fergus (England) and I entered the small cage of the kinkajous and agoutis to give the agoutis their breakfast.  The kinkajous get fed only in the afternoon because of their nocturnal lifestlye which would infer that the kinks should be sleeping at this time.  Cranky lady kinky was awake and hissing up a storm so that we couldn’t enter the big cage.  We gave her an orito to try to lure her away.  She was pleased but hissed between bites.  I think I should sit in on one of her anger management sessions because she doesn’t really seem to be getting anywhere.

Ane and I were headed to feed the ocelots during feeding time one afternoon (and by feed I mean I don’t touch the meat and Ane wraps it in a leaf because she doesn’t want to touch it either but I make her throw it in the cage).  In the middle of her tour, Sybille came running frantically and said, “There’s a tree in the ocelots’ cage! Go get Miguel!” I sprinted eight hundred meters in rubber boots up stairs and through two gates to go get Miguel.

A female ocelot inside an open-topped enclosure where she resides with two males.

If there’s a tree in the ocelots’ cage they can escape, something that has happened before but means they eat the chickens and try to get close to the humans for attention.  As ex-pets, they do not realize the potential of their sharp claws and teeth.  And if an ocelot gets territorial, ex-pet or not, watch yourself.  Miguel, naturally, feeds on adventure.  When I reach his house, I am out of breath and speaking in Spanish and English because he understands only bits of both.  He asks me if it’s a big tree.  I say I don’t know because I didn’t see it but I would assume so because Sybille made it sound like an emergency.

“Is it inside or outside?”

Again I say, “Sounded like an emergency so it must be inside.”

He asks if he should bring a machete or a “vroom vroom.”  I say probably the “vroom vroom.”  He comes running from his house with both a machete and the vroom vroom chainsaw.  We make it to the ocelots’ cage out of breath to find Ane chilling by the large branch but definitely not a tree that is outside the ocelots’ cage.

“Aw, Stacey, ziss no es for zee vroom vroom. Ziss is a pequeño.”  Sorry, Miguel, I didn’t know.  “Ziss is my free day,” he says.  I hear Friday.  I correct him and say, “It’s Saturday.”  Confusion ensues heightened by the language barrier of this Swiss animal caretaker.

Miguel machetes the branch with grunts and sweatdrops and throws it into the forest.  I apologize for the confusion about the vroom vroom, tell him to enjoy his Saturday free day, congratulate him on a job well done, and watch Ane throw the meat in with a leaf protecting her hands from the blood juice.  Just another day at Amazoonico.  It never fails to be an adventure at this animal rescue center in the middle of the Amazon.

Until next week,



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