Passionate about wildlife? Eager to learn and use Spanish in a working environment?
Look no further!
I visited ARCAS Guatemala in lake Petén for a week in October 2018 while I was in the country. This is my own personal experience.
Please read the background for more details about the site and how to combat the illegal wildlife trade! You do not need to speak Spanish to volunteer at ARCAS, BUT it is useful when you need to ask the locals for help 🙂
ARCAS is run by volunteers, professional vets and animal caretakers and are dependent on governmental support, but also donations from big contributors and as well volunteers coming to visit. The ARCAS facilities at Lake Petén consists of a zoo and education center and a rehabilitation center.
The zoo is open to the general public, and has a variety of wildlife. The animals at the zoo will never return to the wild for various reasons. Some have physical issues, some have psychological problems such as stereotypic behavior (non-natural behavior due to long-term captivity, malnutrition etc.).
The animals at the rescue and rehabilitation center are local rescued species, brought to the center by locals (who either kept them as pets or found them injured), or by governmental officials, who confiscate thousands of animals each year. Animals that could have lived their life in the wild, but were trapped and used in the wildlife trade by greedy people.
This is why you should never pay anyone to get a photo with an animal (no matter how tame or cute it looks), ride an elephant, take photos with tigers or buy exotic birds (parrots especially) without legal import papers.
What can you do?
- Raise awareness on social media (stories, pictures, and share posted pictures and articles about animal abuse and the illegal wildlife trade)
- Tell friends, followers, family about the illegal wildlife trade and ask them to take responsible decisions regarding wildlife on vacations
- Visit a local reserve and have a professional guide show you the local wildlife in its own habitat.
- Volunteer at a certified animal rescue centers.
My volunteer experience at ARCAS
During my week I worked with various species of wildlife.
As I visited the center, we were very few volunteers and interns. In total, we were five people besides the ARCAS staff. Because of this, we worked only with animals in rehabilitation by the volunteer kitchen.
Days would start at 6 am to clean and feed the animals. When you arrive at the kitchen, you discover which animals you have been assigned.
For my first days I was assigned to help one of the more experienced volunteers. We had to feed dozens of parrots of various species, such as white-fronted parrot, mealy parrot and red-lored parrots, but also a deer, white-lipped peccary, a grey heron, an anteater, macaws, crocodiles and tortoises.
As you probably can imagine, these animals have various diets. Many pieces of fruits needed to be cut, and meat had to be defrosted for the carnivores. After preparing all the meals for the animals, you clean their enclosure. This proved to be a lot of fun, as you have to dodge cheeky parrots trying to sit on your shoulder. It is important that we don’t interfere with their natural behavior.
If you visit during one of the more busy times of the year, there will be more varied tasks available and more volunteers at the center. I visited in October and was surprised to how quiet things were. The current helpers at that time were long time interns or volunteers. Most of them spoke Spanish, and were practicing every day with the local staff at the center. I think it is a great place to learn more and use it in an ever-day setting.
As my days progressed I was given more responsibility and worked with a variety of animals such as monkeys, reptiles, tamandua (anteaters), cats. Some animals are ‘reserved’ to be cared for by the long term interns as they need special care and a secure environment.
Being so few volunteers, it was hard work when we had our food stock replenished. I imagine with more volunteers the work will be more ‘spread out’.
It was an extremely good time for me to grow and learn about my physical limits with hard labor. I got responsibilities, I worked passionately with animals, which were given a second chance in life. I met one of the devoted and extremely hardworking owners Alejandro, who cares deeply for conservation of the local wildlife.
At the time, a Guatemalan female vet student was also working at ARCAS. I helped her with emergency treatments. One day a crate of extremely dehydrated parrots turned up at ARCAS. I was asked to hold one of the fatigued parrots, tiny little, lifeless creature, as we desperately tried to save it. Unfortunately it was too late. The young parrot died in my hands. Damn you exotic wildlife pet trade 😦
We were staying in these cute treehouses, from where I could do birdspotting! How awesome is that? I saw a Lesson’s Motmot up here, a species which I only saw once in Belize!!
The treehouses are split into four rooms on each floor with up to four bunk beds in each room. We were four volunteers and one intern, and thus had one room each. Meals were provided by this lovely Guatemalan cook, three times a day.
How to get to ARCAS
When in Flores, you go to the boat taxis and ask for a taxi to ARCAS. All the locals know where to go. It is cheaper of course if you go more people together. They will drop you off at the zoo, which you can experience in your free time. At the zoo, the staff will help you cross the river in a canoe and you are taken to this amazing forest green area, where ARCAS is located.
Girls just wanna have fun
When you have off time, you can arrange for a boat taxi to pick you up and take you to Flores. Read one of my other posts regarding things to do around Flores!
I hope you enjoyed this post and may consider volunteering at ARCAS one day. I hope to return one day for a longer stay, hopefully I will have learned a little Spanish by then.
© All photos are my own and may not be used without permission.