Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ponds of Oil


How beautiful this morning was Pasture Pond.

It had lain in the dark, all night,

catching the rain...

All day I hang out

over a desk

grinding my teeth


Then I sleep.

Then I come out of the house,

even before the sun is up,

and walk back through the pinewoods

to Pasture Pond. - Mary Oliver


In the nights long hours, we catch the beauty after the grind of the day.  What if we could wake to this dreamt beauty by a walk in the ponds, instead of the headlines of the gulf oil spill coming to shore upon the water edges of Louisiana?  What if we do, and we just don't know it?  What if all the elements in the world catch all the other elements - the rain, the oil, the birds, our stresses that lead to grinding of teeth?  Then we walk in beauty - to the pond, to the oiled beaches, to the memorial services, to life.

Oiled bp mrgo rocks

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Way of Beauty


Teaching masters

Presentation "Avian Conservation in Guatemala:  The Intersection of veterinary medicine, biology, and human rights." (San Carlos University Master program in Conservation and Wildlife Management)


For nearly as long as I have been a veterinarian, I have been coming to Guatemala.  Over a span of 24 years I can tell a story of parrot conservation here in this land whose beauty, and the loss of it, hurts.  But it also a beauty that sustains. So I told a group of biologists and veterinarians studying for their Masters in Conservation and Wildlife Management at the University of San Carlos this past weekend.

Being with them was part of my conservation efforts in Guatemala, first in the north in El Peten with the Scarlet Macaw, and now in the South Coast with the threatened Yellow-naped Amazon . My plan has been to hold discussions with various groups in the hopes of building a coalition that would plan concrete steps to salvage what we may before we lose any more beauty from the world, resulting in only beauty behind us and not before us.

YN at Tarrales


Yellow-naped Amazon at Los Tarrales (ecotourist reserve)

So that I could share more of the story I went with faculty and students of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Husbandry to visit fincas that could serve as nuclei for avitourism, research, and conservation.  On the way into these isolated spots of flora and fauna, we could not avoid seeing the destruction of sugar cane.  One finca owner, Andy of Los Tarrales, reported to us that one sugar cane factory is not just burning cane, but also approximately 200 truckfulls of mature wood a day (felled trees).  He fears for what we might actually be able to accomplish here given the extensive infiltration of sugar cane economy in so many industries within Guatemala.

Sugar Cane factories

Sugar cane factory smoke stacks in background, with sugar cane crops lining the highways.

We have to try, try hard, and try now – so goes the sentiment that I am hearing across the groups I am have worked with this past month in Central America.  We cannot cease from the work before us, for we know not what may yet flower.

DSC_3830_015jpeg small


Field workers in Finca San Julien


So we work, for what else can we do?  Until 11 p.m. at night the students and professors catch bats in mist nests upon star graced hillsides, identifying the species amongst squeals and laughter. 


 Bat caught in mist nets in Los Tarrales

We get up early the next morning to walk the hillsides searching ever more diligently for parrot activity.  The next day begins early too, my final day here which starts at 4 a.m.  I journey to Guatemala City to catch my flight back to the United States, grateful for those that are willing to meet me at the airport to squeeze in one more meeting so that we might ponder the way forward, the way of beauty.

Las Tarrales

Los Tarrales Nature Reserve

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nourishing and Healing Our Spirits and the World

Me teaching

Me teaching about how to nourish wild macaw chicks 

In my last blog I spoke
of how the conservation team in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve is attempting to
augment the wild macaw population by incubating eggs and placing the hatched
chick into foster nests. This process entails being able to feed the chick once
s/he hatches up until it is accepted by his or her new parents.  Feeding parrot chicks may be routine in
captive, controlled situations, but how do you prepare and serve food in areas
with spotty electricity, long hours away from any kind of store?

To answer this
question, I gave a presentation on feeding wild chicks yesterday at the
Wildlife Conservation Society’s headquarters in Flores, El Peten,
Guatemala.  I reviewed concepts and
techniques of pediatric nutrition, and demonstrated how to use Nutristart.  Nutristart is a powder that you simply mix
with hot water to have a complete diet for parrot chicks, although adding 1/8
to 1 tsp of peanut butter might be needed for macaws. Lafeber Company donated
this food so that WCS may feed the chicks, which will nourish the wild macaw
population.  Following this I
demonstrated how to use Emeraid, also from Lafeber Company. This is a powdered
enteral diet for weak or debilitated chicks. They do see sick and malnourished chicks
in the wild, especially the 3
rd chick, and an easily prepared
emergency diet such as this might save future lives.

Chepe tube feed

Chepe volunteering to be a chick so I could demonstrate tube feeding 

As a wrap up for out
time together, I asked a few questions to augment my ethnoornithology study,
which is focusing on how to support the human dimension of avian conservation
in Central America.  

Rony Filming

Filming the presentation and ethnoornithological discussion 

I asked the conservation
team members what values were important to them that they got to live out in
their work.  They spoke of the importance
of their relationships with one another: that they are united, and value the
dedication, respect, humor, and creative interplay that fills their days and
nourishes their own spirits. Under it all is their love for conservation and to
be doing something positive, with others, that helps heal the world.  I then asked what they would ask of the world
and they replied to you. “Do something real, not just for show. Every person
can do something, and what you do, no matter where you are, will help us here.”

 I translate this
into:  If the situation of the world or
your community bugs you, do something about it. 
It matters what you do!


Bug seen from side of road on our way back to Flores (photo by Dr. Melvin Merida) 


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hatching Hope

Adult macaw pIIc

 Adult Wild Scarlet Macaw

There was a time in my life when I lived egg
incubation and psittacine pediatrics.  I’ve
been responsible for thousands of eggs and chicks in “the days.”  Recently, the work in Guatemala reminds me
how much one embryo in one egg means to me, and to others.  It is a life full of possibility, and to lose
one egg, is to lose beauty and wonder.

 Here’s the theory why incubation and raising chicks
for a short time in captivity can be an important strategy for parrot
conservation. In Guatemala¸ wild parents frequently lay 3 eggs. The 3
egg appears to have lower hatchability and the 3
rd chick definitely has
a much harder time surviving – they usually die.  The thinking is, if we can help hatch these 3
eggs and raise the 3
rd chick until they are strong enough, these chicks
can then be placed into wild Scarlet macaw nests where there is only one chick.
This will raise the population numbers which are frighteningly low in the only remaining
area of Guatemala with macaws, El Peten. There is also the possibility of transferring
eggs from captive parents into the wild as well.

Pulling eggs

 Dr. Fernando Martinez   of ARCAS pulling two eggs out of a clutch of 4 to give to Dr. Melvin Merida of WCS to transport to Laguna del Tigre

This past week I got to witness the first experiment
in seeing if egg manipulation will help the macaws here.  CONAP, ARCAS, BALAAM, and WCS are all working
together to attempt to incubate eggs and raise chicks deep into the Mayan
Biosphere Reserve, Laguna del Tigre. 

Two eggs were removed from a captive pair of
breeding macaws at ARCAS and then transported very carefully up into the
reserve.  It is a very bumpy, rough road,
and this time of year the mud makes the going even slower.  What can be a 3 hour drive turned into over 5
hours because of a broken clutch in one of the trucks.  We were worried about transporting the eggs,
in part because of the rough road, and also because the eggs were young. The
two eggs showed an embryo that perhaps only had a day of incubation, and the other
with less than week old.  Eggs this young
are fragile, and need to be kept at 99 degrees. We learned that it is somewhat
easy to maintain the eggs at 99 if the outside temperature is around 100
degrees, which it was

Looking for clutch

 Melvin and Challo looking for missing clutch piece in mud where were we got stuck


Once up at the station in the forest where the eggs
will be incubated, we held our breath while we candled the eggs, which means
shining a light into the egg in a dark room. Did they survive that long
ride?  Indeed they did!

Egg - live embryo

 Live embryo in egg (notice the red blood vessels surrounding embryo)

 That night we drew lots to see who would check on
the eggs and incubator through the night. 
Eggs are sensitive and we needed to monitor carefully how stable the
temperature and humidly was or was not in the incubator.  My turn came at 2 a.m.  Stumbling into the dark under a starry sky, I
looked up and mused that the stars themselves are incubators of life .What
miracle of temperature and humidity/water led to life on this fertile
planet?  I dallied under the stars,
soaking in the peace when my meditation was shattered by a Howler Monkey in a
tree right over my head.  Maybe he too
was looking up at the stars, proclaiming this his proven territory.

 The next afternoon as we prepared to leave this area
after a morning of climbing nests, we candled the eggs once more. Were they
still alive?  Indeed they were, and
growing nicely.   Hope was hatched in the vigor of this species
at such a young age and in the strength of this egg/chick management project in
such a young stage of incubation.

Incubation - happy parents

 Happy incubator crew after installing live eggs in new incubator room

These eggs, this forest, this planet, all are our territory.  May we prove adequate to guard and to cherish
these treasures accordingly as we continue to howl our proclamation that every
egg has inherent worth and dignity, as does every being


Macaw chick looking at us