Many wild animals cannot return to their habitat because of wounds suffered when extracted from jungles, forests or wetlands. Others animals lose their wild animal condition and die, or are doomed to live forever in captivity, due to their contact with human beings. An environmental authority such as Corpoamazonia has the capacity of releasing into the wild only 40 percent of the total animals it recoups annually and which are victims of this national calamity.
To illustrate, a woolly monkey was captured in the jungle, doomed to be a pet. This is a tragedy for this animal, which spent three years in captivity, enduring 36 months of unusual treatment in a private home. Sometimes mistreated and sometimes pampered, these captive animals barely endure within a human context, in an estranged environment for its wild primate condition.
One day the monkey’s luck changed or, at least, everybody thought so: it was rescued by environmental authorities and taken to the Reserve La Ñupana in the Department of Guaviare (Colombia).
Dora María Sánchez is the owner of this ‘haven of peace’ (that is the meaning of the cubeo language word Ñupana), a place surrounded by forests and located in the rural settlement Agua Bonita in the municipality El Retorno (Guaviare Department, Colombia). Dora María does not forget how, for many weeks, she devotedly cared for this monkey. She maintained it in contact with trees, changed its diet to avoid weight loss and monitored its health like an expert veterinarian, planning its return to the jungle: to do this became her maximum aspiration.
“I must say, however, that when a wild animal bonds with human beings, there is not much you can do for it to regain its freedom,” she says. As days went by, the woolly monkey stopped eating, it would barely move or make any sounds until it finally died.
A drama such as this is not unique. A disaster such as this is a common result of wildlife trafficking. This problem includes two harmful elements: first, it removes animals violently from nature and, second, it dooms many survivors to death (or life in imprisonment). Thousands of wild animals cannot return to their ‘natural homes’. If they do, they never adapt to natural conditions and usually perish..
They forget how to hunt
For some, such as the woolly monkey, the problem derives from the fact that they live in groups or families and, when separated from their relatives, they are unable to adapt to survive alone in a place different from their original territory.
For others, a return to the wild is impossible because of the wounds they suffer when they are hunted, which are sometimes disabling. . For example, turtles or amphibians face injuries that condemn them to live forever in captivity, as they are unable to defend themselves in their natural environment. Some eagles or parrots change their predatory habits and forget how to hunt because they become totally dependent, as traffickers or the people who buy them enclose them and provide them with food.
Dora, the woman who, with the help of her two sons and her husband, has given refuge to wild animals victims of wildlife trafficking since 2013, confirms this. She explains that her family has worked in the rehabilitation of more than 160 animals, including birds, reptiles and mammals, and close to 80 percent of them have died due to the methods used for their capture. Her family has kept a few animals in the shelter, including four parrots, an owl and a macaw, which will never be able to return to their natural habitats because of their injuries.
“To release them or recover them is not easy, but we try because this is our life project and because we want to contribute to the conservation of the environment” declares this woman, who fell in love with the Guaviare.
From the moment she receives the animals, commonly delivered to her by the environmental authority Corporación para el Desarrollo Sostenible del Norte y el Oriente Amazónico (CDA), she provides them with a special diet, care and medications. Dora does this without knowing if their recovery and release into the wild will be possible.
Dora works vigorously with the hope of giving more than one animal its independence, but her dream is not always fulfilled regardless of all her love and good will.
The community is decisive
Sidaly Ortega Gómez, Deputy Director of Administration of the environmental authority Corpoamazonia, expresses how there are cases of adult specimens whose release could be relatively feasible, especially if they have been outside their environment for a short time, are in good health and their places of extraction are known. However, in most cases, these processes require a profound knowledge of the species’ behaviors, albeit this does not always guarantee success. Additionally, conversations with the communities must be established to reach agreements that allow the introduction of animals, an aspect which is not always possible or represents high costs.
“The inhabitants of the territory must know when an animal is going to be released, because they represent the first link in conservation. If this is not achieved, if there is no awareness, there is the risk of a vicious circle in which the released animal could again be seized; it could be treated as a pet again or could even be hunted for its meat”, warns Luz Dary Acevedo, in charge of the Wildlife Health and Wildlife Trafficking Program, led by WCS Colombia.
“Additionally, an evaluation of the site where the animal will be released is also necessary and this implies new investments. Because, for example, if a jaguar is going to be released, it is important to find for it a location with prey, sufficient space and away from human settlements. If not, this predator could choose to eat cows or other domestic animals and be hunted by the communities in retaliation. With this, all logistic and scientific effort would be lost”, adds Luz Dary.
Support to community-based monitoring
Generally, all the above elements must be considered by professionals and technicians. Sidaly relates that, in general, it is unclear how fauna will respond to environmental conditions, even if pre-release processes are carried out in the best possible way. “There will always be a degree of uncertainty in results”, she states.
According to Sidaly, on average, each year Corpoamazonia receives some 700 animals that can potentially be released into the wild after relatively short rehabilitation processes. However, only 40% of those animals are successfully reintroduced into the wild, a figure that can vary depending on the quality of the monitoring or tracking aspects that are not always viable to be carried out.
Natalia Carrillo Rivera, biologist of the Wildlife Program of the environmental authority Corporación Autónoma Regional de Risaralda (Carder), insists that people like Dora and her family should act as key observers during these recovery and release processes, as this would enable them to support environmental authorities with strategic information within the framework of a community-based monitoring. “But it there is no technical knowledge and an interdisciplinary group providing social support, reintroduction processes will be more difficult and not always successful.”
Despite all these uncertainties, in La Ñupana work continues, because some attempts to release animals have had a happy ending. Some time back, Dora tells us, an ocelot spent more than three years in the reserve and, little by little, began to recover its hunting instincts. “Sometimes it would go away with fellow species and wanted to eat parrots and macaws upon its return, so we had to be alert. One day it decided to go for good. It hurt, but we knew it was a fact of what should happen. Nothing compares with the satisfaction of seeing a wild animal finding its trail.”