At this time, one year ago, I was working at the only primate rehabilitation center in Argentina. I cannot believe the time has gone by so quickly, or how much I still miss that place.
Going to Argentina last summer to work with monkeys there was by far the greatest experience of my life. It was, in some ways, not at all what I expected but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It still amazes me with everything I learned and experienced there.
There is so much to tell that the hardest part is knowing where to begin. I guess, a good place to start would be the beginning…
After three flights, a three hour bus ride, and a thirty minute taxi ride up the side of a mountain, I finally made it to the primate rehabilitation center. It was not quite what I had been envisioning. It was in the mountains, so it was colder than I had prepared for. But, the landscape was gorgeous and I was immediately greeted by many animals and a few people, which made me (temporarily) forget the cold. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was enough electricity for a few light bulbs, as well as enough running water for two sinks and the restroom located approximately five minutes away from our sleeping quarters. There was even a laundry facility! If you like to wash your clothes in a river that is. Throughout my stay, let’s just say that clothes were not washed as frequently as they could have been. And, when they were, the little waterfall became my “wash and tumble” cycle, my hand soap became laundry detergent, and a fallen tree trunk became my drier. This all worked surprisingly well, except for the fact that my drier required three days time, and I rarely felt that I could sacrifice the article of clothing that I was washing for that long.
Despite these unique living conditions, I loved my time there. I worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, doing anything and everything that needed to be done to take care of 150 Black Howler monkeys, 20 Capuchin monkeys, 50 dogs, 15 llamas, 7 goats, 6 chickens, 2 cats, and 2 pumas. These days consisted of washing food platters, preparing food, carrying food and water, cleaning cages, counting and observing monkeys, acting as a surrogate mother to four infant monkeys, chopping firewood, cleaning the living spaces, and giving tours to many guests.
Needless to say, these animals became my life; and, I loved almost every minute of it. I won’t deny that there were some rough spots, but the good outweighed the bad. In particular, I am so thankful for the bonds that I developed with the animals. One of the baby monkeys became particularly attached to me, and never wanted to leave my side. She would run up to me as soon as she saw me, and wanted nothing more than to sit on my shoulder wrapped up against my face and neck all day. That was my little Pakita. I am hoping to go back to Argentina this fall, and I am curious to see if she will remember me.
The stories I could tell about the animals are endless, but instead I will focus on the big picture. During my five weeks at the rehabilitation center in Argentina, I learned about much more than just animals. I learned about Argentinian culture, I improved my Spanish, I learned about the research process during a field study, I documented and interpreted primate facial expressions. I learned how to read and interpret monkeys. I now know how to feed them, take care of them, even how to administer some medications. I learned about their individual personalities, preferences, and habits. I got to rehabilitate monkeys, and reintroduce them into the wild. I protected and befriended a monkey that was brought to the rehabilitation center after years of abuse. I saw the monkeys grow and thrive. And, I was able to document and analyze their facial expressions and how the monkeys use these to communicate. I also learned about Capuchin monkeys, and experienced their incredible intelligence first-hand. It is no wonder why they are often used in movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Night at the Museum! They are absolutely brilliant! I will never forget how often I was in awe of the animals at the center, or how often the animals taught me a valuable lesson. From the importance of sharing, to not judging a book b y its cover, to the value of life, these animals reminded me of many of life’s important lessons.
There is no substitute for the hands-on experience I received during my time in Argentina. It was an unforgettable experience that has made me a stronger and better person. So, I would like to thank everyone who helped to make my trip possible. In particular, I would like to thank Northern Illinois University for supporting me academically, emotionally, and financially. Thank you for the Honors EYE Grant, the USOAR Grant, and the Provost’s Study Abroad Travel Grant. Without these donations, I never would have been able to go on this trip, nor would I have been able to change the lives of animals, or my own.