I'll be returning to Guatemala in late March to help booster the defenses of the people and parrots of Guatemala in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. I have not worked in El Peten, the north forest of Guatemala before, nor with wild Scarlet Macaws. This is a compelling time for me as I prepare to journey to Mother Earth (Qachuu Aloom) where I know there is peril, danger, and tragedy in disappearing forests, species, and cultures. May I along with others of my species fortify ourselves with the beauty and wonder of these communities of mixed species with the sacred covenant known as the web of life so that we may weave a beautiful tapestry of interconnection and unity.
When living in Guatemala during the first half of the 90’s I was on-site manager for the Guatemalan Psittacine Project. We invited in other avian projects that pertained to species other than parrots. These projects often began as short surveys to determine the feasibility of more in-depth studies and to test the waters regarding experimental technique. One such mini-study, organized by Rodney and Marcos, was a mist net survey of local birds. They believed in part, as did we all, that habitat destruction, high pesticide use, and other factors made the situation of migrating birds dire indeed. A mist net survey would help substantiate this suspicion.
Rodney and Marcos went bravely forward to gather data. Up went the mist nets on the first morning, then a break for the afternoon, and then up again in the evening. Every hit (bird caught) was carefully recorded – its weight and species – and then the bird released. They had not had many hits before dusk descended. They were about to take the nets down for the night when suddenly the nets rippled with multiple flying beings. Marcos ran to one net and Rodney to the other. Just as Marcos realized what was happening and shouted a warning to Rodney, he heard Rodney say, “Shit, these birds sure can bite.” They were not birds, but bats.
Rodney and Marcos were able to extricate the handful of bats. During the two weeks of their study there were no further incidents with the mist netting, although I did experience the unfathomable wonder and inner soul rejoicing of holding a Painted Bunting that Rodney and Marcos caught.
We worried about rabies, but not very much. Not until Rodney spoke to his family and friends in the U.S. about the bat bite did he fully realize he needed the rabies shots. The day he went to Guatemala City to seek out the injections, he was running a high fever and thought this was rabies setting in. Turned out it wasn’t rabies. It was just a cold, and Rodney returned the same evening. In the following days, I administered the remaining shots. Rodney had received a bite of reality and a shot in the arm to booster his defenses against death, but what of the birds whose lives are still in so much danger?
Do you recall an incident of unexpected harm where your life was in danger?
How did your respond – with permanent fear, gratitude once the danger had passed, or appreciation of what is important to your life?