Reports from the Field

My time on the Primate project in Belize

Michelle Scanlon – Primate Rehabilitation in Belize


“Arriving at the Belize airport it still didn’t hit me that I was in a different country, until I saw the immigrations line. There were three lines that were moving as fast as a turtle. The only thing to keep us cool was a large fan in the back of the lines. That was an experience in itself. Finally getting through that line came another line at customs, which was much quicker. I got a charter plane instead of the bus because a four hour bumpy ride to Sarteneja was not going to settle well with my stomach. I finally saw my plane fly in and it was smaller than the plane I jumped out of when I skydived. The pilot was super nice and told me some things about the sights that I was seeing. I could not have been able to experience any of that if I didn’t get the charter. When we landed on a gravel land strip with nothing around it but Paul and Zoe’s car we said goodbye to the pilot and headed into town.

Michelle Scanlon - Primate Rehabilitation in BelizeThe town was very small and very different than any town I have ever seen. The roads are gravel with many bumps and all of the houses had their doors open and windows covered for a breeze and shade. No one has air conditioning. The houses were very small and had a lot of character. The people in the town rode mostly on bikes or walked, the gas was at someone’s house in their backyard and Paul filled up a tank for the house so we could have a warm lunch. We then started to head down a very bumpy road surrounded by forest to go to the project. After about two miles we finally reached my new home. I walked in and everyone was very welcoming but seemed exhausted, little did I know that they went to an Easter party the night before and didn’t get in until late. Everyone introduced themselves and then Kate, one of my roommates, brought me to out little cabana. When you walk out the back door of the main house all you see if palm trees and the prettiest bluest water you can ever imagine. We are located right on the lagoon. When we got to our cabana, a small little hut with a bamboo ceiling and one room for living and one bathroom, she told me where I would sleep and put my things. Then we sat and she explained everything to me about what works and what the schedules are and basically everything that I will be doing. It all sounded amazing to me, anything to do with animals sounds amazing to me. We then went back to the main house and had lunch, prepared by Zoe, with all of the other volunteers. Her cooking is amazing! Later they showed me what I will be doing with the manatees, feeding, getting grass, and swimming. There are two males named duke and Ramses and one small female named kalesea. After a few days they gave me an orientation of the whole facility showing me all of the monkeys, manatees, and cats. The place seemed so big that I would think I would get lost if I were to be left somewhere. But when you get to know where things are it seems a little less big.

Making through my fist night sleep in my cabana under the mosquito net I felt so relaxed like I was on an island. ( which I kind of am) I started to train with all of the jobs that I am put on. Swimming with the boy manatees is fun, Ramses always greets you because he either thinks its time to eat, or time for the new leaves that we give him, or a swim. I get my little tube on and swim around with him. Duke sometimes follows , at a distance, he’s not very social he has had a rough life.  Feeding a manatee, that is bigger than you, a bottle is a very strange but amazing feeling. Cupping his chin with my hand, having his flippers grab ahold of my leg, and hearing him make the piggiest sounds is the best feeling! That is how we are feeding Ramses, Duke on the other hand is a little bit trickier. Since his prior injuries didn’t allow him to be bottle fed or eat grass, so every other day  we have to make a human chain and lure him into a sling so we can gently catch him to tube feed him. It is a difficult and long process, but it is all worth it in the end knowing that he will have a full belly.

When I started getting the hang of all of the duties for the manatees they decided to introduce me to one of the long term monkeys that needs a lot of loving. Nikki is a capuchin that was taken away from someone who had her illegally in Belize as a pet. Since there are no capuchins in Belize they cannot release her. She is full of energy and is in need of a bigger space, which they are working on with all of the other projects they have going on.

Michelle Scanlon – Primate Rehabilitation in BelizeThe monkey people needed some help distributing the food so I asked to help and they brought me along to help feed some of the spider monkeys. They are all very beautiful, but there is one that has stolen my heart. They call him a ladies man and it is very true. Charlie is his name, he is a spider monkey and when I went to feed him I stayed cautious of him because I didn’t know him, but he reached out to me and the girls said that I could touch him and go closer to the cage. Once I did he wrapped his arms around me and was making a whole bunch of creepy old man noises. It was really cute and funny. They then told me to make a monkey noise back to him and blow on his neck and he loved it! That made my entire day and I will never forget that moment.

When swimming with baby Khaleesi we have noodles that hold us up so we can float and she can swim under us. The point of swimming with the manatees is to keep them active and to give them company. I had my knees bent slightly and my feet crossed when I was floating and she went right at the back of my knees to suck on them. Where manatees get milk from their mother is in the armpit, under their flippers. So for her to look for milk in any crevices in my body is normal. This time she was very hungry so she was really trying to suck my legs and started pushing me around the pool. Ever so often she would come up for a breath of air and look at me with those little manatee eyes! She would then swim underneath me and put her nose in between my legs, still trying to find milk, but we don’t feed her that way. When we feed her we scoop her up in a sheet, make sure she’s straight and that she can breath. Then two of us hold her up so she is floating straight in the water another one of us bottle feeds her. I have only been holding her but I can’t wait to bottle feed her! They say that she stares into your eyes when she is eating and she does have the cutest face.

Today when I went to go feed, clean and spend time with Nikki she was good but a little rough as usual. After I left they told me that Matt cut a tree down for her. I was a little hesitant because Nikki can be a little much at times but I brought it to her anyways. After shoving it through the small door to her pen I opened the double door and she was so excited! She jumped on my head and then back inside so I can move it in there. When I fit it in and was tying it up she was so gentle with me, on my shoulder, on my head, on my arm, just so excited she had something new. She was jumping from branch to branch through the trees leaves. When I kneeled down to tie the bottom she jumped on my leg and layed down, kind of saying thanks, it was sooooo cute! After that moment I knew that I am doing all of this for a reason.  Later when I go to spend time with her, since she knows me better she has calmed down a lot. Living here is like a working paradise, you get to see so much wildlife and a totally different culture while you care for amazing manatees, monkeys, and some other animals.

I can’t thank Global Nomadic enough for helping me with everything leading up to my internship and during.

Michelle Scanlon – Primate Rehabilitation in BelizeAfter being here for 3 weeks, I am starting to really get the hang of things. You always have to be cautious because these are wild animals and they can be very unpredictable. All the work I do here is worth it, for the animals and myself. I am learning so much about the limits that I have for myself and how I can set my mind to really push myself even farther than I’ve imagined. Once you get a basic routine down you start to get creative to keep the animals, mostly the monkeys, interested and entertained. Seeing how they grow and how these animals start connecting with you gives you a feeling that you cannot describe. One thing that I wish I could have done better before I came here was to talk to someone who has done this before so I could get tips on what to do and where to go and what to bring. So I give Global Nomadic permission to give my email to anyone who is signing up for this and have so many questions like I did. I also suggest if you are staying only for a month or 6 weeks or so to allow travel time for yourself either before or after your trip because it is beautiful here and so much to see and do.  Also here is a list of ideas for what to bring…

Water shoes ( if you don’t like the feel of the lagoon bottom), waterproof watch, clothes you do not care about and might donate after you leave, light long pants and wind breaker jacket (to keep Mosquitos away), good flip flops or sandals that Velcro and stay on your feet, at least 2 to 4 bathing suits, mosquito net ( if they don’t have one), string for making bracelets, puzzle game book (we love that here), books ( maybe donate to the library),  gopro or underwater or regular camera (if you have one), water bottle,  journal (you will want to remember these moments), small snacks and peanut butter (you will get hungry since your working so hard), extra cash ( good to have handy), quick dry towel, smartphone or iPad or laptop, aloe Vera (for your burns), rain jacket (it’s either sunny or rainy), bring shorts and pants that are quick to dry (you’ll thank me), the dogs here would appreciate treats, and maybe bring a float to float in the lagoon (nice to relax in).

I hope whoever picks this trip has an amazing time like I did, make time to have at least one vacation while you are here to see the Mayan ruins, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, blue hole, hol chan, and so much more! You won’t be upset if you choose to come here! One of the best experiences in my life and the most amazing people that I’ve ever met!  (:”

Primate Research & Rehabilitation Internship in Belize

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Michelle Scanlon