February 12, 2010

"I cleaned my teeth with sun cream"

Amazon CARES, Iquitos, Peru
by Hazel Taylor
Date of trip: 11-11-2009

I arrived in Iquitos on Saturday at about 10am, however, having been travelling for about 18 hours, I really couldn’t have told you what day it was, let alone what time of day. I was met at the airport with typical enthusiasm by Amazon CARES founder Molly, who can perhaps, be summed up by one of the first things she said to me:

“I’m sorry,  I accidentally cleaned my teeth with sun cream this morning, so my mouth feels a bit… funny”

Having met up with a couple more volunteers, we set off to the clinic in Calle Pevas in Iquitos’ universal mode of transport – the mototaxi. A sort of Ben Hur with motorbikes instead of horses, with a free foot massage thrown in.
At the clinic we met with the local Amazon CARES team. They were extremely welcoming and throughout our stay were invariably helpful and cheerful. They never appeared hurried or flustered, but the jobs just got done with speed and efficiency. Behtjane did have, occasionally, to give one or other of us ‘the sack’ as we struggled to cut and fold gauze correctly for swabs or shave an opsite with the razor.

On Sunday, we went with the addition of two more volunteers who had just arrived, to Pilpintuwasi, a butterfly farm and animal orphanage. This involved a boat ride across the Nanay river and then, as the rivers were so low at the moment, a long, rather hot, walk. There were many species of butterfly, some very spectacular, and it was interesting to see their caterpillars and chrysalis as well. We were also introduced, among other things to several species of monkey, a tapir, a giant anteater that came and drank a bowl of milk, and a jaguar. However, I think the most endearing were the two baby sloths in the arms of one of the volunteers at the centre.

Whilst in Iquitos accommodation was provided at Cabo Lopez. This jungle shelter soon felt like home for us, and despite the constant cacophany of cicadas, frogs, early morning warbling of wild birds, crowing of cockerels, barking of dogs and occasional screams as Molly chanced upon an insect, had a very peaceful atmosphere. Mention also has to be made of the 8 3/4 if not 7/8 pregnant Marlene – not only did she have delicious meals waiting for us when we cam back in the evening, she was responsible for coaxing our appetites back after our stomach troubles in Cabolla Cocha.

Staying there also meant a daily boat trip into Iquitos. Not for us the daily grind of red traffic lights and school-run-mums clogging the roads, but a wonderful whizz along the Amazon. Canoes and debris were expertly negotiated by our driver Vladi, or not so expertly, as we all had a go at piloting the boat.
The first week we concentrated our efforts above the meat market of Belen. The whole market was an experience in itself; ramshackle stalls lined both sides of the road selling a vast array of ‘things’, including clothes, shoes, fruit, fish and meat – I think  I caught sight of alligator legs complete with feet still attached. On the first morning we were dismayed at the large queue of people, dogs and cats all the way up the stairs and spilling well into the area we were setting up in. Our initial dismay at the numbers, thinking they were all for operations, was allayed as we divided them into those for neutering and those just for parasite treatment. Annie (WVS and Amazon CARES veteran vet) and I weighed in on the ‘parasitos’ – an injection, dose depending on condition and age, of ivomec, and an oral wormer (parentel), whilst the rest of the team started neutering.

Dogs were sedated with xylazine and atropine, which rendered them pliable enough to give i/v propofol and then intubate. Cats were given a triple sedation which meant they were unconscious long enough for neutering. Gaseous anaesthetic was then given using a system similar to that used in UK, except for one imporant point – up to four animals could be run off the one machine. So all four got the same concentration of isoflo, and the % given was generally dictated by the lightest animal. Those that were too deep were just taken off anaesthetic for a short while. All were given antibiotics, painrelief and antiparasite treatment. Timing for administration of the oral wormer had to be judged very carefully so the dog was able to swallow, but not so awake it would bite you. All this was accompanied by the clumping and rattling of vultures on the tin roof above, hoping for scraps from the meat market below, and occasional forays, to see what was going on, by the pigs housed in the room behind us. I was amazed at the interest in what we were going shown by the locals, both here and in the other areas we operated. Owners stayed to watch their animals being neutered and even took pictures of this event.

Oh, I nearly forgot! On the second day we were joined by Luke and the film crew and introductions were made. The next day we redid the introductions to camera, pretending, of course that we had not just said ‘hello’ already. They then went out to catch dogs which Luke then treated to camera.

A very early start and a boring seven hour boat trip found us in the town of Caballo Cocha (minus Annie who had been pursuaded to stay behind with Luke and the film crew). We had clinics in two areas here. The first four days were spent doing clinics in the science lab of a local college, where operating conditions were good, apart from the number of locals watching and getting in the way, and the groups of small children being escorted round. The second area was not really suitable for surgery – a shed with cracked earth flooring, and inadequate lighting provided by two anaemic light bulbs. The highlight of the day was watching a small child trying to get a recalcitrant pig out of its mud wallow. Our numbers were slightly diminished on some days as one by one we went down with diarrhoea and some vomiting as well.

On Sunday we elected for a day off and took a couple of boats and a guide to find river dolphins, and we weren’t disappointed. Pods of up to eleven performed wonderfully, cavorting about and leaping clear of the water, accompanied by much ‘oohing’ and ‘aahhing’ from us. We then had a very interesting, although extremely hot, walk through the jungle. The whole of a small village turned out to witness the bizarre spectacle of a bunch of gringos lounging about in their local river. The wildlife was fairly elusive, but we did see some colourful birds including  a couple of scarley macaws and many butterflies. I was fascinated by a large and bright red beetle, but could not study it as I was negotiating a precarious log bridge across a very muddy stream.

As well as the sterilisation and parasite programme carried out by the vets, Bruno was also busy in the schools giving educational talks. This culminated in a large parade of children with placards exhorting people to be kind to animals, and to leave the wildlife in the wild. Some of the children even dressed as animals.
At the end of our stay we attended a prize- giving ceremony (it was in Spanish, so I don’t know what the prizes were for!) Esther gave a report of what we had achieved and the mayor thanked us for what we had done.

For the third week we were back in Iquitos. A pleasant two days were spend operating outside in the shade beside the house of an Amazon CARES client. Then as our numbers began to dwindle as people set off home or for further travel, we spent our last working day catching and treating cats and dogs for parasites in Bella Vista market. Unfortunately the most timid/wily dogs were those in worst condition. Perhaps there is a correlation. Having treated them we tied a ribbon around their necks so that next week, hopefully, Amazon CARES staff could see which ones had been treated.

By Friday, only three vet nurses remained, so we opted for a day off and in the morning went off to Monkey Island. We discovered, as we sat hot and cramped, that, in true Peruvian style, the boats do not run to any timetable – they go only when they are stuffed full to the gunnels with people and packages. Monkey Island, a rescue centre for orphaned primates, was delightful and we all enjoyed being used as climbing frames by several inquisitive young monkeys. In the afternoon, having waved goodbye to another team member, the two of us remaining set off for a rescue centre for manatees out beyond the airport. This was an amazing experience. First, to get to touch and feed the baby manatees with bottles of milk, and then to don wetsuits and wade about with them.

This was, for me a very worthwhile trip. Although our campaigns of neutering was only a drop in the ocean, it was part of an on-going project that has already made a big difference, not only for the animals, but in educating the Peruvian people. However, the work was, only part of the experience and it was great to work as part of such a wonderful team. There was plenty of team spirit and laughs along the way, even when half the team had to keep rushing to the toilet. Praise must also go to the Amazon CARES staff. A lot could be learnt from them by English practices; they were an amazing and professional team.


February 2, 2010

Animal Abuse - "What fault is there in loving my pet?"

This article is from La Region newspaper of Iquitos, Peru.  Translation by Molly Mednikow.

-Animal Abuse

 "What fault is there in loving my pet?"
Friday, 29 of January, 2010

Liber Rios, who is the owner of "Robert", has filed a complaint with the police in Morona Cocha (a poor area near Iquitos, Peru).  His complaint is in reaction to abuse of his dog, who was brutally beaten to near death, "Robert has been our dog for 10 years.  We raised him since he was a puppy.  I feel very hurt and even want to cry when I think of the words "Your dog has been beaten."
"The day of the attack I sat in front of my house and my dog was wandering in and out.  Then my neighbor's son told me that my dog was inside of his house, bleeding and dying.  We assumed that somebody had poisoned Robert,  I went and found him bathed in blood, and realized that he had been beaten, not poisoned.   
Liber Rios took his dog to his house where he gave him first aid, "We took him to the vet after two days and learned that Robert's skull was fractured.  Veterinarian Marcial Aviles had to intervene after finding a bone embedded in the dog's brain. the doctor found a bone Avilés embedded in his skull brain.  "Now my dog is better but he is recovering slowly." said Rios.
"I know there is a law on animal protection, which is why I decided to go to the police station of Morona Cocha where police are investigating this case.  My neighbor says that he refuses to pay anything because Robert is just an animal.  I want to see justice served because I consider my dog to be a member of my family.  I am completely disturbed by my neighbor's attitude." 

The official complaint is pending. (MI)