April 19, 2013

A trip to Amazon Cares, Iquitos by Catherine Davidson

Our next vet trip is in June 2013 We are raising funds to pay for this trip.  Please support the trip and/or become a fundraiser for Amazon CARES   



A trip to Amazon Cares, Iquitos

by Catherine Davidson, originally written on 10/30/2010 for the Worldwide Veterinary Service

 My first impression of the Amazon region that surrounds Iquitos was one of amazement. Flying over the Amazon River and tributaries snaking through the lush Amazon Rainforest is breath-taking. Stepping off the plane in the Iquitos airport, I was immediately hit by a wall of heat and humidity. It was a lovely change from the wet and miserable weather I had left behind in Scotland, although I did wonder how I would cope working in this climate. It was a real novelty getting into a mototaxi which is the main mode of transport in Iquitos, and then traveling to the Jungle Lodge in Capo Lopez. Just a word of warning though for any female volunteers coming to work here – bring a sports bra! You will need it for the mototaxi journey to and from the lodge.
Once I arrived at the jungle Lodge I met Molly, the Amazon CARES founder and director, as well as the rest of the veterinary team. Molly is a very inspiring person. She has given up a luxurious life in the USA and she literally sold everything to set up the charity and live a very simple life in Iquitos. Not many people in this world would be able to sacrifice so much!!
I recognized immediately the high number of stray dogs around and the apparent indifference towards them by most of the locals. They are essentially regarded as pests not pets. Many are extremely underweight and most are infested with mange.
We had two days to relax before we started work. We walked around Belen market where pretty much everything imaginable is for sale. There were all sorts of exotic fruits and meat including tortoise meat, turtle meat and piranha fish. There were also jaguar skins, sloth skulls, anaconda skins and a huge array of Amazonian spices and Shaman medical potions for nearly every ailment. We also went on an overnight jungle excursion, which included jungle walks, piranha fishing, the sighting of the nearly-extinct pink river dolphins. A highlight was taking a quick dip in the Amazon River ourselves.
We worked in several different districts around Iquitos and also we travelled along the Amazon River to visit some villages that would not otherwise receive veterinary care. Generally, we arrived in the early morning and it was all hands on deck organizing our drugs, equipment and setting up tables - some of which belonged to local people, their kitchen tables kindly loaned to us for the day! There was usually a queue of people and their pets waiting for us before we even arrived. Harry, the expert Peruvian dog catcher that works for Amazon CARES, roamed the streets with net and cage strapped to the back of a mototaxi to bring in stray dogs and cats for neutering and anthelmintic treatment. We were certainly kept busy!
There are a number of challenges for the surgeon working in Iquitos. The first is the stifling heat and humidity. A head band is essential to stop sweat dripping into the op site! The second is the challenge of working outside or in buildings with incomplete roofs. For example, flies and exposure to the elements such as sun, wind and even tropical downpours. The third of these challenges involve the equipment and supplies we were using. One must adjust to equipment that is different or less modern than what one works with at home. As this is a charity, we have to make do with what is donated which means quickly learning to make do and adapt to what is available. Language barriers also present a challenge. Unfortunately I don´t have a great grasp on Spanish, and it can be very tricky trying to ascertain from an owner whether they want their dog to be neutered or to only receive anthelmintic treatment. Stray dogs bring challenges of their own. Not only are they regularly fearful and aggressive, there is no clinical history that comes with the dog, nor is there any provision for any pre-op blood testing or other diagnostic procedures. Therefore the pre operative assessment is based purely on a good clinical examination. Another serious challenge is the high incidence of erlichiosis resulting in reduced platelet numbers and therefore an increase tendency to bleed. This meant that although a lot of the bitches we were operating on were thin, they were not easy spays!! Finally the numbers of local spectators, particularly children, can be overwhelming. On the one hand it was wonderful to see that people were so interested in what was going on and it gave us a great opportunity to explain the importance of what we were doing (or attempt to explain, in my case, with ‘Spanglish’). On the other hand it was sometimes difficult to stop people from touching sterile equipment.
I have had an absolutely fabulous time working with Amazon Community Animal Rescue, Education and Safety (CARES) and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I would recommend the experience to anyone who is willing to work hard and really make a make a difference in an area where much veterinary care is needed. 

1 comment:

  1. Lovely article, Catherine.
    I think the hardest part was spaying/neutering the strays - you send them back out on the street and hope for the best.


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